How to Help a Partner with Body Image Issues?

Body image is something that affects both men and women, although it is far more common in women. The biggest problem caused by poor body image is a lack of confidence and low self-esteem. In this article, we are going to discuss how you can help support your partner if they suffer from body image issues.

There are several ways that you can help a partner to overcome and deal with body image issues. Complementing your partner about things other than appearance is very helpful. Ask your partner to be honest and respect his or her feelings by listening and sharing. Show you care. Never criticize.

The body image issues facing men and women are quite different and so it is necessary to look at what causes these in the minds of affected people. Once we understand how and why men and women feel this way about their bodies, we can begin to take steps to do something to help those who are suffering. We will look more closely at some ways to help your boyfriend/ girlfriend or spouse overcome body image issues.

Helping your partner with body image issues

As one of the most important persons in the life of your partner, your opinion and words do have a tremendous effect. Supporting your partner is the key. With that said, let’s take a look at some things you can do to help your partner to overcome their body image issues:

  • Ask your partner what they need and be attentive to what they tell you.
  • Encourage your partner as often as you can.
  • Don’t comment on appearance but focus on other areas that you admire in your partner. Examples are sense of humor, personality, strength of character, and honesty.
  • If you think it will help suggest your partner talks to a professional.
  • As far as possible help your partner to reduce any stress they are feeling and offer to talk about anything that bothers your partner or causes friction between you.

Why are body image issues so common?

The main reason why so many, both men and women, are affected by negative feelings associated with the appearance of their bodies is because of the images we constantly see in the media. Society has programmed women to think that to be attractive they have to be slim and athletic. Men, on the other hand, see posters of handsome guys with strong and athletic bodies and aspire to be like them.

Often the images are quite unrealistic and even the models pictured would look less glamorous or handsome in real life. However, this doesn’t stop many people from wanting to become slimmer, taller, or fitter. This can provide a lot of pressure on those who strive to improve their appearance.

Under normal circumstances, there is nothing wrong with trying to look good, but there should be acceptance and joy in our own bodies and less emphasis should be placed on how someone looks.

Body image issues center around a warped sense of the importance of appearance as a measure of attractiveness. Of course, in the real world attractiveness is much more complex. A sense of humor, courage, a good heart, and honesty and some of the many characteristics we value highly in others. What’s more, physical looks may be temporary, whilst character endures much longer.

One thing we need to keep in mind is that the effects of poor body image can be serious or even fatal if unchecked. Eating disorders and overtraining are some examples of this.

How to help your boyfriend/husband with body image issues

Men can suffer from body image issues that are not the same exactly as that which face women but can have similar results. For example, 25-40 percent of those suffering from eating disorders are men.

Another consequence of body image issues in men can be exercise addiction, where someone constantly works out at the gym trying to build a better physique. This can sometimes become an obsession driven by the desire to build the perfect body or the perfect six-pack abs etc.

One of the biggest problems men have in connection with this kind of issue is that they don’t usually speak up and tend to suffer silently. Therefore, it is a great idea to try to encourage a man to discuss any issues he has with body image and, in particular, how you may be contributing to how he feels about himself and his appearance.

Other ways you can help your male partner include:

  • If you discuss these issues make sure to be as positive as you can. Never criticize in any way.
  • Let your man know that you love him just as he is.
  • Suggest that he gets professional help.
  • Discuss his motivation to look better but be careful never to be negative.
  • Tell your man what you love about him. Make sure to stay away from appearance.
  • Always take an interest in his hobbies or interests as he’ll enjoy talking to you about this and feel more appreciated.
  • Give your man small gifts from time to time to remind him how much you think of him.

How to help your girlfriend/wife with body image issues

There are a number of ways you can help your wife or girlfriend with her body image issues including the following:

  • Pay her regular compliments. Make sure you are being genuine when you say these things because otherwise, she’ll see right through you. Don’t mention body or appearance directly.
  • Give her gifts to make her feel special and as an offering of your love to make her feel wanted.
  • Respect your girlfriend or wife by looking your best always. Paying attention to your grooming and appearance is not only a good example, it shows that you feel she deserves you at your best.
  • Always thank her for even the small things she does for you because that way she’ll feel wanted and appreciated.
  • One of the best ways to show your wife or girlfriend that you love her is to show her how much you enjoy her company. The greatest gift you can give your partner is your own time. Always have time to share with her and she will see how much you enjoy her and this will reinforce the message that it is not just her body that interests you.
  • It’s very important and highly supportive to laugh as much as you can together. Tell jokes, as long as they are not critical, and find things that amuse you both. Spend time watching funny movies.
  • Another important aspect of any relationship is creating memories, so do new things together and go to new places together when you can. Remembering the past memories that made you both happy is also a great way to strengthen your bond through your shared history. This will have a positive effect because none of this is about body image issues, it’s all about fun together and shared moments of joy.

What should you not tell someone with body image issues

We have mentioned a number of times that criticism or negativity is very destructive and that you should avoid this in any conversation you have with a partner who is suffering from poor body image.

Don’t forget that negative comments, either read by or spoken to a person who is vulnerable to body image issues, can cause problems. I am reminded of Karen Carpenter, the famous singer who suffered from anorexia and lost so much weight that in the end, she died. Apparently, she had read comments in the newspapers that she was “chubby” and believed them. These careless and hurtful words may have caused a chain of events and a pattern of thinking that ended the life of a very talented and wonderful person.

This shows how powerful words can be, so we need to be extra careful when dealing with anyone with suffering from any mental issue that affects confidence or body image.

So, here are some things you should never say to anyone suffering from body image issues:

  • Never comment about someone’s consumption of food as this can make them feel guilty or impact self-esteem. Comments like “should you be eating that?” or the opposite, “you need to eat more” are loaded with hidden negative meanings.
  • Be careful not to comment on the effect that clothes have on someone’s appearance. Saying something like “that dress doesn’t suit you” or “that shirt doesn’t look good on you” implies the problem is the person, not the dress or the shirt. At least, this will be the message the recipient of the comment will receive even if you meant it differently.
  • You should NEVER speak about any negative thoughts you may have about your body or appearance and wherever possible give a positive example of how to be comfortable with your own body.
  • Don’t compliment someone on how they look physically. This can easily be seen as a trick to make them feel better. By mentioning physical appearance, you only reinforce how important it is. What you actually want to do is to make the person understand that appearance is not as important as they believe and that other aspects of a person are much more important.
  • Don’t judge in any way and be sure to respect and listen to what your friend or partner says. Never tell them what they say is wrong. 
  • Be careful about using words to encourage confidence. Firstly, these show you are concerned and that their lack of confidence may be obvious. Your confidence-boosting words may backfire and be seen in a negative light. Best to focus on other things and especially those things that you see as positives in the person you are trying to help.
  • Encourage your friend to tell you about their achievements or small successes. Any kind of positive talk about how certain things are going well in life can transform motivation and attitude.
  • Impress on your friend how important it is to sometimes reward yourself. Talk about self-compassion and share how this works for you. It is not so much the actual giving of the reward it is the acknowledgment that you have done something well and deserve a treat. This is a great strategy for building self-esteem.

Final Thoughts

We’ve gone over a number of ways that you can help a partner get over their body image issues but ultimately there is a limit to what you can do. In any mental health issue, you need to provide support in the form of listening, discussing, and sharing. There is no place here for telling someone to behave or feel differently. The real cure for any body image problem will come from inside the person who is suffering. It is your job to enable them to summon the strength and determination to improve from within.

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