If Self-Confidence Is Sexy, Why Are So Many Of Us Still So Insecure?

Not everyone fancies a 'perfect body', so where does all this pressure come from?
Plus size and portrait of couple.
LumiNola via Getty Images
Plus size and portrait of couple.

Body Acceptance Week 2023 began on October 23 — but has much changed since the beginning of the movement? Has the mainstreamification of body positivity benefitted everyone?

The majority of people in Britain, both men and women, are accepting of their partner’s bodies, regardless of stretch marks and body hair — according to a new study conducted by sex-positive dating app Pure.

Pure’s survey of 2,000 Britons revealed that 1 in 3 of us give up on sex because of body insecurities. Interestingly, though perhaps not surprisingly, this insecurity is felt more by women than men, with 2 in 3 bailing on intimacy because they didn’t feel pretty enough. Ouch.

But it’s not just women struggling with body confidence.

As a society, body size and shape is what we’re most insecure about — 93% of women say they would change up to three things about themselves and 21% of British men have dressed in a certain way to hide particular parts of themselves. Interestingly, when it comes to others, 78% of Brits don’t see size and shape as a dealbreaker.

We all need to relax, though. In the grand scheme of things, very few people are out there looking for someone with the perfect body. Pure report that it’s only 27%, which should tell us that most people who see us think we are perfect the way we are — or aren’t looking for perfect to begin with.

Out of the 2,000 people surveyed by Pure, 86% of women and 65% of men said they preferred someone with self-confidence over someone with a ‘perfect’ body. So, for the vast majority of people, it’s self-confidence that’s the biggest turn-on.

So why are we all so insecure?

Almost all of us (98%) feel that having a positive body image improves sex and relationships, and, most of us feel that having different levels of body positivity can make us totally incompatible.

It’s clear to see in Pure’s data that there is a disparity between the experiences of women and men when it comes to self-confidence and perceiving self-confidence (though they are weighted in a similar direction). Women, for example, are more accepting of “flaws”, more likely to engage in intimacy with someone who doesn’t fit their ideal, care the least about things like body hair and yet, are more likely to experience body dissatisfaction and intimate rejection because of their body.

Though men are subjected to body-shaming in advertisements, popular culture and marketing materials — the extent to which they experience it is far less than women. Since companies began advertising to women, there has been an undercurrent of degradation and “your-not-quite-good-enough-until-you-buy-this.” In contrast, men’s advertisements focused on empowering them, elevating their social status whilst simultaneously punching down at women.

Even adverts of the 00s raise eyebrows today. The famous Yorkie bar slogan “It doesn’t come in pink” springs to mind, as does Belvedere’s unforgivable rape campaign.

The weight of decades of chipping away at women’s self-esteem could be to blame for the ingrained insecurities we feel about our bodies and how they’ll be perceived by our romantic partners. And while the body positivity movement has brought messages of self-acceptance and radical self-love, all be they coopted, it’s a salve that hasn’t got the chops to take on an industry built on making people feel bad about themselves.

While change is occurring, and more people are accepting than perhaps they would have been 20 or so years ago, bigger systematic changes need to be made for more women to experience body neutrality, acceptance, joy and positivity.