How Body Image Affects Relationships
by: Diana Potra “Man shouldn’t be able to see his own face – there’s nothing more sinister. Nature gave him the gift of not being able to see it, and of not being able to stare into his own eyes. Only in the water of rivers and ponds could he look at his face. And the very posture he had to assume was symbolic. He had to bend over, stoop down, to commit the ignominy of beholding himself. The inventor of the mirror poisoned the human heart.” Such wrote Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa, and, as much as it pains us to admit it, we cannot fault him for saying it. At the risk of sounding cliché, our society, and our generation, in particular, is image-obsessed, because we have grown up surrounded by an unregulated amount of curated, photoshopped, and simply put, unrealistic content. With perfect faces and bodies surrounding us at every turn, not only in media but unlike our parents, in our feeds and friendship circles as well. There is something to be said about the technological progress that led to this phenomenon in the first place, of course. It’s simply mind-blowing that we can instantly communicate with anyone all over the globe, can document our lives with incredibly precise cameras, and have social media platforms to share it all. Of course, something that did such good to our world was bound to have some negative consequences, too. Would the generations before us have been so liberal with regulations on these new developments if they knew the problems they would lead to? There’s no way of knowing for sure, but the deed is done, and now we must live with the repercussions. A Study in Volume 51 of “The Journal Of Adolescence” by Heather Cleland Woods and Holly Scott found a clear link between social media use in adolescence and low self-esteem, so while these problems are far from theoretical, how they affect our relationships is an entirely different issue. The general Romanian high school culture has never been known for its extraordinarily accepting and non-peer-pressuring self, and going through that environment with low self-esteem, something of more prevalence nowadays, is an especially difficult challenge. High School culture is, of course, a reflection of a country’s culture at large, so it would be foolish not to mention that these problems are also widely faced by adults in all categories of our society, but when you are a student and have evidently experienced less than an adult, a simple relationship can feel like a huge part of your life. Therefore, it’s best to be aware of these problems before they present themselves, and know how to best deal with them.
The first and most common of the problems that affect our relationships and stem from low self-esteem, is an unvoiced fear of intimacy. A relationship with a lot or a lack of intimacy is of course, not an inherent problem, as long as both parties have agreed to it, which is something we often fail to acknowledge. That being said, a far more common case is that of one of the partners being pushed to do something they are uncomfortable with by the other partner. We so often hear our girlfriends talk about being unprepared to do something with a partner, but going through with it anyway, that most of us have created a sense of normalcy around it. I, for one, have heard variations of the same story so many times, I struggle to recognise its toxicity. It usually goes something along the lines of: One of the partners is not prepared to lose their virginity, but they feel so pressured either by the other partner, their friends, or even their own expectations, that they end up drinking themselves halfway through to unconsciousness, and doing it anyway. Not only does this “classic story” include frightening elements, like not being able to consent, but it raises serious red flags about the relationship and the other partner, and it also perfectly exemplifies how damaging low self-esteem can be to relationships. In this vicious cycle, while you cannot bring yourself to do something, you also cannot respect the boundaries you set because of your low self-esteem, and you are bound to harm yourself in the process. While it’s true that physical chemistry is an important factor in determining whether a relationship is going to work or not, and that your teenage years are a perfect time to explore that side of yourself, the most important thing is always your well-being, and, for whatever reason you may not be ready for something, respecting yourself enough to stand your ground takes priority. The other prevalent issue stemming from low self-esteem is codependency. Codependency is when partners rely on each other for validation and emotional support to an unhealthy degree. This is yet another example that we encounter all too often in our day to day lives, and that affects not only the romantic relationships of a person with low self-esteem but also the platonic ones: They cling onto people who validate their emotions, and before they realise it, both their and their partner’s life have become entirely reliant on one another. Once that realisation happens, they will either totally separate themselves from that person, ruining a deep and salvageable bond, or find it impossible to distance themselves and remain in the relationship, however toxic it may be. Either way, codependency is not good news. That being said, what is there to do? Are all Gen Z relationships doomed to fail, and are we all destined to be lonely and miserable forever? The truth is, we are all going to have to find our own coping strategies for these problems, because loving yourself after having been conditioned not to do so your entire life is one of the hardest things you have to learn, and you cannot do it overnight. For now, I’m afraid our only option is striving to become conscious of our patterns, our fears, and our thoughts, and letting those around us know. It may seem impossible at first, but you must trust that even though it is laborious and exhausting, and you will face opposition from every which way, you are going to end up loving every inch of yourself.