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Wrestling the Body Image Bear

  • Shannon Ethridge, M.A. Contributor
  • 2010 25 Dec
Wrestling the Body Image Bear

“I’d rather wrestle a bear than look at those books!” was the bookstore clerk’s response when I inquired about their ‘sexuality’ section to do research for my new book. “I don’t look anything like those women!” she added for clarification.

I couldn’t imagine where this woman was coming from. She couldn’t have weighed more than 120 pounds soaking wet. Size six would be my best guess, a size most women would delight to get into. Somewhat confused, I thanked her for her time and selected a few titles to peruse. However, it didn’t take long to figure out where she was coming from. Page after page, book after book, there “she” was.  The perfect woman.  Long hair flowing down … flat tummy untainted by stretch marks or post-pregnancy pounds… slender hips and firm derriere… shapely thighs without a hint of cellulite. Not one unsightly scar, pimple, or spider vein on her whole body. Just one hundred or so pounds of graceful, seductive energy.  I soon found myself preferring to wrestle a bear too. Then I realized I was already wrestling a bear – the body image bear.

If you’re like most women, you’ve allowed that body image bear to invade your marriage bed. USA Today reports that the #1 reason women avoid physical intimacy is… (drum roll, please)… because they felt uncomfortable with how their body looked.[i] Most of us have been there, done that, got the t-shirt, and the video.  And the t-shirt was too small, which fueled our belief that we are simply too fat.

So why are women so hard on themselves, even those who are relatively healthy and look fantastic by most standards? Perhaps it’s because we’ve bought the media’s lie that men want pencil-thin, couldn’t-pinch-an-inch-if-my-life-depended-on-it kind of women. But I want to let you in on a little secret:  Although women may not like their curves, men love them! Listen to what a couple of our male friends said to my husband and me in confidence as I was writing…

“My wife may weigh a bit more than the typical supermodel, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love how she looks, so as long as she’s happy with herself, I’m great.” - Paul, age 37

“My wife’s hips have gotten a little wider through the years, and her breasts may have fallen a little southward since I fell in love with her over thirty years ago. But when I consider the four beautiful children who’ve passed through those hips and nursed at those breasts, I’m more in awe of them than ever. To everyone else, she’s a grandma. To me, she’s a goddess, and I celebrate her presence in my life every day.” - Terry, age 59

Men frequently seem desperate to help their wives understand that their bodies are beautiful just the way they are. At one speaking event, a tall man approached me asking, “When you speak to the ladies, will you deliver a message to all of them, my wife especially?”  

“Sure. What’s on your heart?” I asked.

He replied, “Please tell them that they don’t have to be modest.”  Suddenly his eyes filled with tears, and he explained, “I’ve been trying to tell my wife for eighteen years that she’s beautiful, but she won’t believe me.  She makes me feel like I must be crazy to think she’s sexy, and sometimes I’m tempted to just believe her. But I refuse to do that. I want her to believe me instead. I know what I see when I look at her.  I just want her to feel the same way about herself.”

I fought back my own tears as I sensed this man’s gnawing pain and growing frustration. The truth is, God designed marriage as the setting where husbands and wives could give our bodies to each other, just as we are. When we withdraw physically or emotionally out of insecurity, it can be painful for the other spouse.

Just look to the Bible for God’s plan for marriage. The Song of Songs is filled with vivid, confident language describing the relationship between husband and wife. We don’t actually know exactly what Solomon and his wife looked like, but they perceived the other to be beautiful.

As I delivered the husband’s message anonymously in the next session, I sensed that every female in the crowd wondered if the message was from her own husband. Every woman seemed to acknowledge her own guilt in this matter. 

Are you guilty too? If so, perhaps it’s time to befriend the body image bear, which can do more for your sexual confidence than losing 10 vanity pounds or getting any surgical procedure done. Look into the mirror, appreciate the beauty of what you see, and be proud to share that precious gift freely with your husband.  After all, it’s not your perfectly proportioned assets, but your perfectly confident attitude that floats his boat the most.

Check out Shannon’s Top 10 Positive Body Image Tactics in Chapter 7 of her new book, The Sexually Confident Wife (Broadway Books, September 2008).

Shannon Ethridge is an inspirational speaker, counselor, and bestselling author. Her previous books include Every Woman's Battle and Every Young Woman's Battle. She lives in East Texas with her husband and their two children.

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