Responding to Body Image Blues

It’s easy to get out of shape while in college—that’s a simple fact. You are busier than ever before, have access to tons of food and alcohol, and you usually have no parental oversight.

This combination of factors makes it really easy to find yourself in that unenviable position where you look in the mirror and say, “eeek!” As a result, there are many people who will find themselves feeling unattractive when it’s time to get naked and enthusiastic with their partners, or who will find their partners saying, “Jeez, I feel fat.” What does one do in such a situation?

I would like to point out that Dan Savage’s column “Savage Love” and “Dear Prudie,” written by Emily Yoffe, have both fielded this question and I frankly think they were both off the mark in their responses. They both addressed the mechanics of how to approach your partner with “Honey, I think we should get healthy together” which, while important, misses the point. What do you do in the moment of “God, I feel unattractive?”

In the seconds after those words have left your lover’s lips, you owe your partner emotional support. Tell them that they are attractive, that you find them attractive and that you care about them and want to make them feel better.
Naturally, this is all dependent on my larger theory of “don’t be in shallow relationships.” If you are feeling unattractive and your partner reponds, “Yeah, you really have let yourself go,” then dump their asses like a nameless extra in Kill Bill Part 1.

Of course, physical attraction is an important component of a relationship, and I think it’s important for both parties to always try to look attractive for their partners. However, as a human being and a graduate student at that, I understand (and am guilty of) not necessarily having the time nor the desire to hit the gym as often as you should.

But that shouldn’t matter, especially when you are in a longterm relationship. You should have a strong enough foundation built from emotional intimacy, intellectual stimulation, history and many endorphin-filled encounters. If you have an open, caring and communicative relationship (read: a good relationship), then you will be able to easily sex your way through the times when the looks-based physical attraction falters. Because the person who’s made you orgasm dozens or hundreds of times is always attractive. Always.

The point is, when your partner turns away from the mirror towards you and says “I feel fat,” that moment is not about you. It is about them. Remember that and always be incredibly supportive.

Going back to Savage and Yoffe, their suggestion that you just say “let’s go get healthy together,” is not wrong. That is a perfectly fine answer, just not in the moment. You say that later when you are fully clothed and much less vulnerable. Say you want to get in shape and invite them to come with you.

And for the love of all that is holy, never, I repeat, never tell them they’ve “let themselves go” or are on a “slippery slope to being a frumpy slob” or anything like that. If you do, you deserve whatever awful things they are likely to say to you. Tact is an incredibly important part of dealing with relationships (romantic or otherwise), and doubly so when body image and self-esteem are involved. Quadruply so when the person in question is the one you are having sex with.

If you are the person who is feeling less than super attractive, it is fine to say so. It is also important not to get hung up on it. It’s easy to focus on that, but if you have a decent partner, they should support you without a problem and help you feel better.

If they do not, that’s a pretty good sign that they are not worth your time. Do what you need to do to get through the moments you feel bad and work toward something better. Ask your partner, friends or whoever you need to help you out, if that’s what you need. I personally hate going to the gym by myself and need a friend to go with me. This doesn’t only refer to gyms, this can also include things like diets.

In conclusion, if you find yourself in the situation of a lover saying they feel unattractive, remember:

1. Be supportive
2. Be loving
3. Be kind
4. Be understanding
5. Be tactful

If you follow these simple guidelines, you should be able to help your partner get past their temporary bad feelings and get back to the fun times you are about to have together.