Honey Does This Make My Butt Look Big?
A Couple's Guide to Food and Body Talk
by Lydia Hanich, MA, LMFT
Excerpt from “Honey, Does This Make My Butt Look Big?”
You hear these words and freeze in your tracks. You get a sinking feeling in your stomach. What to do? How to answer? Do you lie? Tell the truth? Pretend you didn't hear? Try to distract her? Your instincts tell you to run. It's fight or flight, and you'd much rather flee because you've stayed for the fight before, and you know you can't win. With a seemingly simple question, your honey has catapulted you into a complete quandary and rendered you utterly defenseless. You're cornered, trapped. You'd rather gnaw off a foot than answer that question. Talk about a loaded question! You HATE that question! There's only one place it has ever led you: trouble. And there's been no way out of the trap...until now.
First, let me assure you that you are not alone in this quandary. As a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders and body image issues (predominantly among women), I have repeatedly encountered the frustration, confusion, and helplessness felt by many husbands and boyfriends of my clients. While completely
sincere in their desire to support their honey's recovery, too often they unwittingly say or do something that exacerbates the problem rather than contributing to the solution. Their best intentions can banish them to a night on the couch. They become secondary victims of the eating and body image problems that plague American women today. The vast majority of them are baffled and confounded by the whole thing, particularly their role in it. Relationships are often strained, if not damaged, by this unhealthy dynamic. Ifyou are one of these men, the first six chapters of this book are for you and your relationship.
In our society, males and females have been acculturated from an early age to believe that their essential value derives from very different sources. While young boys grow up imitating action heroes, girls are playing with Barbie—a role model they will never be able to successfully emulate because her body proportions are so grossly unrealistic. While boys try to reenact what their role models do, girls are busy imitating the way their role models look. Men are judged by their accomplishments (or lack thereof), while women are judged by their appearance. Although this double standard has changed some in recent years, too often the new values backfire, with the tragic result that men are now judged also by their appearance and women are judged also by their accomplishments—making it even more difficult for anyone to measure up!
The average North American woman is 5'4" tall and weighs 143 pounds. The average supermodel is 5'11" tall and weighs 117 pounds—meaning that there is a huge discrepancy between what our culture considers ideal and what is, in fact, real. Television, magazines, movies, and billboards all bombard women with this impossible ideal, leaving those who don't fit the mold with the depressing feeling that they are woefully inadequate. In a culture as media-oriented as ours, it is nearly impossible for a woman to escape this pervasive influence.
Sadly, men are now falling prey to the same influence and are becoming more concerned, self-conscious and insecure about their appearance. It's no longer considered enough for men to be successful and powerful, they are also being expected to conform to particular physical standards: to be—and remain—tall, strong, lean and handsome. As a result, they too need reassurance that they don't need a "perfect" body in order to be attractive or lovable. If you are a woman whose husband or boyfriend is being challenged by these issues, Chapter Seven is for you.
Honey, Does This Make My Butt Look Big is a perfect conversation starter. It is filled with scenarios and questions that many couples struggle with in the areas of body image, weight, food, exercise, sexuality, and eating disorders. Each includes a variety of responses, all the way from "doomed to fail" and "missing the point," to "well-meaning" and "good try." Happily, at the end of every scenario is a "winning" response that will get you off the hot seat and preserve (maybe even improve) your relationship.
To each example I have also added a brief insight or bit of advice based on my 20 years of experience in treating these issues, which I offer as a glimpse into the psychology of body image and disordered eating. But please don't assume that they will make you an expert on your honey's process. Ultimately, each person is the only expert on his or her particular situation.
If you find yourself in similar situations, these examples will give you some ideas for responding more effectively. Better yet, take your understanding one step further and use your own words. There are many ways to say the same thing. Your honey will trust your words more when they are your own and he/she can see that you're sincere. Ultimately, I hope you will learn how to become more honest, empathetic, and supportive partners, especially when faced with these very sensitive subjects.
You will find that although the first six chapters of this book are primarily aimed at women's issues and the seventh at men's, some of the scenarios apply equally well to either gender. Keep this in mind as you read. You can expand your thinking by imagining how you would feel if the roles were reversed, and you were in the other position. I believe that humor has great healing power, particularly in relationships, so I use it generously throughout the book. However, it is in no way intended to belittle your honey's struggles. No matter how beautiful, thin, brilliant, or successful, very few people in our culture escape these issues. Eating and body image insecurities are at once serious and tragic, frustrating and enraging, frightening and debilitating; and, as this book demonstrates, they can also sometimes seem funny and absurd. So without discounting the seriousness of the problem, have fun reading this book—ideally, together! And, hopefully, you will learn something enlightening and useful about your honey, yourself, and your relationship along the way.