How to Address Your Body Image Issues While Dating

A woman who has body image issues, looking at her reflection in the mirror of her makeup compact.

Who hasn’t, at one point or another, looked in the mirror and worried about whether they looked fat or wished they had bigger biceps or a smaller rear? It’s common to have insecurities about how you look, but in more extreme cases, body image issues can manifest as life-threatening eating disorders. And when you’re in the middle of addressing your own self-esteem and body image issues, it can be hard to enter into a dating pool where you’re often judged by how you look.

As a clinician for a behavioral health provider, I treat many people with eating disorders and other diagnosis—and I want you to know that self-consciousness about your body doesn’t have to get in the way of enjoying dating or pursuing a worthwhile relationship.

If you’re struggling with body image issues while dating, here are some tips and considerations to help you overcome them.

Accept your body for what it is.
You are not perfect, and in reality, none of us are perfect. There are those whose bodies look better and those whose bodies look worse—and most of us are somewhere in the middle. It’s easy to think that one strict diet or a change in your exercise routine, will finally give you the body you want. But it may be that you already have a healthy, happy body that works for you. What needs to change may be the way you perceive yourself.

Understand that perfect body doesn’t come with a perfect life.
Many of us think we can only be happy with perfection, either in ourselves or others. But this is a good way to set yourself up for failure. You don’t have to be best, most elite version of yourself in order to be happy. Especially when it comes to your body. Most of us want what we can’t have and can’t accept what we actually need. Having a perfectly toned and sculpted body may seem like something you want, but the disciplined life that goes along with that (hours spent at the gym, constantly monitoring what you eat, spending all your money on expensive skin products and nutrition programs, denying yourself the foods and experiences you enjoy) may not be for you. In fact, it’s for very few people.

Know that the best, most attractive thing about you isn’t how you look.
While bodies are certainly a part of the total package that makes up a person, many people would rather date someone who is average-looking with a loving heart, a great sense of humor, interesting hobbies, a sharp intellect, and real commitment to their relationships than someone who is a pretty bore. When you feel down and find yourself thinking that you’re too physically unattractive to be wanted, try this experiment: Go and look at couples at the mall, on the street, or at a sporting event—Ever see someone who by outward appearance isn’t as attractive as the person they’re with? Or two average-looking people who are having a great time together? Think of the happy couples in your life—are their looks what connects them or what makes their relationship work? Of course not. When it comes to finding someone to have a real, lasting relationship with the things we’re attracted to go way beyond the physical. Judgments about your own physical attractiveness and how important it is in a romantic relationship is mostly in your head. The people who really love you are attracted to much more than how you look.

Think the way you want to feel.
People are attracted to all sorts of people. There are people who like blondes, people who like curves, and people who like dad bods. There isn’t one standard of beauty. As Shakespeare once said, “There is nothing that is right or wrong, but thinking makes it so.” If you think you’re beautiful, you’ll project beauty. If you feel ugly, it’ll show.

You’re probably not a perfect 10. (Duh! Nobody is! It’s impossible to put a number on something as subjective and allusive as beauty.) But if being 10 pounds overweight or having some acne scars causes you to say, “I am hideous, gross, and disgusting,” it’s your thoughts—not your looks—that are the real turn-off. How many times can you put yourself down until it sticks, and you start to think of yourself as an ugly person, inside and out? Our self-talk determines our confidence, our genuineness, and our openness to having fun—all qualities that play into attraction. So stop beating yourself up. If you can stop putting yourself down, you’ll begin to see yourself more clearly and you’ll notice when other people are interested in you and what you have to offer.

Live a full life and take care of you full self.
Take a break from seeing only the negative things about yourself that can make you feel hopeless. Realize that someone else does not make you complete. Go out, do things that make you happy, interact with others, develop friendships, and then if a relationship comes along, it will be because you’re one awesome catch with good friends, an active life, and a positive vibe that people love being around. (Who wouldn’t want someone like that?!)

Taking care of yourself carries over to how you present yourself to the world. Have good hygiene. Dress with confidence. Don’t go out with bed head all the time—and swap out that ratty T-shirt and sweats for something that shows off your style and personality. Exercise. Take your vitamins. Eat well. Take care of yourself inside and out. Your clothing, your attitude, and your self-care are all things you can work on to feel and look your best.

Finally, when you’re inclined to feel sorry for yourself because of your looks, make a change. It may be your exercise routine, the way you see yourself, the people you surround yourself with, or even the art and entertainment you take in on that needs to change—all of these things affect your mood, your energy, and how you see and think about yourself and the world around you.

We all have Debbie Downer moments when it seems easier to indulge in self-pity, and, in the case of dating, convince ourselves that we can’t reel in a date. Regularly giving in to this temptation can turn a pity party into an endless soiree that never seems to end.

So find the things that make you feel beautiful inside and out. Reexamine how you look at yourself and how you think of beauty and attractiveness as a whole. You may find that you like yourself more than you think, that you’re attracted to much more than someone’s great abs or amazing hair, and that there are a lot of people and things you were missing out on when you were so focused on the physical aspects of attraction instead of the full picture. Chances are, there’s plenty of beauty to be found in body and life you already have.

Dr. Beau A. Nelson

Clinical Social Work/Therapist, DBH, LCSW

Dr. Beau Nelson heads the Clinical Services department at FHE Health, a nationally recognized behavioral health provider treating addiction and mental health conditions. Learn more about FHE Health’s treatment programs here.

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