Christina Spaccavento
Christina Spaccavento is a qualified and experienced Sex Therapist, Relationship Specialist and Counsellor

Our Sex Therapist and Relationship specialist talks about body image and our relationship with it .

I’ve often pondered the question, when a woman identifies as same sex attracted, does her self image change? Does she see her body differently? How does she understand her own femininity? Is she under the same pressures as heterosexual women to follow societal norms of thinness and beauty?

Mainstream media has supplied us with endless images of women and idealised forms of beauty throughout history. The 20th century provided us with ever evolving images of the beauty ideal for heterosexual women.

The 1920s saw women cast away the corset in a move for greater freedom of movement, strapping of their breasts to appear flat chested, thin, and boyish. This then moved on to needing to be strong and functional workers during WWII in the 1940s, only to change again in the 1950s during the Baby Boomer period when icons such as Marilyn Monroe showed women’s bodies as full and curvaceous.

But this all changed when the long-lashed, painfully thin and boyish Twiggy came along, revolutionising the way mainstream media depicted women’s bodies and burning the ‘thin’ ideal into our collective consumer culture.

Since then heterosexual women have been under enormous pressure to be thin. They have dieted, starved, purged, trained, sweated, nipped, tucked and sucked to reach this ideal. But as opinions about the desirable female form have changed over time, how have lesbians felt? Who have their role models been?

While Twiggy graced the covers of magazines worldwide, the athletic, fit images of Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King offered up an alternative. Studies on gay women’s perceptions of the ideal body compared to those of heterosexual women have found that lesbian women have aspired to having strong, fit and athletic physiques rather than simply being thin for the purpose of beauty.

Think Cindy Crawford shaving kd lang. Vanity Fair front cover 1993. Jaw-dropper!

And while many same sex attracted women have reported a sense of comfort and self acceptance about their physical bodies, more recent research has found that many gay women feel the same old pressures as their heterosexual counterparts.

So what can we do to build a healthy body image? Here are a few tips:

  • Be aware and conscious of self-messages and behaviours in relation to your body. Are they positive or negative? Identifying your internal dialogue will empower you to challenge any negative thought patterns with more self-nurturing positive  messages.
  • Have you ever tried the mirror exercise? Look at yourself in the mirror and name ten features you love about yourself, quirks and all. You might feel confronted to start with but persevere; the more you nurture yourself with positive self-talk, the more you’ll believe it!
  • Nurture yourself on all levels; physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and nutritionally…you’ll soon start feeling and seeing the benefits.   Make changes to unhealthy lifestyle patterns. With consciousness around your thinking and actions, you can be empowered to actively change any unhelpful behaviours that don’t support loving and nurturing your body
  • Consciously exercise unconditional self-love. This means embracing yourself no matter what your genetic make-up.