Body Image: Self esteem is key

Lack of self-esteem, due to a negative body-image, can adversely affect a relationship

Woman looking in the mirror

We were driving through the crowded roads of Pune city, and predictably our car got stuck in a traffic bottleneck. With nothing else to do, my eyes started roving around and rested on a strategically placed signboard. It read somewhat like this “If you want to keep your husband in your hands and never fear that he will look around elsewhere – come and register today in our beauty and fitness centre. Facilities offered – Beauty treatments, Body sculpting, Weight-loss program, Breast enlargement, Liposuction and Cosmetic surgery.”

This was such a blatant use of fear and greed that it filled me with disgust! But the advertisement also set me thinking. It became undoubtedly clear that the survival of the relationship between a man and a woman was dangerously resting on the delicate rope of self-esteem. How easy it is for this rope to break – either by the partners themselves, or by such crass advertisements that reinforce insecurities.

Self-esteem is key

Self-esteem is feeling worthy and being able to meet life’s challenges. It is as essential as the air we breathe, and just as intangible. It comes from the depths of our core, yet it is reflected in our every single outward action, big or small. It is the essence from which we measure our worth and the most important building block in the foundation of our psyches.

Throughout our life, we will be tested again and again, until we feel confident about ourselves and believe in our intrinsic value. We will be tested on our willingness to view ourselves as worthy, regardless of what we look like and how our body performs.

We are not just our body

We know of so many people who have suffered irreparable damage — emotional and physical — in their intimate relationships because of low self-esteem. Some relationships ended in actual physical separation, some continued living together but had no sexual relationship [out of these a few had extramarital affairs], some couples went in for therapy and counselling [some successful and some not-so-successful].

Newly-married Aishwarya was told by her husband that she has “thunder thighs”. She cringed at the remark, refused to undress in front of him and, was stiff and awkward whenever they were intimate. She subsequently became a victim of “Anorexia Nervosa”, lost a lot of weight, and became obsessed with the weighing scale and the measuring tape. Subsequently they separated; she enrolled in a full-fledged therapy and is now hopefully on the road to recovery. She now says that she hopes to find someone, someday, who values her more than just certain parts of her body and loves her as a complete being.

Aishwarya is not the only victim; there are many more. Rita’s husband keeps insisting that she get cosmetic surgery done on her slightly long nose. He says that he gets put off with her long nose as it comes in the way while kissing. Due to this, their love-making left both of them dissatisfied. Then there is Aparna who, after childbirth, was told by her husband that her breasts were drooping and no longer attractive, turned frigid forever.

In yet another case, young Dhara was aware of her husband’s obsession with big breasts [she was not so generously endowed). So she went in for an expensive and painful silicon breast implant. But as fate would have it, she developed breast cancer. She had to have the implants and even one of the breasts surgically removed, had chemotherapy and lost all her hair. Not to mention she also lost her husband, probably to a woman with bigger breasts.

Men too go through similar situations. A married man was once told by his wife that he wasn’t man enough because of his slender body frame. His manhood was so deeply hurt that he could not get intimate with his nagging wife. He would have a normal erection at other times but when it came to his wife, he just fell impotent. Finally the wife, through counselling saw the root cause, and just by acknowledging his endeavours in other spheres, struck some connection with him again. She was guided to repeatedly appreciate him. Gradually, their sex life resumed normalcy.

External images versus internal self-worth

The media too, has a large role to play in reinforcing the body image to be followed by both, man and woman, to be sexually attractive to the opposite sex. It seems as if that is – and should be – the only criterion in their relationship, if we go by the media.

Today, cosmetic surgeons, beauty parlours, fitness centres and health clubs are all flourishing due to the same reason. There is an increasing focus on the outer beauty [standards which are forced down our throats by the media and our obsessed partners], to be attractive to our mates and in order to experience marital bliss. Moreover, this has even often been told to us, by none other than our so-called unconditionally accepting parents.

Self-esteem is not ego

The difference between the self-esteem and ego needs to be understood here. Many couples admire each other superficially just to keep the so-called harmony and outer peace in the relationship, or as a strategy to manipulate things for a selfish gain. To be genuine and empathetic in one’s expression is so very important, particularly when one praises the other or shows flaws in the other.

It is said that, sex is between the two ears and not between the two legs. Whoever said this must be completely aware of the relationship between self-esteem and sexual relations. So we see that frigidity in women and impotence in men [whether temporary or permanent, with mild to severe consequences] is often related to their lowered self-esteem. Their marital life can face major upheavals because of this.

Only a person, who is in true acceptance of himself, can accept and respect the other. Unless we learn to love and respect ourself, it is difficult for us to love and respect the other.

We need to realise that our true inner self will be with us for our entire life, while looks will change and fade – ultimately being an unreliable source of self-esteem.

Let us search to discover the pathway to that source, for it is the core of our essential value.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

Minnu Bhonsle
Dr Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.



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