Pulling Back The Sheets: Intimacy and Body Image

It’s not easy to talk about, this most intimate of subjects, but I know sex and body image is something many of us deal with on some level, despite our body size. We can wear clothes that flatter, cover, disguise, hide, tuck in, suck in, boost and separate. But stripped down, bare and naked, the truth is beheld by a beholder, someone who isn’t us, and the myriad emotions associated with that most intimate moment is the topic of today’s blog. It’s rated PG, I assure you, but I thought I owed you all a note of warning.

Two-year-old grandbaby Mae loves to be naked. She’ll strip down whenever the mood strikes and run around the house yelling, “Nakee! Nakee!”
“Nakee” and alone, I’m better than I used to be. For the most part, I accept (or at least live with or just ignore) the sags, bags, wrinkles, and rolls (as I wrote about in last year’s post, “How Blake Shelton Helped Me Take My Clothes Off.”)
“Nakee” and not alone? Well…let’s just say I’m not as comfortable as Mae.
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, how does that translate for us – as people of varying weights and body issues – when we are the beheld and the beholder is our beloved or beloved-wannabe? Because at the heart of that “beauty…” sentiment is trust. Trust that when we are told that our bodies are beautiful just as they are, the person saying it believes it.
I remember when I reached goal six years ago, I was at a picnic with my then-husband, Larry. A male neighbor asked him what it was like to be with a “completely different woman” in bed. Without missing a beat, Larry said, “She’s the same beautiful woman I’ve always known.”
I was disgusted by the man’s question, but I was more surprised by my reaction to my husband’s response. Larry had always told me I was beautiful, no matter what I weighed. He loved me, literally, through thick and thin. But it was at that moment that I realized I never trusted Larry’s, or any man’s, words of beauty and admiration in the realm of intimacy. Why? Because to me, I was not beautiful, not in bed anyway. And if my truth was that my body was not beautiful, then – in my mind – that was every man’s truth, despite what they said to the contrary.
My sexual repertoire – at all my weights – has included remaining semi-clothed or having sheets or blankets strategically wrapped around me, and employing carefully choreographed maneuvers to keep body parts from being exposed or displayed in unflattering ways. The reasoning behind this routine comes from years of negative self-dialogue and a subconscious buy-in to the impossible societal definitions of beauty. That I believe that my body, in its natural state, is better enjoyed covered up and not in the naked open is so deeply ingrained in my head that it’s become as much my truth as the fact that I have blue eyes.
Since starting my meditation practice several years ago, my mind has been on a journey of truth. Emotions I thought I had under wraps sometimes swim to the surface and demand to be felt at seemingly inopportune moments, and trying to stop them is like telling a swimmer to keep holding her breathe when she comes up for air. They need to breathe. NOW.
The most powerful NOW moment to-date happened a few months ago when I was dating The Irishman. All he did was whisper, “You’re beautiful,” and in that moment, what I thought and felt down to my very core was, ‘Wow, he has really bad taste in women. I’m so gross, can’t he SEE that?’
It was such an overwhelmingly sad and empty feeling, it made me cry. It was like someone unearthed my 500-thread-count-sheet-wrapped body and put it on display in a museum next to a placard that read, “A 21st-century example of a woman who never liked her naked body.”
Words tumbled out my mouth as I bawled and told him about my life-long struggle to accept my body. He kept stroking my hair and, when I calmed down, said, simply, “I know. I see you struggle with it every time we’re together. But I think you’re beautiful.”
And here I thought no one ever noticed my strategic maneuvers. Hmmm….
So how do you hear, believe, trust and accept another’s truth about your body when your own view of your body is less than stellar or even polar opposite of our beholder’s? How do you pull back the sheet, even a little, and welcome their truth and meet intimacy with no body image barriers?
Weight loss and weight maintenance envelop our entire lives, including our sex lives. I just don’t see it discussed much in the blog-o-sphere. I know it’s because this isn’t an easy subject to discuss in public, and anyone who reveals they have sex at all is subject to criticism from any number of ideological bents. But if you struggle with this, too, or if you’ve figured it out (or if it’s never been an issue….and bravo to you for that!!) and you’d like to share, leave a comment. No judgment from me, but I do ask that you keep it PG. Thanks!

11 thoughts on “Pulling Back The Sheets: Intimacy and Body Image

  1. Lynn, I have no answers, but I did want to say that this is a beautifully written post. You have such a lovely way with words, and I could tell this one, especially, was written from the heart.

  2. I don't have any good answers, either, but I hope this issue gets better for you. Do I like what I see when I look at myself naked? No. But I accept it. That's who I am. I carried babies, I worked hard to lose weight, and my body shows the scars of both. In order to enjoy my body, I bare it. Lights on, covers off!

  3. Shelley said it perfectly – a beautifully written post, Lynn. I, too, have no answers, but I feel just as you do, and one would think, after 53 years of marriage I'd get over it, already! Yeesch!

  4. Wow, Lynn. “And if my truth was that my body was not beautiful, then – in my mind – that was every man’s truth, despite what they said to the contrary.” Did you get inside my head when I wasn't looking? A very refreshing post. Thank you for sharing. I really enjoy following your blog.

  5. I think my decision to get a tummy tuck and my husbands reaction forced my negative body image to transform. Oh, and a breast lift and some repairs “down there” helped enormously. These things enabled me to start the vigorous exercise program I needed after having a very large baby 40 years ago!

  6. Lynn, bravo! Your post is honest and brave but it also made me very sad. The feelings you describe are so common and yet so destructive.

    There are lots of things that I don't like about my body. Even if I weighed twenty-five pounds less, even if I had no flabby bits, I would still have a terribly “flawed” body.

    But you know what? I believe my husband when he tells me I'm beautiful and there's nothing better than making love in the daytime (with no kids in the house!), on a nice big bed with the covers thrown out of the way.

    Weight loss be damned! If you (in the general sense, not “you”, Lynn) don't love your body as it is, you'll probably continue hating your body, no matter how hard you try to make it conform to “standard” beauty.

    The worst part of it all is that with PhotoShop, we no longer have any idea of what people really look like. All those airbrushed pictures of models and movie stars have totally robbed us of the ability to look at real human beings and see their real beauty. Sadly, I think things are getting worse for women and now, even for many men.

    I know it's hard to do, but we've got to throw off the covers and turn on the lights!

  7. oh my gosh. this was such a beautiful, honest, heartfelt post – thank you so much for sharing!

    one thing i try to tell myself when i hear myself saying mean things about my body is this:

    it feels wonderful to love my body and believe i am beautiful exactly the way i am. it feels like crap to hate myself and think i am ugly. i have a choice, and i choose to believe i am beautiful.

  8. I'm so glad someone else is talking about this issue! I have often thought along the same lines and have wanted to write about it n my own blog, but I've been scared. It seems like every time you link “overweight” and “sex” in the same context, you open yourself up to criticism. Knowing someone respected in the blogging community like yourself makes me feel a little bit braver. Thanks!

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