How to make it through Christmas with your body image, your self esteem and your sex life still intact…
Over- indulgence and inactivity mean that we can all expect to put on an average of 5 lbs in the four-week Christmas period. This is offset by an escalation in new gym memberships in January, but research shows that only one-third of members are still paying for their membership after twelve months.
Seasonal weight gain is no big deal if you are otherwise happy with your appearance, but if you are female, and you already feel you are overweight, Christmas can affect far more than your waistline. Studies repeatedly show that the vast majority of women feel dissatisfied with some aspect of their physical selves. Some are concerned about particular features or signs of aging, but practically all women, regardless of size, believe themselves to be too fat.
It is hardly surprising. The models that grace the covers of magazines represent the body type of approximately .03% of the female population. Though they are the human equivalent to a needle in a haystack, the power of media magnification has projected the few fat-free into public consciousness with such force that this fractional minority now set the standard by which 99.97% of women judge themselves. As a result 95% of the female population have dieted at some time and 50% of women are on a diet at this very moment. Viewed in the context of studies which show that calorific deprivation induces depression, anxiety and irritability, these statistics would suggest that right now, half of all women are too hungry to be happy, or healthy.
Inevitably, this interferes with a woman’s ability to enjoy sex. In 2010, a survey of 3,500 women by the bathroom company Shuc revealed that 33 per cent of British women think that they are too fat to appear naked in front of their partners and one woman in ten has to switch off the light before she can undress. A 2007 survey by Grazia magazine tells us that that 98 per cent of British women hate their bodies and that the average woman worries about her body once every 15 minutes. And in 2004, Psychology Today carried out a survey on body image and of the 3,452 women who responded, 15 per cent said they would sacrifice more than five years of their lives to be the weight they want and 24 per cent said that they would give up more than three years. Which is 100 per cent crazy, right?
If a man doesn’t notice that you have had your hair done, or are wearing a nice new dress, why would they notice that your spare tyre wobbles when you go on top. An aroused man has an uncomplicated relationship with his erection. He just wants to have sex. His female partner, on the other hand, approaches sex as a spectator. She sees herself from the outside rather than feeling herself from the inside and instead of being in the moment she orchestrates intimacy to limit the number of positions that will make her look like a wobbling tub of lard.
Although women express unanimous irritation at the impossible precedent set by media images of physical perfection, and they realise that the images don’t reflect reality, their prevalence makes women overtly conscious of the currency of appearance. It is hard for any young woman to avoid concluding that in life, good looks pay greater and more immediate dividends than hard work or intelligence, and the concept that attractive women have an easier ride seems to leave ‘average’ women feeling at a disadvantage. Most expend a huge amount of time and energy searching for ways in which to ‘improve’ themselves in an effort to conform more closely to stereotypical notions of attractiveness. But most say that they consistently feel that they fail in those efforts.
It’s easy to understand this widespread unease. Women are encouraged to transfer their ‘anxieties’ into ‘actions’ ie. buying clothes or beauty products, trying a new diet or joining a gym by the promise that it will make them feel better about themselves. But if a woman is emotionally vulnerable, any relief she gets from ‘acting’ on her unease is short lived. If she wears her new dress, does her diet or applies her cream, and gets paid a compliment she feels great. If no one notices, or anyone criticises her purchases or her behaviour, she feels bad. She is exactly the same person through both scenarios, but her perception of herself either escalates or plummets as a result of how other people react to her.
Since her feelings about herself and the choices she makes are not supported by self-belief, she is at the mercy of other peoples likes, dislikes, moods or emotions. Negative feedback regardless of accuracy, destabilises her and sends her scurrying off to try and fix another bit of her that is ‘wrong’. And of course the only thing that is wrong is that she allows external influences to govern how she feels about herself. Ultimately, women have to stop worrying about what other people think and believe in themselves more. Only then will they realise that in the greater scheme of things, good looks have little to do with peace of mind and quality of life, but negative self image disturbs both.
Top tips to get you through till January
* Choose your booze. Spirits with slimline mixers, or wine spritzers instead of cocktails or beers.
* Flick the pie. flick off the top of your mince pie and you lose a third of its 240 calories
* Say no to nibbles. Or at least observe the singe-handful rule (then stop) with nuts and crisps.
* Stay off of the scale. It’s really hard to cultivate an attitude of body acceptance and trust when you are basically climbing on the scale to ask if it’s OK to feel good about yourself that day. It is ALWAYS OK to feel good about yourself – don’t let a machine tell you any differently.
* Realize that you cannot change your body type. Lightly muscled, bulky, or rounded, you need to appreciate your body and work with your genetic inheritance.
* Spend more time naked. You look better naked than you do with clothes on, so get comfortable in your own skin.
* Move more. Walking, swimming, biking, dancing and having sexwill make you feel strong, energized, and peaceful. They will also stop you getting depressed. In his book The Rough Guide to Happiness, the psychologist Nick Baylis says that “vigorously exercising for 45 minutes three times a week for 16 weeks is as effective as the leading antidepressant medication in treating depression”. And a 2007 study by the mental health charity Mind found that a walk in the park reduced depressive feelings in 71 per cent of people.
* Stop comparing yourself to others. Your physiology is unique to you; you can’t get a sense of your body’s needs and abilities with someone else’s body as a reference point. And the research has shown that frequent comparing tends to increase negative body image.
* Stop “body checking”. Researchers have also found that negative body image is reinforced by lots of time in front of the mirror, or frequent checks of (perceived) body flaws. Instead, consider rearranging your living space so that you aren’t running into full-length mirrors every time you turn around.
* Set a good example. Refrain from “fat talk” when you are with your partner.
* Nurture your inner self. Body image is linked to self-esteem so engaging in pastimes that leave you feeling good can help you to feel comfortable in your own skin. Particularly helpful are activities that are relaxing, soothing, spiritual, or that allow us to connect to others. Remember: when we don’t have ways to manage stress or anxiety, we are more susceptible to being critical of our bodies.
* Feed your skin. Central heating dries out your skin so make sure to moisturise after bathing. You don’t have to use anything expensive. Aveeno is an inexpensive and effective option. So is aqueous cream.
* Read. The Body Bible by Suzi Godson. Its a perfect Christmas gift too!