Summer Body Shame
Its summer again (all of a sudden) in Western New York. After a long cold winter, the heat has come. For many, this is a welcome change. But with the sun comes expectations of shorts, bikinis, and more revealing clothing. For some, the summer season can intensify body shame. The roots of body shame run deep: parents’ comments about muscles or weight, locker room comparisons, Hollywood glamour and the absence of “normal” looking people in the media.
Body shame can have a profound impact on our psyches-- bringing us down, squelching our sexual desire, even our pleasure in life. At RCSW we take body shame seriously: its negative impact on our self-worth and our sexual enjoyment and functioning. Addressing body shame and overcoming it can improve sexual functioning-- and that doesn’t mean changing your body! In fact, older adults who may have physical limitations and may look neither young nor fit often have more satisfying sex lives because they have learned to let go of shame and anxiety. They are what they are and strive to extract the maximum joy from the body in which they live right now. They are not waiting to lose 25 pounds to get naked with another body.
When we think of shame about our bodies it is important to remember people of all genders suffer from this. Anyone, sadly, can be ashamed of their size, athleticism, and genitals. A core tenet of enjoyable sexual expression is that it helps to feel sexy. And feeling sexy is the key to being sexy. In fact, many people who may be very attractive have terrible shame about their looks and as a result don’t feel sexy and consequently have less satisfying sex. Anxiety about our bodies, or anything else, can lead to lubrication problems for people with vaginas, erection problems for those with a penis, and lowered “drive” for all.
One resource for healing is The Body ImageWorkbook by Dr. Thomas Cash. Other resources include online photo galleries of “real” people including people of size and people with differently abled bodies. Some people feel so uncomfortable about their body they may need a professional to assess if a part is too small or too large or looks wrong. Some people continue to feel this way after multiple professional and other reassurances that this is not the case. Treatments include psychotherapy with specific focus on overcoming or ignoring the shaming messages from within ourselves and from outside. Sometimes, medication can be helpful.
Sometimes we just need to explore our sexy selves and put ourselves out there-- but remember, as far as feeling sexy is concerned, the most important audience is yourself. Find yourself sexy and the world will find you sexy too!