Nothing has more potential to heighten all of our body insecurities than summer excursions to the pool, sea, sand, surf, or whatever tropical island you may be lucky enough to find yourself. We personally find ourselves spending a great deal of time at our community pool. The people watching is fascinating. There is the mom of two who looks considerably like Angelina Jolie, a father who shows up from time to time whose back is covered in captivating tattoos, and a middle-aged woman who looks like she just stepped out of a J.Crew catalogue. Of course, there are hundreds of other pool members and they are all walking around – some more confidently than others – in bathing suits that are in most cases nearly as revealing as underwear.
Now, you don’t have to be a body image researcher to appreciate all the different shapes and sizes at the pool. But as body image researchers who are married to each other, our experiences are a little bit different, in part, because we have done a number of studies examining romantic partners’ roles in determining body image. Some of our findings may even help to alleviate some of your own body angst, provided that the person you care most about impressing at the pool is your own romantic partner.
For example, in one set of studies we found that men’s and women’s feelings about their bodies were strongly related to how satisfied they thought their partners were with their bodies.1,2,3 In other words, if you are unhappy with your body, you probably assume your partner notices all the flaws you do. However, the good news is that our romantic partners appear to be much happier with our bodies than we are; this is especially true for women (who are likely to be more critical of their own bodies). Men, in contrast, may have a more realistic understanding of how their girlfriends and wives view their bodies, but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t also vulnerable to body dissatisfaction. In fact, we’ve recently learned that men’s body satisfaction is associated with their own and their partners’ reports of sexual intimacy in the relationship.1,4 Men who report greater intimacy in their relationship also report greater body satisfaction (even after controlling for their actual body size).
So, what’s the bottom line? It seems that both men and women could use some reassurance from their partners about their bodies. If you’re happy with what you see when you check out your partner at the pool, you should let him or her know. Reassurance may take the form of a compliment or physical intimacy. Either way, feeling good about our bodies can only lead to more fun in the sun!
1Goins, L. B., & Markey, C. N. (2010, March). Understanding Men’s Body Image in theContext of their Romantic Relationships. Paper presented at the biannual meeting of the Society for Research in Adolescence, Philadelphia, PA.
2Markey, C. N., Markey, P. M., & Birch, L. L. (2004). Understanding Women’s Body Satisfaction: The Role of Husbands. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 51, 209-216.
3Markey, C. N. & Markey, P. M. (2006). Romantic Relationships and Body Satisfaction Among Young Women. Journal of Youth and Adolescence (Special Issue on Body Image), 35, 256-264.
4Goins, L. B. & Markey, C. N. (2011). Understanding Men’s Body Satisfaction: The Role of Romantic Partners. Manuscript submitted for publication.