How much do my looks matter to you?

cartoon woman

Last Saturday my husband and I were sipping martinis. I asked him, “Would you still find me attractive if I gained 60 pounds?” Before I share his response, what would you say if your partner asked you the same question?

a) Baby, whether you are a size 4 or a size 24 doesn’t matter to me. It’s what’s inside that counts.

b) Uh, no.

When I told my friend Maddy what my husband said, she looked horrified. His answer was not a).

Society bombards us with mixed messages. On the one hand, beauty matters and attractive people get more breaks than their dowdier counterparts. On the other hand, we are supposed to accept our soul mates unconditionally—souls don’t even look like anything, right? But, the majority of both men and women believe physical attraction is very important in a relationship. Interestingly, most feel that their partner should put more effort into their appearance.

Getting back to the “Would you still find me attractive if I gained 60 pounds?” question I posed to my husband. While Maddy took a dim view of my husband’s response, I got it. My husband would perceive a 60 pound weight gain on my 5’4” frame as a loss of self-respect (assuming the weight gain was not due to depression or another medical condition), that I was making unhealthy choices, and not invested in remaining sexually desirable.

Expectations go both ways. When my husband gained weight because he was eating too much and exercising too little during his frequent business travels, I hesitated to bring it up. But I (eventually) voiced my concerns because he owes it to our family to remain healthy. Plus, he was looking less attractive. He adopted a better lifestyle and slimmed down. This was all within his control. However, I would never make an issue of his hair loss, something he can’t do anything about. In my mind, that would be unfair.

Couples should talk more openly about how they expect each other to look, take care of themselves, and age. Where are you and your partner on the continuum of, “I will always find you attractive no matter how you look” and “I will only find you attractive if you look as young, fashionable and slim as possible”?

Here are five questions I think we should ask our partners to open up the conversation.

  • How much do my looks matter to you—is it the icing on the cake or its very foundation?
  • Do you expect me to put as much effort into my physical appearance as when we met?
  • How much can I let my hair down when it’s just the two of us at home, e.g., are stained sweat pants ok?
  • How far do you expect me to go to remain youthful? Do you expect minor efforts like trendy clothes or major interventions like a tummy tuck or hair plugs?
  • Do you welcome my input on how you dress, wear your hair, or take care of yourself—would you change for me?

What conversations have you had about physical attraction—and how did they turn out?

Photo:Flickr/Sean

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