How can I help my partner learn to be body-positive?

"Love your body" heart plushy by Etsy seller SewnBySuze
"Love your body" heart plushy by Etsy seller SewnBySuze
My partner has always been conventionally attractive. For a number of reasons, his recently body changes are resulting in a difficulty with self-esteem.

As someone who has NEVER been conventionally attractive, I had to build my own body-positivity over the years, though it's really solid now. How can I help my partner learn to be body-positive toward this new and unfamiliar body? -KayFay

Aw, body changes can be super difficult. It's hard to not look or literally feel like yourself! And if the changes are sudden, it can totally do a number on your psyche. Being sympathetic is always a good thing — which clearly you already are! Maybe encourage your partner to get therapy to help with bigger self-esteem issues? But mostly just love 'em up as much as usual, and really show them that no matter what they look like, they're super-sexy to you!

Homies, what other ways have you encouraged your friends and partners on their journey to body-positivity?

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  1. I agree with the advice above with one caveat.

    I think it's really important not to accidentally invalidate their feelings on the matter, which is really easy to accidentally do. This is true for any hard or painful thing, like when someone dies and everyone jumps from "I am so sorry this is so awful let me hug you" to "at least she's no longer suffering" or "you will feel better with time" or whatever the thing is. It's really important that the sad person get enough time just to acknowledge their sadness and sit with it.

    When the sad thing is something obvious and external like a death, it's relatively simple to catch ourselves doing this and stop ourselves, but I notice that it becomes tricker when the sad thing is more internal or subjective. I have pretty bad Major Depressive Disorder and omg if I got paid for the number of times I was encouraged to cheer up, or look on the bright side, or told about how great my life is….well, I couldn't quite quit my job on the proceeds but I'd have a nice sideline.

    So when it comes to body image I'd agree with being clear about how attractive you find them and how much you love them and all of that, but just be careful not to do it by minimizing their feelings on the matter.

    For example, if he says, "I'm so ugly," DON'T SAY "no you're not!" He's not making a factual statement that needs correction; he's making an emotional statement that needs validation — just like when I'm depressed and I say "my life is awful," it is super unhelpful for someone to say "no it isn't!" Yeah, shut up, helpful person. I know it isn't. But I feel like it is. And I need help dealing with that feeling, not in being convinced that the feeling is wrong somehow. Being wrong on top of being unhappy equals being miserable.

    Anyway I would aim for saying things like, "oh, it hurts so much to feel like that. I've felt like that too. I love you and think you're gorgeous. I wish you could see yourself the way I see you," or something like that.

    I think for the most part body image issues are things people have to work out for themselves and there's not tooooooo much we can do to speed it along — other than love and total acceptance.

    But love and total acceptance are very big things and are often enough.

    42 agree
    • Excellently put! I think this is something many people don't think about when someone they love is dealing with issues like this. It seems helpful to just say "no you're not!" (and it IS said with good intentions) or whatever, but, as you pointed out–that's basically telling the person they're wrong and/or don't know what they're talking about…making them feel worse. You worded it perfectly.

      1 agrees
  2. I think what you're dealing with is something way different than body-negativity. You're dealing with someone who is upset by a visible change in their body structure. Maybe that's significant weight gain, maybe that's losing a limb, maybe that's loss of muscle mass. I don't know what his recent change is. But trying to view it as "Help him feel attractive and confident" is only part of the problem.

    Try to view his changing body like puberty or menopause or recovering from pregnancy. They're natural changes, but it still feels like your body is betraying you. Depending on his view of it, it could also be that his body changing reminds him of his impending death.

    I second the advice that therapy may be a valid option. I second the advice to validate his feelings rather than jump to "helpful" statements. Listen to him, empathize, and try to address what he feels are the issues rather than what you feel are the issues.

    6 agree
  3. I think he might need some help/time to deal with whatever caused his new body.

    As a car crash survivor, I got nasty scars. I had a tough time, not even wanting to go out of the house at first. Looking in mirrors made me physically ill and I obsessed. Part of healing, for me, was just kicking myself in the butt and forcing myself to do stuff even if inside I felt ugly and shaky. Fake it till you make it. Having someone who loved me just being with me would have helped. Not to make me do stuff, I think I would have been ferociously angry at that, but just to know someone had my back. Bit by bit it got easier.

    I later realized that the scars pissed me off because of the trauma associated and the anger and the helplessness of having my life and appearance taken by someone else. It is better now, I consider myself not as a victim but a survivor and that changed my outlook on my scars.

    I think what I mean is body positivity has to come from the inside. As you said, you built yours over many years. No matter how often someone says your appearance is not a problem, it won't change a thing if he doesn't believe it himself. Stand by him, don't push the issue, reassure when he needs it and give him time.

    It sucks being on the sidelines when someone you love is struggling. Unfortunately, I don't think there is a magic way for you to solve his issues. Be strong and steady in your love. Allow yourself to feel down and angry too.
    *big hug*

    8 agree
  4. **hugs**

    Body changes can be so hard to work through. I struggled with body acceptance for years, and it was painful and totally tangled up my sense of self. What finally set me down a path of loving my body was an amazing team of therapist + nutritionist, a supportive partner, and a shift in what I valued about my body. Over time I found things that I enjoyed doing that brought me closer to my body (yoga, hiking, self-love) and helped me appreciate my body for more than my assessment of its attractiveness. The more I valued my body for those things, the more it bled over into how I viewed my body as a whole, and I learned to accept and even love my body.

    These other commenters are awesome and I second everything they've said. I wish you and your partner all the best, we're rooting for you both.

    2 agree
  5. During my bulimia recovery, I created a Tumblr (tummyproject.org) to showcase diverse body types for the benefit of my own self-esteem. Maybe it would help the OP's partner, or others reading the comments. ­čÖé Good luck to everyone with your body positive journeys!

    4 agree
  6. I think this depends a lot on what the changes were. If the issue is that he's suddenly gained or lost large amounts of weight or something else that can theoretically be changed, working towards some goal on that front may be helpful. If the issue is that he was in a car accident and lost his left arm, that's another thing; absolutely nothing you or he can do will give him a left arm again. In either case, though, hugs and non-invalidating sympathy are likely to help. The suggestion of therapy is a good one. If it's something there are support groups for, one of those may be helpful. If it's a disability or other medical condition, there were probably medical professionals involved at some point; one of them may be able to provide advice.

    2 agree

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