This was originally published on Proud2Bme, an online community created by and for teens. Proud2Bme covers everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.
Dating is a complicated process to navigate. If you are part of a marginalized community in any way, it is often even trickier. However, we all deserve to have happy and healthy relationships that respect our boundaries and reflect our desires. For many, body positivity has recently become a central part of their lives and self-development. So why not integrate body positivity into your dating life as well? After all, body-positive relationships tend to be healthier and happier.
To get you started, here are five tips on how to promote body positivity in your dating and sex life:
1. Don’t Compromise
Certainly, some compromising in relationships can be healthy and necessary for relationship growth. But when your partner(s) wants you to compromise on your appearance or behavior in order for you to be “more attractive,” think twice!
If you want to shave your legs or not shave your legs—do it! After all, it is your body hair. If you really love to wear makeup, then do it, even if your partner(s) insists you are “more beautiful” without it. You should also be able to wear what you want, eat what you would like and generally be in control of your body without guilt.
In the end, if your partner(s) is trying to control any part of your behavior or appearance, even if in a subtle way (ex: “I just prefer if you wear dresses”), it should be a red flag. You simply cannot have a healthy, body-positive dating life if the person (or people) you are dating is not supportive of your body and bodily autonomy.
2. Believe Your Partner(s)
On the flipside, if the partner(s) you have supports your body-positive attitude and expresses their attraction to you, learn to believe them. Sometimes, it may be difficult for you to believe your partner(s) because of your own insecurities or the body shaming you experience in other parts of your life. However, if you build a healthy relationship with your body and your partner(s) expresses attraction to you, nothing else should matter. The more you learn to accept that your partner(s) is attracted to you, the healthier and more body-positive your relationship will be.
3. Communicate With Your Partner(s)
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you will still have doubts about your body and your relationship. No matter how many times your partner(s) tells you they are attracted to you, you still might have concerns. No matter how positive and healthy your relationship with your body may be, sometimes a negative thought might still creep in. In moments like these, communication is key.
Communicating to your partner(s) when you are having a bad body image day or are insecure in any way may be the best way to help you feel better. Even if they are unable to make you feel better (after all, sometimes it is something we have to deal with on our own), they can be aware of things that may be triggering or make the situation worse for you. And if you are nervous or scared to communicate your feelings to a particular partner, you should examine why. It may be an indicator that your relationship is not healthy.
4. Support Your Partner’s Body Positivity Journey
At the same time, do not forget that support goes both ways. If your partner(s) is being supportive of your body positivity and decisions, you should be of theirs. Listen to their concerns and insecurities if they are willing to share them. Remind them gently about why you are attracted to them and your feelings for them. Support the decisions they make about their body.
5. Practice Affirmative Consent
Sex and intimacy should always be practiced with affirmative consent. Affirmative consent respects bodily autonomy, safety and boundaries of your partners. Moreover, affirmative consent also encompasses body positivity.
In the book Yes Means Yes: Visions of Sexual Empowerment & A World Without Rape, Margaret Cho writes about her own sexual experiences in the foreword. She remarks that she “said yes [to sex] because [she] thought [she] was so ugly and fat that [she] should just take sex every time it was offered, because who knew when it would be offered again.” In other words, she would say yes to sex she did not want, simply because she thought that her partners were “settling” for her or doing her a “favor.”
Part of affirmative consent and body-positive sex is moving past this mentality that Cho describes. Body positivity is about only engaging in sexual (and emotional) intimacies that you want. It is about intimacy that is not demeaning or hinged on violence. You deserve to have sex and be intimate with partners who want you for you, not those who make you feel like they are doing you a “favor.”
About the blogger: Kira Rakova is an undergraduate senior at the City College of New York studying international studies, communications and anthropology. Her research and advocacy passions include: gender justice, mental health justice and community organizing. Apart from schoolwork, she is part of various community-based organizations, including the Student Mental Health Initiative and the Body-positive Empowerment & Acceptance Movement (BEAM).