When I was a teenaged ballerina I hated my hips. Beautiful ballerinas didn't have hips. I remember asking my dance instructor how I could get slim hips and thighs like hers. She suggested a plastic sweat suit. At the time, I was 5'3 and under 100 pounds.
Luckily, the combination of a healthy fear of my mother's wrath and a newfound love of modern dance kept me from developing any serious ballet-induced health issues (and even encouraged a more healthy outlook about my shape). Still, I don't think I am very different than most women when I say that I have spent most of my life feeling insecure about my body.
My mother and my girlfriends told me I was beautiful and there were boys, and later men, who found me attractive. But I never really believed them. There was always a voice in my head that tried to convince me I wasn't beautiful enough, skinny enough, feminine enough. Then I got married, and something about the way I viewed my body changed.
It's hard to describe, but I can't help but feel like that cruel voice in my head lost a battle the day I married my husband, Joe. No, I haven't been magically cured of my various insecurities and, yes, come bathing suit season I still find myself striving for more toned arms and thighs. But for the first time in my life someone has been able to convince me that my body is beautiful, that my body really is enough, even if just for him.
I know I'm not the only woman who struggles with not feeling like she is enough. Poor body image is all too common among women. In fact, when surveyed, many Verily VIPs described struggling with insecurity and dissatisfaction with their bodies. But what is really interesting to me is, among that same group, many of our married readers said they felt less insecure about their bodies because of their husband's love.
At first glance, this feedback might strike you as rather disempowering. I mean, do women really need to depend on a husband to achieve positive body image? Absolutely not. Women don't need a husband to show them that they are beautiful, but it seems to me that most women need someone. My husband's unconditional love and his daily affirmations have slowly begun to project a different ideal into my reality, and it's one that is one hundred percent accepting of me—in fact, it is me. It's easier to silence that voice that tells me my hips are too big, when I know the man I love wouldn't have me any other way.
Experts have attributed things like our society's obsession with one body type, the media's glorification of unrealistic (if not impossible) physical ideals, and even conflicting messages about what it means to be feminine as the reasons for poor body image. But in the same way we allow others to contribute to poor body image, we can be persuaded to look at ourselves more kindly when we perceive that we are beautiful in others' eyes.
Research has found that our relationships with our husbands can contribute to our body image in much of the same way our magazines do. In a 2008 study examining body satisfaction among a sample of married women found that women’s own body satisfaction was strongly related to their perceptions of their husbands’ satisfaction with their bodies. Like me, these women felt that they were enough in their partner's eyes, and it made that voice inside their heads just a little less powerful.
What is interesting, however, is that the study reports, "Husbands’ actual satisfaction with their wives’ bodies was not significantly related to women’s own body satisfaction, or to their perceptions of their husbands’ satisfaction with their bodies." Meaning what matters is what wives perceive about our husbands' satisfaction with our bodies, not necessarily what they actually feel. Which is why our relationship with our husbands is the key factor here. In the same way simply being married doesn't make you happier, merely feeling love and admiration for your spouse falls flat if you can't or won't communicate that love.
It's just like the examples Dr. Gary Chapman gives about speaking your partner's "love language." If your husband is showing his love through acts of service and you need words of affirmation, his message isn't getting through. You might not perceive those loving things your husband wishes to communicate to you.
So you see, it's not so much that marriage has the magical ability to improve your self-esteem, happily ever after and all that. But a loving marriage, a deep friendship with your spouse, can one day reveal to you the truth: You are enough.
The good news is, a happy marriage isn't just for the genetically blessed. It can be achieved with a little work. Skills-based marriage training has been proven to be effective in increasing marital satisfaction. People who know how to show love are happier in marriage and, it seems, women who are happier in marriage are happier with themselves.
So, what's more important than finding a man who will love you? A man who will work hard, day in and day out, to make sure you can perceive that.
I knew when I married Joe that we had something really good, but I had no idea how his love would begin to transform me. Knowing that I'm enough not only helps me to see the beauty in what makes me, me but it also lets me rejoice in those beautiful women around me. We are all someone's ideal, but it takes love in order to see that.
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