Defeating Love with Negative Body-Image

exposing body image issues's picture


By Judith Brisson

My sweet new lover is back at it again, disparaging the way he looks and comparing his looks to mine. I once told him, “You know, being good looking is really an overrated quality”.  For one thing, it often attracts the wrong kind of attention. Regularly getting the “piece of meat” treatment is extremely annoying, not to mention the fact that implicit in that treatment is the belief that one does not have a brain.

My new friend has pointed out that I spend a lot of time trying to prove how smart I am, and as unpleasant as that arrogance might be, I am sure that it stems from my pretty younger years where I constantly had to prove that I did, in fact, have a GD brain. I still haven’t outgrown that.

And then there’s the doubt that perhaps one’s lover is only attracted to one’s body, and not to the human being inhabiting it. Second wave feminists might refer to this as objectification of the female body.  It’s reminiscent of the feeling one gets in the wake of a coital act where, once over, there isn’t really anything to say or any reason to stay in the same bed. That I’ve outgrown.

But lurking in the undercurrent of our friendship is the notion that my love for him could not be genuine because he isn’t handsome enough by his standards.  Just this morning he told me I have an ugly fetish. And I don’t know how to respond to his insecurity. I assure him that I truly desire him and still he remains doubtful. Rita Freedman addresses this issue in her 2007 book, Bodylove: Learning to Like Our Looks and Ourselves, stating “…those with a poor body image have more trouble developing intimate contacts. They may sabotage relationships before they start or before they become really important”.

The 18th Century fable, La belle et la bête, is a metaphor for the transformative essence of love and how the lover’s eye casts a sweet gaze on the beloved.  When the Belle rushes back to comfort a dying Bête, her tears of grief transform the beast (back) into a handsome prince. This archetypal story describes the two powerful emotions of love and fear and how they are interconnected. The beast, insecure about his ability to attract a mate, resorts to extortion in order to procure some feminine companionship. He laments his lost physical beauty, believing that without it no-one can love him.

The beast treats his captive with generosity, love and respect, and over time an affection develops between them, underscoring the primacy of the quality of a relationship in the creation of affective bonds.

A recent study cited in the news examined the close neurological connection between love and fear, including the similarities in how these two seemingly opposite emotions manifest in the body: the obsessive mind, the heart palpitations, the sweaty palms and general unease of anxiety – are all common ground between the two emotional states.

It is no wonder then that when confronted with the possibility of love, some of us withdraw into a protective stance. In what we might experience as fear of love, we enter into a negative spiral of self-defeating thoughts, and in some cases this negative thinking is closely correlated with negative body-image issues.
In the 2008 article by David Robson, he cites an experiment conducted at  University College, London mapping the neural pathways of powerful emotions such as love and hate.  One of the discoveries in this experiment corroborates my little thesis here:

“The areas of the frontal cortex associated with judgement and reasoning are typically less active when viewing a lover compared to someone more neutral, meaning they are less likely to feel critical of their partner… Zeki says. ‘In love, you take leave of your senses and go wild for that person’”.

Rumi, the revered 13th century Sufi poet, wrote extensively on the god-like love that one finds in a compatible consort:

“Love has nothing to do with the five senses and the six directions: its goal is only to experience the attraction exerted by the Beloved.”

“If anyone asks you how the perfect satisfaction of all our sexual wanting will look, lift your face and say,
Like this…
When someone quotes the old poetic image about clouds gradually uncovering the moon, slowly loosen knot by knot the strings of your robe.
Like this.
If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead, don’t try to explain the miracle. Kiss me on the lips.
Like this. Like this…
When lovers moan, they’re telling our story.
Like this.”

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