There you are, making love to the man you love, and all you can think about is whether your thighs are jiggling. Sometimes, you actually feel like you’ve left your body and see it as an independent observer. It’s called “spectatoring,” the phenomenon of observing yourself as a third person in the bedroom.
I’m Embarrassed By My Body In Bed
As a “spectator” in your own sex life, you inspect, monitor, and evaluate yourself to the point that you pay more attention to your judgments than to your partner or to what you’re feeling. You’re the referee throwing red flags all over the bed.
Yes, he feels good inside you, but is he noticing that jiggle in your thighs? Because you notice it. And that’s not all you notice.
That faraway look in his eye? That’s not pleasure. He’s thinking of that new skinny girl from the gym! He wants to take you from behind? No way you’re letting him see your back fat! He wants you to orgasm? But that means you’d have to stop holding your stomach in! The final flag your inner ref throws? Too fat for sex.
Intrusive thoughts during sexual activity are the hallmark of appearance anxiety. It’s like you’re not even thinking; you’re being thought on. It’s hard to let go and sexually respond to a partner when you feel like your body’s on the auction block and the buyer is checking your hooves (among other things) to determine whether you’re worth buying.
You worry that your partner shares your awful judgments and you brace yourself for the cutting comment, the disgusted look, and the suggestion of a trial separation. The anticipatory anxiety seizes you up. You’re tense; you can’t feel much except relief when he finally climaxes.
The pain and anguish of “spectatoring” can lead to pleasure-blocking behavior that reinforces your negative body image. You “cloak” your body in darkness or camouflage the objectionable parts with clothing.
You try to block your partner from seeing objectionable parts of your body or position yourself in ways that he can’t touch them. But mostly you lie still, awkward in bed, because movement invites inspection.
Fortunately, there are several ways to get around “spectatoring” and the sacrifice of pleasure for judgment. It starts with a powerful tool that will teach your negative thoughts some manners and start getting comfortable in the bedroom.
The 25 Percent Factor
How do you measure the extent of a woman’s body dissatisfaction? It’s one thing to express dissatisfaction (“I hate my body”), quite another to measure it. One way researchers solved this dilemma was to conceptualize dissatisfaction as the discrepancy between perceived body size and true body size.
This is commonly expressed as a “self-actual” discrepancy score.
This score is typically arrived at by measuring test subjects for BMI and then asking them to view an array of contour drawings, darkened silhouettes, or photographs of women’s bodies arranged from thin to obese. The test subjects then circle the figure they feel best represents their true size and shape.
The researchers then measure the discrepancy between the test subject’s “actual” size and shape and their perception of it.
The results are as consistent as they are disconsolate: women significantly overstate the size and shape of their body.
Recently, a TV makeover show dramatized this type of “self-actual” discrepancy in live-action form. First, they take the measurements of eight or nine women of varying sizes and line them up in bras and panties, from thinnest to heaviest.
The woman being “made over,” herself in bra and panties, is asked to walk by the models, assess them, and then place herself where she feels she belongs in the lineup.
Inevitably, she places herself between two women who are much bigger than she is. The host moves her to the right spot—between two much thinner women. The contestant, of course, is usually shocked and ritually accuses the host of simply trying to make her feel better.
Women have a very skewed, inaccurate view of what their bodies look like. They over-estimate the size and shape of their bodies by as much as 25 percent or more. And by “they,” of course, I mean you.
Twenty-five percent is a huge margin of error. The average 142-pound woman would have to gain 36 pounds to actually be 25 percent bigger. A woman wearing a size 12 would have to go up three dress sizes to be 25 percent heavier. A woman wearing a size 34 belt would have to wear a size 42 if she were 25 percent heavier.
How to Use the 25 Percent Margin of Error in Bed
Ladies, the woman walking in your mind is 25 percent heavier than the woman walking in your home. Those thighs? You may be right that they’re jiggling, but you’re wrong about how much. That stomach that’s pooching out? You may be right, but your math is wrong. Back fat? Not even close.
We’re going to use your inability to accurately gauge your shape and size as a powerful cudgel against your self-judgments. First, understand that there are three ways to have a relationship with a churning ocean.
You can fight it (and drown). You can surrender to it (and drown). Or you can surf it (and live). We are going to use your 25 percent margin of error to surf the churning waves in your mind.
Every time you see a wave of negativity coming at you, use the 25 percent margin as a board and surf over it. Let’s say you’re in bed and it’s getting hot and heavy with your partner. But all those intrusive waves of negativity keep crashing around you. Here’s how you handle them:
Waves of Negative Thoughts
Your 25 Percent Surfboard
|“My thighs are jiggling.”||“Yeah, but they’re jiggling at least 25 percent less than I think they are.”|
|“My stomach is pooching out so much!”||“It’s pooching out 25 percent less than I think it is.”|
|“My hips are so wide!”||“They’re 25 percent narrower than what I believe.”|
|“My breasts are sagging!”||“I’m only 75 percent right.”|
|[Insert your complaint here]||“It’s not nearly as bad as I believe it is. If I were put in a lineup of similar-size women I’d be embarrassed to find out how much I overestimate the size of my body or how unappealing I think it looks.”|
You can’t stop your negative thoughts, but you can take 25 percent off at the counter. No, it’s not going to eliminate your body shame, but it will give you perspective.
Enough to keep your negative thoughts in check so that your body can say “mate.”
In the next post, we’ll look at how presentation helps in the bedroom (no, it’s not PowerPoint). In the meantime, don’t forget: your body image outside the bedroom is important, too.
If you missed the last post, read it here.