How Positive Body Image in My Family Shaped My Own Perceptions

As a psychoanalyst I hear horrible things about people’s bodies…unfortunately most of those statements come from the owners of the bodies in question and this is just…terrible.

I notice that the strange feeling that someone’s body parts are ugly or gross appear long before this person is actively exposed to unhealthy stereotypes in media; so how did this body hatred appear in the first place? This is a very unique process for everyone, but I must draw your attention to the importance of body image issues that run in the family. This may not be true in 100% of the cases, but if you struggle with negative perception of your anatomy you should think about the family history on the subject.

My story today is more about my positive attitude towards my body and the reflection on how it might have appeared, at least as far as I have traced it in my personal analysis. I am not writing to brag about my self-esteem or my family, God knows, we have other issues; but at least this we’ve got this right. I truly believe that people should know how it feels to feel fine in your skin – not always awesome, but fine!

My mother was overweight and I don’t mean chubby or curvy. It was a medical issue that she and her doctors never figured out since she always ate healthy and her blood sugar and cholesterol levels were great. One would expect that this condition would cause relationship issues or body image issues, and maybe she had those when she was very young but I haven’t witnessed. When she was dating my father, he used to tell her all the time how beautiful she was. It wasn’t until she noticed that all women he ever glimpsed at were her size that she finally realized she was exactly his type.

He didn’t behave as if my mom was a woman with an average weight. Of course, there were comments about her body at home. His metaphors though were sweet and loving comparing her to summer clouds, cotton candy and gorgeous fluff.

How did this shape me? I realized from a very early age that the one who loves you must love you for the person you are, not for the plastic, made up, powdered image you present on the first date. If this is not enough, nothing will ever be enough.

Your body is not gross!

According to my dad, women are lovely creatures. He held a gentleman’s adoration for all female kind and never used negative words to describe femininity. I was shocked to hear that a friend’s dad threw a tantrum when she left her pack of pads on the bathroom counter, stating how gross it was. I never expected that a non-used sanitary product could be perceived as nasty. When I wrote my PhD thesis about femininity, I encountered different attitudes – ones I never considered possible.

I was always perplexed why women bathe themselves in perfumes, get obsessed with pulling every single stray hair or try to change the scent of their vaginas. They say: “But my boyfriend is grossed out.” If he feels disgust way too often, that might be a sign of his own psychological issue. I personally like my healthy body scents. If you are not grossed by your body you can be much more mindful about it and notice when something really is wrong. In therapy we encounter many women who relate every body smell to something disgusting and this is usually related to damaging body image.

Everything beyond simple hygiene (and you can consult the medical journals on what is too much) is just unnecessary and possibly harmful.

Another reflection is sex itself. I realize that everyone has tastes and that it is hurtful if the person I am interested in doesn’t respond. But once two people start dating and engage in foreplay, one can know for sure that the other will enjoy what’s underneath the clothes. I have talked to plenty of men about it, trust me if he wants you, he wants you. It is simple as that. Thinking about that one stretch mark, your makeup or your hair will only spoil your experience. It’s time to get natural and enjoy, because sex is messy!

I know it is difficult to click the reset button on your “software” and start perceiving allegedly gross things as natural and even nice. Perceiving things as dirty goes far back in childhood on a personal scale and back in the anthropological history on a cultural level. Being grossed out is part of being human, but it also can be very subjective. If it causes any troubles for you, you should try to be more aware on how YOU developed your idea of what “gross things” are.

I also don’t want to be misinterpreted. Sometimes body image is damaged by peer pressure, the media or an abusive partner. There are many things that could go wrong. I don’t want to be taken as a cliché of a Freudian psychoanalyst who suggests blaming it all on your parents. My point is just to look back, beyond the brain-dead fashion magazines, beyond the partners and the false friends. Some of you will find an abusive family environment that nurtured this rejection of your body. It is not about blaming relatives for their own complexes, but rather understanding the issues that run in the family and the way they have affected you all along.

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