I got into a conversation recently with a husband about how his wife doesn’t feel attractive. He continues to tell her she’s beautiful, she continues to downplay or dismiss his statements, and at the end of the day, she still feels unattractive and he feels discounted.
Some of you —husbands and wives — can relate.
I’ve written before about the importance of wives embracing their bodies and being naked with their hubbies (you’re welcome, guys), as well as what a husband can do to help his wife feel beautiful.
But let’s revisit the issue today, because I’ve had a few insights since then. Especially since my own body has been changing a bit in the last few, menopause-is-frustrating years.
Why does she feel unattractive?
Numerous husbands don’t understand why their reassurance about their wife’s beauty isn’t enough to quell the worry in her heart. Shouldn’t a hubby’s view of the matter be the controlling one? If God and her husband say a woman’s pretty, why isn’t that enough?If God and her husband say a woman's pretty, why isn't that enough? @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
Let’s demonstrate what’s going on with a scale.
On the left are all the times throughout a woman’s life she has felt less than attractive — based on slights she received from others, comparisons where she felt short, trying on clothes that sent a message of not-good-enough, watching the “prettier” girls get more attention, witnessing her body change due to pregnancy, aging, weight gain, etc. Each of those is a small piece, but together they weigh down the side that concludes Not Attractive.
On the right is hubby’s assurance that his wife is lovely, and yes, each of his pieces is bigger, more important. But it’s still not enough to balance out the scale, because she’s internalized so many other messages.
Consequently, the answer may seem to be just tell her she’s pretty a lot. Eventually, the scales will balance and everything will be a-okay.
Except many of you already know that approach often doesn’t work. Certain obstacles make it unlikely that just heaping more compliments on your wife will convince her of what you already believe — that she’s genuinely attractive.
What are her specific wounds?
Author Leo Tolstoy wrote a brilliant first line for his novel, Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I don’t know that happy families are indeed all alike, but it’s so true that unhappiness can be very specific.
Likewise, your wife’s inability to believe your words about her beauty is not about a simply balance of unhappy versus happy. Rather, she carries wounds from her experiences, such that the answer isn’t re-balancing the scales on the whole as much as healing her specific hurts.
I’ll share a personal example. Nothing my husband could say about my breasts being enough for him could erase the daily memories of the junior high locker room, where I was so clearly the flattest chest in 6th grade. And 7th grade. And 8th grade.
Don’t get me wrong: His reassurances were meaningful and beautiful and welcomed. But they didn’t get at the core issue of this young girl inside me still wounded by judgmental glances, inconsiderate taunts, and feelings of inadequacy. My difficulty believing my husband wasn’t personal against him; it was rooted in my woundedness. And I didn’t shed that sense of not-enough until I addressed the underlying hurt.
What are your wife’s specific wounds? Was she teased about her body? Has she struggled with weight? Was she actually the “pretty one” valued for her beauty, but now her body doesn’t measure up to that standard? Was she sexually harassed in part because of her shapeliness?
I don’t know what’s going on with your wife, but you should. You should ask why she feels unattractive and what incidents in her life have caused her to feel less-than.
Should you validate her viewpoint?
I’ve gained a lot of weight in the last few years. I’m still not a large woman, because I spent most of my life being rather skinny. And no, skinny isn’t fun either, ladies. Just trust me that a lack of curves can be as difficult as an excess of them. But I’ve added about 25% to my body mass, and it’s been a challenging adjustment. I don’t know how many times now I’ve mentioned to my (beleaguered) husband that my midsection is Out Of Control.
Spock, beautiful husband that he is, tends to respond with statements like, “Just more of you to love!” Does that make me feel better? Sure, it does. Right up until the next time I look in the mirror.
My hubby has also turned to such options as suggesting diets, exercise, and other ways to address the Michelin tire inflating just below my waist. This did not make me feel better, despite his good intention to help me address the weight gain.
And Spock has tried various other approaches to assuage my fear that I will increase in belly size until I look like Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the girl who inflated to a large blueberry before being rolled away by the oompa loompas.
And only recently did it occur to me what I really want when I discuss this issue. I suspect it’s what most women who feel unattractive want.
I just want to be heard.
I don’t want my husband to validate my viewpoint. Indeed, I hope he genuinely believes I’m more attractive than I often feel.
But I do want him to validate my feelings. I want him to sympathize with my woundedness and my struggle. I want him to let me tell my story and work through how to address the issues. I want to know he’s on my side — not just believing that my beauty is worthwhile, but that my story is worthwhile too.
So how can you help your wife feel attractive?
Ah, I made you wait until the end to give you actual tips! (Unless you cheated and scrolled down to this heading, in which case go back up and read the rest.) But at least I’ll make this part easy with bullet points!
- Ask her to share her story of why she feels unattractive. What messages has she received throughout her life about her beauty, and how does that impact her feelings now?
- Listen and validate her feelings. Not her viewpoint—her feelings. You can say that you don’t agree but you understand better now why she feels that way and how hard it is for her to believe she’s beautiful.
- Tell her why she’s attractive to you. Be specific, including aspects like what drew you to her, what parts of her face and body are particularly appealing, what you see when you look at your wife.
- Don’t expect a one-and-done. This should be an ongoing discussion, not a single conversation. In fact, be willing to listen again and again and spread out your compliments, so they build up and help to tilt the scale some.
- Offer to support her positive efforts to address the issue. That could mean treatment for an eating disorder, counseling for past wounds, a gym membership, walking the neighborhood with her, helping her update her wardrobe with more flattering clothes. Mind you, this doesn’t involve cooperating with negative efforts, like fad diets or obsessive behaviors, but rather positive efforts that address physical and emotional health.
- Don’t offer your own treatment plan. A corollary to the previous point is not to play fix-it with your wife’s beauty concerns. For instance, if she’s overweight, she doesn’t need you to tell her that more exercise and less food will result in less weight. If she feels flat-chested, don’t point to a plastic surgery billboard and say, “Well, we could buy you ones like that model!” Whatever your wife’s specific issue, you get the point.
- Pray for her. This struggle doesn’t make sense to a lot of men, but it’s a fairly universal concern for women. Like it or not, what’s-acceptable beauty messages are pushed at us throughout our lives, and they take a toll. A loving husband can do a lot to ease that burden, but a loving husband praying for his wife is even better. As Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
I was tempted to say, “Tell her to search Scripture to see what God says about her.” Except such advice often comes across as offering a treatment plan: “Take two verses and call me in the morning.” Citing Scripture at her could be helpful or it could backfire, depending on your wife. So while it’s important for your wife to recognize that she was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and that she is wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-14), maybe talk about those principles instead of throwing verses at her.
Now despite this post clearly being aimed at husbands, I invite the wives to chime in, so men can better understand and address this our body image worries.
Ladies, what would help you to overcome your concerns about attractiveness? What could your husband do to help?