In our thin-obsessed culture, the desire to fit in and our deeply internalised fat phobia has a way of stripping pleasure from our lives (and our sex lives). 

Ashlee Bennett, also known as The Body Image Therapist, is a registered psychotherapist, counsellor and coach, who helps others navigate the process of healing their experiences in their bodies as both a guide and witness. She specialises in working with body image, internalised fat phobia and embodiment.

Internalised fat phobia is a set of beliefs about the self, which larger people often adopt based on fat stereotypes in society.

“A prime example of this is someone may automatically assume they are unintelligent, lazy or have a lack of self-control just because they’re fat, without really assessing if that’s true or not or taking into account other factors,” Ashlee says.

“Smaller people can still experience internalised beliefs about their bodies, but it is more related to the thin ideal or Eurocentric beauty ideals.”

Fat phobia can directly impact your feelings around your own body image and body confidence in the bedroom.  

“In the bedroom, it may feel like a challenge to access your sensuality, sexuality and feelings of desire in general,” Ashlee says.

“The confidence to express yourself may feel limited, which makes sense if your inner dialogue is focused around how you think you’re being perceived.

“Even in the absence of a partner, when you’re having solo times, it may bring up uncomfortable feelings to allow yourself to feel pleasure if you have a lot of internalised fat phobia. It may also be hard to see yourself as a sexual person.”

Fat phobia and body images issues can influence your relationship with partners or lovers, and get in the way of your sex life.

“In relationships, body image issues more generally can have an inhibitory effect on self-expression and the freedom to believe you can be yourself, and this can perpetuate feelings of shame and disconnect,” she says. 

When it comes to your sex life Ashlee says “shame is a common experience for people with body image issues or interalised fat phobia. Shame is like a wet blanket, it’s difficult to allow yourself to feel free to express and welcome pleasure in this state. I also think about how often we can compare our sexual experiences and bodies with that of mainstream pornography, which can take you out of your body and into your head as comparison and performance assessment occurs.”

If internalised fat phobia and body image is impacting your relationships, sex life and self-love, there are things Ashlee recommends that can be used to boost your body confidence and help you on your journey to loving your body and accepting the pleasure you deserve.

“Recognising that body ideals come from somewhere and change like trends is the first step. This means you challenge your fundamental beliefs about bodies, that there isn’t a right or ‘true’ way to have a body and from there you can decide to exit out of that game,” she says.

“Secondly, notice where and from whom you learnt about ‘desirable’ bodies and start challenging it in everyday life, recognise that body diversity exists and that it’s normal. Exploring this may bring up experiences of early body or weight criticism and recollections of events fueled by fat phobia. It is important to know that some with very strong beliefs about their bodies have had trauma experiences that reinforce those beliefs and ideally need to be on with a qualified therapist.

“My biggest tip is that body image is created in the brain, if we see bodies that only look one way, small, thin and perfected, our brain will assume that’s what all bodies look like as we haven’t given it enough information to know that what it sees in the mirror is normal. Start exposing your brain to other body sizes, shapes and appearances and recognise it’s a part of the beauty of diversity. This does a lot of the work for you.”

There are also a range of resources available to those who experience internalised fat phobia or those who have body image issues stemming from fat phobia.

“Books like The Body Is Not An Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor, Landwhale by Jess Baker and You Have The Right To Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar are all great starting points. My first book The Art of Body Acceptance is also due for release in April 2021,” Ashlee says.

“Social media can also be helpful if you follow lived experience or therapist accounts that are body positive or fat positive.

“Just know that having body image issues doesn’t make you vain or superficial. Seeing a qualified therapist or coach who specialises in body image and fat phobia can help you get to the core of your relationship with your body in a way that’s taken seriously and not minimised as a surface issue.”