Body-Confidence and Polyamory

First of all, THANK YOU to everyone who commented on the feminism post, whether here or on Facebook or even to me in person. Today’s topic is different but related.

I’ve been thinking about this one for a while, but only just now figured out exactly what I want to say on this particular topic.

I have always been extremely unconfident about my body. Getting naked in front of a new person/new people is still a Big Deal to me. I was on the wrong end of bullying for twelve of the first 16 years of my life, much of it centred around my looks – and something that is so vicious, and went on for so long, can hardly not have an effect that carries over into adulthood.

As a woman in this culture, it’s bordering on compulsory to hate your appearance. Just look at the magazines, adverts and other media targeted at women – it all tells us that our value is in our appearance, that we’d better be on a diet at all times or else, that we must buy all these products and go through all these time-consuming/painful/expensive (delete as appropriate) routines just to make ourselves acceptable.

The crux of this, in a (probably over-simplified) nutshell, is that our primary purpose is to be appealing to men. And this stuff gets internalised. You can think it’s utter misogynistic bullshit, as I have ever since I got old enough to start thinking critically about this stuff, but rational thought and logic and strong feminist views are not always impenetrable armour against a lifetime of having it pushed upon us that we’re all wrong, wrong, wrong and in desperate need of fixing. The world loves to tell us all about how our man will cheat on us or leave us if we don’t continue to match up to his expected standards of physical perfection.

What does this have to do with polyamory?

At first glance, not much. Look a little deeper, and… a lot.

What about trying to impress multiple people? What’s that like, especially when they’re demanding/expecting/requesting different things? I was once in a situation where one partner was telling me I was too fat (I wore a UK size 14 at the time,) while another I knew preferred curvier women and would have been deeply opposed to me losing too much weight. One loved my natural blonde; another wanted me to be red- or dark-haired. Bouncing between partners and getting a mix of “you’re great as you are” and “change this, this and this!”…. when desperately trying to keep two (or more) people happy, two (or more) sex lives on track, this is not an easy thing to navigate.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be attractive to one’s partner, or making an effort to do so – that isn’t what I’m saying at all. I dress up sometimes when I go and see Nomad, because I know he enjoys it, and it makes me feel good to do. The difference is that I know he still loves and values me when I’m lounging around in pyjamas and a hoodie, or wearing sweatpants with my hair all scraped back for dance. The difference is that he doesn’t demand I change myself for him, or attack me for my appearance, ever. I suppose to a lot of people, it’s obvious that a partner shouldn’t do this. To me, it was a revelation.

So what have I gained from all this? Sometimes I feel like, after many years of struggles and self-loathing, I am starting to not only accept (and sometimes even like) my appearance, but realise that there are so many other elements of me which are much more important. This has largely come from deciding to no longer bother with people who expect that I change for them. Of course I want to be with partners who find me physically attractive, and I never want them to be afraid to express this – but I want to be with partners who find me attractive as I am, and even more importantly, who find value in me beyond my looks.

Basically, if someone wants me, they take me as I am – imperfections and all.

And if they don’t want me, because I’m not pretty/thin/hot/whatever enough, their loss.

Maybe, with so much of our culture insistent on telling us that there are so many things wrong with us, when it comes to romantic relationships we should stop trying to change ourselves for those who demand we be different, and spend more of our time on people who value our beautiful selves, and know that our beauty goes much further than just skin-deep!

19 thoughts on “Body-Confidence and Polyamory

  1. A Good Attitude is most important to her happiness. I believe sexuality is encased in my attitude, separate from physical (outward) beauty. Even apart from health. Those who are obsessed with their appearance, weight or otherwise miss out on the now. The moment is now to love ourselves. I am so happy for you and can’t wait to hear more. Peace and love Sister

    • missamaranth says:

      Thank you. Yeah, attitude is really important to happiness, and it was a long, hard journey for me to get even to the stage I’m at today. And I think the journey will continue, as this is something I think I’ll have to work on always, to one extent or another. But it’s absolutely worth it.

      Peace and love to you too!🙂

  2. Dragonmamma says:

    Of course this is all true and we all know it IN OUR HEADS, but even so having the confidence to believe we are beautiful/important/significant/worthwile etc JUST AS WE ARE is so hard to truly believe.
    I remember when I went back on the dating scene after many years of abstinence following an abusive relationship, I found myself too scared to undress in front of my new lover. I was lucky in that he realised my complete lack of confidence took me in his arms and told me I was beautiful.
    But even now, I look in the mirror some days and wonder why anyone could fancy me or think me attractive. And I am one of the worlds reasonably together and confident people well past the age when it ought to matter anymore.
    The press has a lot to do with all of this , with their constant carping about weight etc etc. but one thing I have found that helps a to look at our partners and think “do they feel as unattractive as I do?” and to realise that we think they are beautiful and eminently fanciable because we see more than just the outer surface. So it must be true in reverse so to speak.
    One of the things I would think Poly makes worse is the comparison between yourself and other partners. I imagine that most of us would feel that they are “better” in some way than we are in our less confident moments. I dont know how I would cope with that

    • missamaranth says:

      *nods* oh, yes. Having it make sense in our heads, and really feeling it, are two very different things! I’m glad your lover helped you through the insecurities/worries when you first started dating again. It can be a really powerful thing for someone to do. Even the most confident of us need some reassuring from time to time!

      Poly definitely makes the comparisons between yourself and other people, if not worse, certainly more noticeable! Women are conditioned to compete with each other, especially where men are involved, so the idea that one’s partner’s other lovers are not a threat takes some serious reprogramming. (I wrote a post about tihs a while back, it’s titled “That Competitive Streak” if you haven’t seen it.) I am frequently terrified my partners are about to leave me for somebody prettier. In my less confident moments, I sometimes become consumed with doubts that I’m good enough and fears that all it takes is for someone prettier than me to throw themselves at my partners, and I won’t be needed any more and will be dropped. (In my worst worst moments, I feel I must compete even with ex-partners who are years in the past. Written down, that sounds as ridiculous I know it actually is!)

      Personally, I get around it by telling myself it’s silly, by asking for love and reassurance when I need it, by doing something to make me feel good about myself, and sometimes by joking about it. (Nomad and I have a running joke that he’ll ditch me for someone younger once I turn 22 and graduate. Joking about it helps me to realise how absurd the fear really is!)

      Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts!🙂

  3. acelightning says:

    First, watch this video:

    Now, you’ve met me; you’ve seen a 64-year-old woman, overweight (17 stone) and sagging, with (entirely spurious) frown-lines at the corners of my mouth. What you haven’t seen yet is the scar that runs from 5 cm above my waist, down my belly to the hairline; it’s barely visible except for the way it makes my belly flab hang unevenly, and for the part above my navel that looks like a typical scar. I also have a brand-new scar about 8 cm long on my right breast – I don’t know what it’s going to look like when it’s healed, but it *will* be visible.

    My appearance doesn’t matter too terribly much to me, because I never managed to live up to what was expected when I was a young girl. No matter how I tried, I just couldn’t manage to make my hair curly, to put on makeup without it looking clownish and inept, to understand the unwritten and constantly-changing rules about what clothes to wear. So I stopped bothering. But even so, there’s still an annoying little shrill voice in my brain insisting that I must at least *try* to look like a woman one-third my weight and one-quarter my age, with an army of stylists and beauticians to maintain the look at all times (and a Photoshop artist to get rid of any remaining flaws).

    But, as you probably know, I have plans to take this old, socially unacceptable, worn and scarred, body, and DANCE, along with some of my friends, this coming October. I hope we can dance naked, or at least topless, but even if we can’t the message will get through. We’ll be dancing to say, “We are all beautiful. These bodies of ours – unique, imperfect, damaged and repaired, utterly unlike the pop-culture ideals, are beautiful. And we dance to celebrate that, and to celebrate the fact that we SURVIVE, and gleefully give the finger to anything that gets in our way!”

    • missamaranth says:

      The last part of your comment makes me so happy to read – hooray for dancing! Hooray for celebrating beauty in all shapes, sizes and ages! Hooray for the imperfections that make us our unique, beautiful selves!

      Thank you for reading ahd sharing your thoughts🙂

    • Dragonmamma says:

      Dear Ace, I am sure you are my twin!! I too am 17stone and 65 now with scars from operations on my body which has left my belly all lopsided. At the moment i have a bad case of flu and feel really awful, but your post lifted my spirits and made me smile. And in October,over here in England I shall dance half naked with you to celebrate life and survival and the ability to to live with joy. Thank you my friend.

      • acelightning says:

        Nomad said you and I were very much alike – I didn’t realize he meant *physically* as well!😀

        You’re welcome!

  4. Nile says:

    This post is a revelation: you were bullied using your *looks* as the point of attack… And you are one of the most attractive people I have ever met.

    Puts some perspective on dysfunctional communities: knowing this about you, why would anyone ever believe what they were told by bullies?

    • missamaranth says:

      Oh Gods yes, constantly.

      And thank you! *blush.*

      I don’t know why we persistently believe what we’re told by bullies, except that 1) if you hear something often enough, it becomes internalised, and bullies are nothing if not persistent, and 2) they somehow always know a person’s weakest points of confidence, and home right in on those! I mean, I liked reading and drama and I got good grades, so they left my intelligence alone because I *knew* I was smart. It wasn’t a weakness. But I was a late-bloomer in the looks department, wasn’t into fashion or makeup, and dressed kind of weird! So they exploited these facts for their little bit (well many years) of sick entertainment. *sigh.*

      Still, without all that I probably wouldn’t have decided that “normality” sucked and I wanted to make my own way, and by extension might not be writing this right now!🙂

  5. Selki says:

    I came across a term recently: The Insecurity Industry, about all the “beauty” magazines etc. that try to sell cosmetics, clothes, and self-hatred.

    • missamaranth says:

      Oh, I like that (well, I hate the fact that it exists, obviously, but I love how apt the term is!) Thanks, I may have to start using that expression!

      Thanks for reading, hope you’re well *hugs*

  6. Kai says:

    As much as this post was affirming and confidence- boosting, I find myself frequently (especially lately) trying to work out the balance between what to categorize as unjust criticism, and what is legitimate feedback from partners. Because as much as I want to say ‘yay me!’ I know I sometimes veer into behaviours that aren’t helpful in some of my relationships, and it’s always a temptation to feel affronted by being critiqued, just as it’s simultaneously a temptation to internalise feedback into ‘oh no I have something wrong with me!’ I don’t want to change arbitrarily to suit another’s whim, but I also don’t want to hurt the people I love by being static and not learning about their needs.

    Kinder, more forgiving partners are so far more patient with me while I try to work out where I stand on things, though, and I guess that’s the important part.🙂

    • missamaranth says:

      What you’re saying here makes a lot of sense to me – really, in the post I was talking about specifically physical traits/appearance. Behaviour, I think, is a slightly different matter.

      I know I sometimes engage in behaviours/patterns which aren’t good for me or my relationships, and I appreciate it when my partners (gently) call me out on these when they see them. In these cases, it’s less about arbitrarily changing myself to suit someone’s whim, and more to do with being aware of unhealthy patters and choosing to work on them – for the sake of myself, my partners and my relationships.

      But when it comes to body and physical appearance, I would feel affronted by being critiqued – and justifiably so, i think! Now, partners expressing preferences is fine (“I like it when you wear……” etc) but telling me things like that I’m too fat or any other attack of my looks/body designed to hurt me is Really Not Okay. And in this instance, it really is a case of take me as I am, or leave me!

  7. Byghan says:

    Have you ever noticed that it isn’t just that we are constantly told about all the things we should be but also that we are told it is inappropriate to express confidence and pride in ourselves (especially if we are not perfectly conformist)?
    I feel like it is frowned upon to enjoy one’s body and also that we are pressured to constantly both improve it and to pretend that we aren’t.

    I didn’t suffer from insecurity about my body until reasonably recently; it was only after people started praising my shape and expressing attraction that I became nervous about it. As a teenager, I knew I was plain and unattractive and comments about it were easy to ignore but in my early twenties the ‘blossoming’ effect rather took me by surprise and I began to feel a pressure to maintain it. Now as my thirties creep upon me and the luxuries of a good woman cooking for me and not being as fit and active as I was once I worry that I am not as attractive to my lovers as when they first met me.
    Also (and I think this is just me) I feel a good deal more internal pressure to be ‘the right sort of pretty’ for men than I do for that weird or just an internalisation of the heterosexually focused culture?

    • missamaranth says:

      Oh Gods, yes! I half expected to be attacked for this post just for writing about my looks/body in a way that isn’t completely self loathing. After all, if we don’t hate ourselves, how will the Insecurity Industry sell us expensive products designed to fix all our terrible flaws?

      And no – it’s not weird at all. I feel a different sort of pressure from men and women. My success with women is limited, and I’ve been informed it’s because I “don’t look gay,” whatever that means. But with men, I feel much more pressure to be conventionally feminine. Strangely enough, the times I feel the most pressure are often spaces where I won’t be hooking up with/dating anyone there at all. Rarely do I feel more conscious about my looks than around a group of heterosexual, conventionally attractive women!

  8. Serina D says:

    Yes, totally get the Insecurity Industry thing – I received a message from some guy on OKC a while back, and when I didn’t respond particularly positively to his cheesy and self-entitled introduction, he launched into (what would be for most people) a devastatingly viscous and spiteful attack on my appearance, using words like ‘grotesque’ and ‘repulsive’.

    Whilst he was easy for me to dismiss (and in fact laugh at), it just made me so sad that this person thinks (and worse, has been told by society!) that it’s acceptable to respond to a refusal from a total stranger (that he approached) by attacking someone’s self esteem. He picked the wrong person this time, but if I had been younger, less confident, constantly bullied, depressed, abused, unsupported, vulnerable, etc etc etc, that could have had a hugely destructive effect. Why does anyone think that it’s all right to do this, and why does society think that looks are such an important part of a woman’s self image that it trumps everything else? Is it the first line of offence because it’s easy – or is it easy because we’re all so conditioned?

    Sometimes, I just need to stand naked in front of my mirror and remind myself that yes, I’m gorgeous, and healthy, and happy, and no small minded idiot or ‘beauty’ industry is going to take that away from me!

    • missamaranth says:

      Ugh, what an idiot that guy was – so sorry to hear that happened! I’ve been on the wrong end of that myself. (There was also the guy who told me I should be grateful for being sexually objectified, as “ugly woman” would wish to be treated as such.) It’s really amazing how they think they have the right to do thia.

      I find it particularly hilarious when someone comes onto me, I turn them down, and then they launch into a vicious hate-filled attack about how ugly I am – because obviously that’s why they were hitting on me in the first place! There’s actually someone at my uni who still has a burning fiery hatred for me because I refused to sleep with them IN FIRST YEAR.

      I think they take looks as a first line of attack because they think it will hurt us more than anything – because we’re conditioned to believe our worth is in our looks.

      “Sometimes, I just need to stand naked in front of my mirror and remind myself that yes, I’m gorgeous, and healthy, and happy, and no small minded idiot or ‘beauty’ industry is going to take that away from me!”

      ^^ Yes! This! Awesome – yay for self-love😀

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