Sex can always be an exercise in vulnerability — you can’t get intimate with someone else’s body without sharing a bit of yourself that everyone else doesn’t get to see (or that you may be self-conscious about anyway). So even your most trusted visitors — one-time or regular sexual partners — can let you the f-ck down by saying something that makes you feel weird or just hurts your feelings by betraying that trust in some kind of way.
Not that it’s always malicious, but sometimes in the weirdness of post-coital moments your partners (or you!) can fuck up and not be their most body positive — and you either get mad or internalize it in a way that’s worse for you and your self-image and self-esteem.
Members of the HC team (and some of our friends) got to talking about our own experiences with partners saying shitty things to us about our bodies and how we’ve learned to address them or deal in our own ways. Here’s what happened:
Katherine S: Okay, sometimes even people you really care about can be total turds. What’s the shittiest thing a partner has ever said to you about your body? Why the f-ck do you think they thought they could talk to you that way?
Gina E: Sometimes men can be Really Bad, and it’s honestly baffling how they can pull such hateful speak out their mouths, never considering how deeply it might traumatize their partner with body insecurity for literally ~years~ after? Once, after spending a night together and waking up in the morning, my SO told me my breath was bad. For some reason, THIS is the moment that really wrecked me for life. Like, call me heavy or my boobs saggy – but why go for such a weird thing as telling me my breath was bad and refusing to kiss me until I brushed my teeth? Your partner is supposed to think you’re sexy as hell when you wake up in the morning with a rotten mouth that you haven’t brushed for 10 hours because you were sleeping. Also, we’d spent the night together probably like 40 times before this and it had never been an issue. They just picked a random day to wanna shame me, probably because we were on the verge of a break-up and they were more angsty about something *internally* than my breath actually being bad.
Emily M: This isn’t necessarily something about my body itself, but it was said about my looks. I struggle with something called Trichotillomania, which is an anxiety disorder that gives you urges to pull your hair out of different parts of your body just by using your fingers or hands. My “place of choice” happened to be my eyebrows. In college, my anxiety got really bad, so of course my Trichotillomania followed with it and also got worse, and I would pull my eyebrows out without even noticing it while I was studying, or taking a test or doing homework or even just sitting in bed watching a movie. Eventually it got so bad that I barely had any eyebrows left and my (now) ex-boyfriend would make fun of them so much and make me feel even worse about this anxiety disorder I had. He would call them ugly, point them out in front of people and tell people about it, constantly bringing attention to my lack of eyebrows. Not only was it something I was insecure about, but was something I was ashamed and embarrassed of, so every time he commented on them and how bad they looked, I’d feel even worse.
Maggie S: A guy told me I had the ugliest toes he’s ever seen.
Julianne S: Maybe this is like, TMI, but I’ve had two different boys hook up with me and during say “you have no idea how hot you would be if you got a boob job.” One offered to split the cost with me.
Rachel L: Every single guy I’ve ever dated made me feel terrible about my body. I thought it would be different when I started dating girls, but the first girl I slept with honestly made me feel so shitty about myself I still haven’t recovered.
Rebecca T: In college I briefly hooked up with a guy who thought he would be taking my virginity (this happened often) and he told his friends that my vag was super hairy and then they made a freestyle rap about it which the friend performed in front of me LMAO.
Katherine S: I remember back in college I brought a rando home and we ended up spending a weekend together. One of the things about sleeping with new people is figuring out what acts you want to do, what you don’t. And I remember he said he didn’t usually finger girls because he “didn’t like to get [his] hands dirty” and I had this weird moment where I was just like “Do you think I’m dirty? What about my vagina is dirty?”
“But I always wish I actually felt comfortable enough to say something about how the ‘dirty’ comment made me feel in that moment because it’s never fun to feel the wind get taken out of your sails when you’re mid-sex.”
I didn’t say that — Instead I said it was easier for me to get off with clitoral stimulation and introduced a sex toy and it satisfied both of us. But I always wish I actually felt comfortable enough to say something about how the “dirty” comment made me feel in that moment because it’s never fun to feel the wind get taken out of your sails when you’re mid-sex.
How did y’all react? Or, looking back, how do you wish you reacted?
Gina E: I think I frowned and probably said “what the fuck?” Then sucked it up, brushed my teeth extra hard, and held a grudge the rest of the week. I wish I would have been able to open my mouth and have a swarm of locusts pour out of me instead.
“I wish I reacted by not being embarrassed and not showing him that it made me sad or anxious and instead explained more about the anxiety disorder to him to help him understand better. Maybe then he wouldn’t make fun of me or call my eyebrows ugly.”
Emily M: I got stuck in a very bad cycle — I would react by plucking even more hair because him commenting and embarrassing me and making me insecure would cause me MORE anxiety, which of course was the reason I was pulling hair out in the first place. I wish I reacted by not being embarrassed and not showing him that it made me sad or anxious and instead explained more about the anxiety disorder to him to help him understand better. Maybe then he wouldn’t make fun of me or call my eyebrows ugly.
Rebecca T: I was just like “wtf?” and went on my merry hairy way
Kristina S: I had an ex who thought he was being such an ally when he told me I “didnt have to shave down there for him” to which i replied “I dont do it for you, honey.”
Katherine S: Yes ? So what do you think fuels the mindset that bodies can’t be gross and weird and still be sexy? How can we fight that?
Gina E: TBH, I HAVE NO IDEA. I’ve never been a person that lived in that mindset. I guess that some might approach from that angle because they just don’t have the capacity for bodily empathy or understand why a vagina might smell kinda stinky, but why you can still put your mouth on it anyway.
Emily M: I hate to say such a cliche-type answer like this, but I think because of society. What we see in magazines and tv shows and movies etc… everyone is seemingly “perfect” with the perfect, fit bodies, the perfect clothes and of course, the hardest for me to see — the perfect eyebrows — thick, styled and clean.
Katherine S: I totally agree that media plays a huge part in the narratives that fuel our bodily discomfort. I feel like I hadn’t seen enough bodies that look or feel like mine and that I hadn’t been given enough examples of reciprocal healthy sexual dynamics to look up to — and that certainly made it feel like I needed to perform a certain kind of sexy for partners without really expecting them to accept or want me without that. (Now I know that it’s bullshit, but it took time and lots of sex with partners who ~got it~ to get there.)
What kind of advice do you have for young people who are dealing with similar situations?
Gina E: Girl, I promise your partner is of the unfortunate population that speak without thinking of the great implied consequences their words can have, re: making you feel shitty AF about yourself. I promise you’re going to find a person who want to love and touch all the parts of you that your current SO might think is icky. Also, beauty is completely subjective.
Emily M: Turn all of the things you dislike about yourself or what negative people say about you into a positive. What I say is that even though my ex was an awful person for highlighting an aspect of my body, I’m a stronger person from it and have a thicker skin. If anything, just remember that if someone who’s supposed to love you says anything negative about you, you deserve better.
“Turn all of the things you dislike about yourself or what negative people say about you into a positive.”
Katherine S: I totally agree. You should definitely remember that it is a goddamn privilege to be allowed to fuck you and that people who aren’t aware of that privilege and grateful for it can always, always get the f-ck outta here. You don’t need to love your body all the time, but you do not need the voices of others adding to the already confusing, stressful noise telling you what you’re supposed to hate about it.
Now, what are some body positive, self-care tips you have for learning to embrace the weird and sometimes gross stuff about our bodies?
Gina E: Talking about it with friends! Tagging me and my BFFs in memes that constantly reinforce our skin prisons are sexy as hell.
Emily M: It sounds sooo dumb — but talk to yourself. Become your own best friend, your own therapist and your own significant other. Don’t rely on other people for your confidence or belief in your beauty — rely on yourself to remind you you’re beautiful and wonderful no matter what “flaws” you may have. You’re also already better than anybody who criticizes you — even if you have fucked up eyebrows like I do.
Katherine S: I definitely think it’s so important to be mindful of who you trust and let know you intimately. Like, I fully endorse and believe in having sex with as many partners as you want, whenever you want, but I also believe that those partners need to be f-ckin’ cool and deserving of hanging with you and your body. They should appreciate what they’re allowed to do and the ways you’re letting them connect with you and act like respectful guests in your sexy-ass meat suit, you know? So my number one self-care is to clear out the people who don’t do that and keep close the people who empower you and help you feel sexy and at home in your skin.