Help my girlfriend love her body
October 5, 2010 8:48 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to help my girlfriend cope with or overcome body image issues that make physical intimacy a bit of a challenge? NSFW details.

I recently started dating a young woman around my age (mid-college-aged), and we've gotten along very well. We both adore each other, and we were rather quick to become fairly intimate physically, relative to my past relationships. (PS: I'm male)

The only problem is that she has fairly strong body image issues. She doesn't like her stomach or thighs, so she'll wear a v-neck shirt without a bra and pull her breasts over the opening, and she'll keep her jeans on. This is fine for making out, but when we want to go farther, this makes things difficult. She's eager for me to finger her, but it's difficult to get very deep considering that I have to maneuver my hand down past the waistband and then up inside of her. This tendency to keep clothes on also makes it impossible to try a bunch of positions/acts. I know I could ask her to change into less/looser clothes, but I would really prefer that be a stepping stone to her being comfortable in the nude, rather than a long-term substitute. I heard through a friend that her ex-boyfriend had similar issues, so it's not like a matter of getting to know her (I am not a gossip, and I was surprised to come across that info).

I also find that I have trouble getting aroused because I am on an SSRI, and seeing her cover up so much of her body and be clearly nervous about me seeing her nude kind of challenges my already stunted libido. That bit of the equation is probably something more between me and my psychiatrist, but it does compound the other factors. My current SSRI works very well for me, and I'm a wreck without it. Also, as I'm on my mother's healthcare plan and she's on a tight budget, I'm doubtful that something like Viagra is an option.

What's really dismal about this is that I like curvy to obese women more than their skinnier peers, but I'm afraid to admit that this early in the relationship for fear I might sound like I'm objectifying her, and/or only dating her for her curves, when I also love how she is really smart and funny.

She is not even that heavy. She is a slight pear shape, and definitely not overweight. She is, in my opinion, a healthy and sexy size.

Please don't think that I'm not empathetic to her body image issues. I know that this is harder for her than it is for me, which is a big part of why this concerns me. Up until high school, I was deeply ashamed of my own extra weight due to bullying, and would not swim without a shirt on. And I still feel a twinge of anxiety about getting nude, both because I'm not as fit as I would like and for fear I won't maintain an erection (damn SSRI). I just want us both to be comfortably physically intimate.

Since I've mostly described the situation without asking any questions, how can I best go about helping her feel more comfortable about her (beautiful) body?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Tell her how beautiful her body is until she believes it. Not just during play time, but all the time.
posted by novalis_dt at 8:57 AM on October 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

I like curvy to obese women more than their skinnier peers

DO NOT SAY THIS TO HER. What it will sound like is, "you are fat but it's ok because I'm into it." Maybe some women like to hear that, but I'm pretty sure your girlfriend's not one of them.

And don't casually hint at it either, like by saying, "she's way too skinny, that's just not attractive at all," when you see a skinny chick. The way to express to your girlfriend that you don't care about her size is not by commenting on the size of other women. Tell her that you think she's beautiful.
posted by phunniemee at 8:59 AM on October 5, 2010 [28 favorites]

what novalis_dt and phunniemee said x1000. Plus, be patient. :)
posted by torisaur at 9:04 AM on October 5, 2010

I am a medium-fattie myself. Off the top of my head, I don't think that you'd sound like you're objectifying her if you told her that you like larger women. However, given what you've said about her lack of confidence, being told flat out that she is anything but a stick (hell, even if you told her that she was super skinny and it was the absolute truth) would NOT be a good idea. She already seems to be distorting her own view of herself, and if she doesn't believe herself, how can she believe anything that anyone else tells her?

This is her problem that she needs to deal with, and no matter how much you tell her how wonderful and attractive and sexy she is, she'll have to work on those things herself.

That said, if you really want to continue this relationship, there's always the "do stuff in the dark/under the blanket" option, which would hopefully meander into "stuff with the lights on" territory. Perhaps if you have some parts that you're not super fond of, talking about them might be a way of building trust. (She may cut you off and tell you about double standards for males, blah blah blah.)

But I'm concerned that perhaps this isn't the right relationship for you. You sound like you are a caring and thoughtful partner who knows his own issues and is willing to work on them, and she doesn't seem like she's at that point with herself yet. Maybe you could get there if you take the relationship to less of a physical point and focus on building trust in other ways, but she needs to be GGG (where "GGG" means "for God's sake, nobody cares! Take your shirt off already!").

Building trust, being playful, being less self-conscious about potentially embarrassing things... those aren't just things that come up in bed. Be careful. You deserve a partner who will give you the same consideration that you give to her.
posted by Madamina at 9:05 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

My husband did a lot of this work for me. One of the things he did was to basically treat me like I was gorgeous and sexy all the time, I mean ALL THE TIME, and gently but positively refute all my negative self-talk. If I said something like "uch my gross stomach" or whatever, he'd say "You're the hottest woman I've ever dated." When I went on a diet and lost like seven pounds and asked him if he could tell, he said "The first day I ever saw you, I thought you were the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen, and every time I look at you, that's still what I see."

He also touched me all over my body, very frequently, not just during sexytimes but in our casual life together. Not disgusting PDA or anything, just, like, he'd come up behind me and rub my tummy while I was cooking, or whatever. Basically he just totally normalized my body and his attraction to it. With his help, I went from being someone with crippling body anxiety issues to someone who is very accepting of and comfortable with her body. It took a couple of years, but it was such a gift.
posted by KathrynT at 9:05 AM on October 5, 2010 [56 favorites]

I'm by no means questioning your motives here, but you do have a conflict of interest when it comes to helping your girlfriend get more comfortable with her body. In your shoes, I'd be worried that anything I tried to do would come across to her as nothing more than an effort to get in her pants. Which might turn her off more.

I'd just give her some more time to get used to the situation, and keep telling her she's beautiful (DO NOT say anything like "it's ok honey, I have a thing for bigger women"), and trust her to come around sooner or later. If it gets to the point were it seems like she's not adjusting (after a month? I don't know, use your discretion) then you need to talk to her about what kind of physical relationship she wants to have.

But I really think that's all you can do. You can't get someone else over their own hangups.
posted by auto-correct at 9:05 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Does she see it as a problem? You might try (sensitively) having a conversation about it, and listening to what she has to say, as well as reassuring her that you find her beautiful and desirable and that you want to have a good relationship with her.

Then, if she's interested, she might get something out of The Body Image Workbook. Body image issues seem, in my experience, to take a long time to resolve on their own, if they ever do. Doing specific, active exercises to work on it is likely a better way to improve this within a better timeframe.

Also, make sure that you don't frame this as only a "this is messing up our sex life!" problem. Let her know that you care about her well-being first and foremost, and that the impact it's had on your relationship has made you aware of how much more it must be affecting her internally.
posted by Ouisch at 9:09 AM on October 5, 2010

wow, i wish i could find a guy as thoughtful and kind as this. compliments can definitely help get a person more comfortable in her skin and, in turn, hornier for you. telling her your preference of curvier women wouldn't be a bad idea - but i wouldn't use the words "obese" or "fat." they sound a bit some weird fetish and then she might also think she falls into those categories. use something like "curvy" or "womanly." most women automatically assume men prefer stick-thin until they're told otherwise.
posted by achtland at 9:19 AM on October 5, 2010

I wouldn't phrase it as a preference for curvier women at all. I'd point out what you like about her. My first serious boyfriend, who helped me a lot when it came to being more confident about my looks, would do things like rest his hand on my hipbone when we were spooning, and talk about how perfectly his hand fit there. It reassured me that he loved my body and not just lady-bodies in general.
posted by MsMolly at 9:33 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

My girlfriend had similar issues with her past boyfriends, although she hasn't had any problems getting naked and fooling around with the lights on with me. As people have suggested, I have told her honestly that I find her very attractive at her current weight, and I also told her that I would most likely find her attractive if she lost or gained weight too.

I feel for you on the SSRI thing, but you really need to make this all about making her feel comfortable and sexy and not just making it easy for you to get hard and do the kinds of things you want to do. The root problem here is that she doesnt feel good about herself and you need to be supportive and reassuring about her feelings while not doing anything that will make her uncomfortable.

I like curvy to obese women more than their skinnier peers

DO NOT SAY THIS TO HER. What it will sound like is, "you are fat but it's ok because I'm into it." Maybe some women like to hear that, but I'm pretty sure your girlfriend's not one of them.

I said this to my girlfriend early on and it would have been hard to be honest about what I found physically attractive about her if I hadnt. It may be a different situation because she actually is overweight (at least by BMI standards, I think she is at a 'healthy and sexy size' too). Realistically she knows that a lot of other guys would find her sexier at a lower weight, but she doesnt care about what they think.
posted by sickle cell moon at 9:40 AM on October 5, 2010

Darkness. My wife has a different set of body issues, which, of course, make no difference to me.

She can only be completely uninhibited in the dark. This would not be my choice of conditions, but if she's happy then I am happy.
posted by Danf at 9:47 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would talk to her about the SSRI thing if you haven't already.

Make it a separate conversation from any of the rest of this stuff. Do not say "Oh of course you're not too fat for me — I'm just on Prozac" or "I'm on Prozac so I need you to get naked more" or anything like that. Just "Hey babe I think you should know, I've got this medical situation I'm a little embarassed about, but I really like fooling around with you and I'd like to keep doing it if you're okay with that," and then talk things through on that front.

You're right, she may well be worried that it Means Something when you can't get hard. (Even if you haven't said anything, she's likely to have noticed.) But the solution there isn't to somehow make yourself get an erection through sheer force of will. (Doesn't happen.) It's to tell her honestly what's up and then trust her to understand.

Also, if you get it off your chest and you trust her not to freak out about it, you'll probably have an easier time getting hard anyway. Worry is really, really counterproductive in that department, and it sounds like you're worrying about it. Once you can relax a bit, that part of the problem may solve itself.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:54 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

She needs to feel comfortable and beautiful. There are ways to accomplish this without saying that you like, "curvy to obese women". Your intention in saying that is good, but it might make her feel worse. Instead, just tell her she's beautiful. All the time, not just during sexytime. If you say it enough at random moments and in sincere ways, she will really start to believe you.

Touch her a lot. Again, not just during sexytime. Rest your hand on her thigh while you are sitting side by side. Come up behind her while she is standing and place a hand on her hip or stomach. If she's like most women who are insecure about their bodies, she'll probably try to gently angle away from you when you try to touch her "trouble spots". Don't be overly insistent, but try to keep this affectionate sort of touching going. Show her you like touching her by doing so in non-threatening, loving ways. When that angling away thing stops, well, that's a really good sign.

If/when she feels comfortable and beautiful with you, the clothing will probably start to come off. Keep the lights off for awhile. Gently suggest she remove her shirt, etc. Let her know that it's okay for her to say no and that she can control when/if she gets completely naked.

In other words, just be loving, affectionate, and communicative with her while making sure she feels safe and physically loved the way she is. Good luck.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 10:03 AM on October 5, 2010

i know that the general consensus here is not to say that you are into larger women, but i don't see how that would be a negative if somehow she knew that. i am rubenesque, and this is a fairly recent condition, and i would appreciate knowing if my lover was turned on not only by my mind and personality, but also my body. i would want to know if my guy was into larger women. knowing this kind of thing has made me infinitely more comfortable with letting loose in the bedroom, rather than always wondering if my guy really preferred another body type. okay, otherwise, the advice here is solid as far as letting her know that you find her beautiful all the time, and showing your affection. this is me. i am just one data point.
posted by bright and shiny at 10:23 AM on October 5, 2010

Just take it slow. Some women are just not ready for sex. Give it three months or so, until she learns to trust you.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:28 AM on October 5, 2010

I experienced this with several relationships earlier in life and they always got over it gradually. I did compliment them a lot, mentioning specific parts of their bodies I really liked, but I don't know if that's what did it or if it would have happened as we got closer anyway.

I'm skeptical that telling her you're specifically into larger women would be helpful since she'll likely just hear "You're a larger woman," but there's nothing wrong with saying, "I love your thighs" or whatever.
posted by callmejay at 10:37 AM on October 5, 2010

I'd have a simple plan. Compliment her looks when the feeling hits. She'll sense the sincerity and it will help.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:15 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you really do enjoy her body, find ways to show it that will help build her confidence and slowly break down the negative body image she has now. Tell her she's gorgeous, rest your hands on her hips, kiss her shoulders and tummy and so on. Touch her, and tell her that she turns you on.

My boyfriend does this pretty effectively, and it's slowly helping me get over my body anxiety. He doesn't flat-out refute my statements, like if I say, "I should go on a diet, I don't like the way I look," he'll say something like, "If you'll feel better doing that, I'll support you, but I think you're beautiful as you are, and I always will."

I also love SkylitDrawl's answer. And KathrynT's. Man, I really like this thread altogether.

Three cheers for supportive, loving partners!
posted by rachaelfaith at 11:50 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

i'm a girl and like girls that are curvier vs skinnier. hmmm and i say this ALL THE TIME. my friends know, my girlfriends have known. i would say that i'm an advocate of the curvy/heavier gals. it might also be that i'm so bored with the obsession with skinny that i take whatever opportunity i can to remind others not everyone is obsessed with skinny chicks!

the ppl that i'm around tend to agree so i hope i haven't done any major damage!
posted by PeaPod at 12:06 PM on October 5, 2010

How about she wear a silky nightie with no panties. She can pull the straps down for access to her breasts. Otherwise it covers her stomach and hips, but allows you to get to her bottom unimpeded.

Go shopping with her to Victoria's Secret or Walmart.
posted by wrnealis at 1:24 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is going to sound flip, but I'm completely serious: Turn the lights off.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:30 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think the only way you can say something like this: "I like curvy to obese women more than their skinnier peers" is the way my husband (then boyfriend) said it to me:

He said something like "It's funny that I find you so attractive - you aren't my usual type. All my previous girlfriends have been much fatter, and I thought that was my favourite body type. But it turns out I love your body just as much."

This gave me the information that he didn't think I was fat, but that he did like fat women, and wouldn't likely have a problem if I did end up putting on weight eventually.
posted by lollusc at 6:00 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who is clinically obese and has major body issues. The one time she talked to me about how it affected physical intimacy with a man was to tell me how refreshing it was to hear him say "You think I don't know what you look like because you've got clothes on?"

Try something to that effect?
posted by loquat at 8:27 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whaaaat? I love, love, LOVE it when partners are like "no seriously I like bigger girls and your curves are smokin'". I know I'm not skinny, I own a mirror (and no one cuts the tags out of my size 16 jeans).

That said, if she's already self-conscious about it, it's not going to help--she'll just be like "oh my god he likes my body but that's ONLY because he hasn't seen it, he's seen it disguised, and if he sees it now he'll be so disappointed"...etc.

The worry isn't objectifying her, it's making her even more self-conscious.

However, there's really no need to bring skinny girls (or other girls) up at all, just tell her how sexy SHE is, how much she turns you on, how good it feels when she X.

I sorta question how much you'll be able to push her if she's going to such lengths. It might not even be a weight issue, but nerves around sex in general, a bad prior sexual experience, scarring or disfigurement, or something else entirely.

Chances are this is going to be an ongoing issue that she'll need to deal with in therapy, which leaves you sorta in the lurch if open sexual expression is something you need to be happy in a relationship.

I would want to know that she's at least thinking about it and working on it before I'd continue in the relationship, but that's just me.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:30 PM on October 6, 2010

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