Let´s face it; we live in a society with a focus on the physical. Physical beauty is showcased on the news, plastered on magazine covers, and paraded down the red carpet during Hollywood award shows. In addition, due to the ubiquity of social media, it is virtually impossible (pun intended) to escape the images.
Amidst the fanfare of celebrating the beautiful, is the contrasting reality that most people are not. Consequently, applauding beauty breeds insecurity. This unfortunate, unwholesome situation drives people to pursue a variety of image-enhancing strategies. Some join gyms to get in shape, or try out the latest trendy diet. Some pursue bodily enhancements or more drastic procedures to alter their physique.
Thankfully, most people are not anywhere near as superficial as social media and entertainment shows lead us to believe. They pursue and enjoy happy, healthy, loving relationships every day with individuals who are not physically perfect, because everyone knows that beauty is much more than skin deep.
Indeed, within romantic relationships, problems can arise if there is a focus solely on the physical. This is ironic in a sense because loving unions often provide a sense of security and self-esteem for the physically imperfect. Nonetheless, although it is important to affirm physical attractiveness, research shows that might not be enough.
Love My Body and My Brain
Relational partners derive satisfaction in part from knowing their significant other finds them physically attractive. Yet alone, that might not be sufficient. A study by Andrea L. Meltzer and James K. McNulty (2014) called “Tell me I´m sexy . . . and otherwise valuable” demonstrated that within heterosexual committed relational partners, positive body valuation was associated with relationship satisfaction only when it was paired by positive valuation of non-physical qualities.[i] They found that body valuation without valuation of nonphysical qualities decreased relationship satisfaction for both men and women.
These findings ring of common sense. In a world where the worth of physical attributes is emphasized sometimes to the extreme, many people are understandably self-conscious about their shortcomings. The key for many couples appears to be an understanding and appreciation of their respective standards of beauty.
Meeting of the Minds . . . And Body
Partners apparently need to be on the same page regarding the importance of physical traits within a relationship. Meltzer and McNulty´s study contained a review of relevant research regarding the importance of physical attraction to one´s partner, and its impact on relational satisfaction. They observe that intimate relational partners are happier when they meet each other´s standards and ideals.
Believe it or not, the authors report that this included the observation that having a partner with an attractive body is often so important to men that they have reported preferring to have a female partner with a sexually transmitted disease or a history of psychological problems to a woman who is obese. Certainly this finding does not apply to all men, but it is an interesting result of their research.
Findings such as these are disheartening to many people who might already be insecure about their appearance. However, anyone who thinks the physically perfect are perfectly secure should think again. Everyone desires to be admired for what is on the outside . . . and on the inside.
Beauty Below the Surface
Anyone who has invested time and money into cultivating an appealing exterior often worry that a partner´s attraction is indeed exactly that: skin deep. This concern is magnified when a relationship is superficial, as is often the case with casual daters.
Sure enough, Meltzer and McNulty found that for women, body valuation by a male partner who is not committed is negatively associated with relational satisfaction. This should not be surprising to anyone who has been involved with a partner who appears to be focused on the physical. Because when it comes to relational satisfaction, there is so much more.
Below the surface, everyone has an abundance of qualities to affirm, because we are all so different. In a world where most people feel like trees blending into the same forest, a partner who affirms our distinctiveness makes us feel like a snowflake. Special and unique. And here is the best part—such affirmation does not have to have anything to do with physical attractiveness.
If you have ever had your significant other compliment you on your talent in a certain area, exclaim what a great point you made, or praise your brilliant analysis on a subject with which they are unfamiliar, you know what I mean. Those comments and observations stay with you, because they are edifying, uplifting, and downright flattering. And notice again—they have nothing to do with your appearance.
Partners Come as a Package
Partners present a constellation of positive qualities, nicely tied together with a bow of commitment. Cherish each other for both the outward and inward attractive qualities you each bring to the table. Your reward will be the gift that keeps on giving—a happy, healthy relationship that will stand the test of time.
[i]Andrea L. Meltzer and James K. McNulty, ”´Tell me I´m sexy . . . and otherwise valuable´: Body valuation and relationship satisfaction,” Personal RelationshipsVol. 21 (2014): 68-87.