Inferiority complex

Going to strip bars with my husband is erotic but it also makes me feel inadequate.

Published April 24, 2003 7:00PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My husband and I recently ended up at a strip bar together. While we have both been to strip bars before (me twice, him many times), this was our first time together. My husband has mentioned that he would like to do this more frequently, and he mentions quite a few other couples we know who do this together. Part of me finds it very erotic and exciting. However, another part of me finds that this is causing problems with my self-esteem. I am probably 15 pounds overweight and certainly do not have the body of a stripper (although I'm in OK shape). Part of me feels so inadequate when I see my husband enjoying the supple, young bodies of strippers. How can I reconcile the low self-esteem I feel and enjoy the excitement and eroticism of going to strip bars? I've mentioned these conflicting feelings to my husband, and all he says is that he's no "Chippendale," so why should I compare myself?

Naked Self-Esteem

Dear Naked,

Let's consider how one observes superior physical specimens without comparing oneself to them and feeling low about it. Whatever I suggest is going to be easier said than done, but that's no reason not to suggest it, especially since you asked. It might not be easy to break the habit of comparing your body to those of professionals, but we can at least take the phenomenon apart and see what's going on.

Let's start by categorizing situations where you compare your body to others and situations where you don't. Are you always comparing your body to others? Do you do it both when someone is more attractive than you and when someone is less attractive than you? Or do you do it only in situations where female beauty is prized and on display? Do you feel comfortable in a strip club by yourself? Does it make a difference if your husband is present? Say you see a very sexy woman on the street: Does your self-esteem go down? Say you see an ugly woman: Do you feel a surge in self-esteem?

Are you unhappy with your body as it is? Or do you become unhappy with it only when you see an attractive woman, or when you see your husband see an attractive woman? If you are unhappy with your body as it is, is it because believe others do not find it attractive enough, or is it because you yourself do not find it attractive enough? Or do you fear your husband does not find it attractive enough?

Already we have many, many questions. Simply answering them all, in writing, carefully, in detail, will probably help you find your own solution. It may result in some insight. A word of warning: It will probably be more work than it looks like. You might need the help of a friend. Or, if you've got the dough, you could even hire a professional question-answerer, some kind of therapist, to help you go over it all. Answering each question, if you really answer it honestly, could take days or weeks. You'd be surprised. Especially if you're not in the habit of raw, concerted introspection, if you aren't always ruthlessly rooting around in the inner workings of your own complicated spirit, it can be exhausting just to reach a single honest conclusion about yourself. But if you do it, if you honestly try to answer these questions, I think you will at least form a full, rich and well-rounded picture of how you feel about these issues. That alone should help.

The short answer is that self-esteem does not come from your body and how you regard it, nor from how others regard your body; it comes from your mental and emotional attitude toward the person you are and the things you do. It comes from being kind to yourself and seeking kindness from others. You have to develop a compassionate, loving regard for your own being. If you don't have that, your focus on your body will turn out to be just a symptom, so that even if you sculpted your body to perfection, you would still find reason to doubt yourself in some other way, because you are in the habit of diminishing yourself.

Hey. Most of us are. I certainly am. It's not a zero-sum game. You have to keep at it. When you catch yourself calling yourself ugly, or whatever you do, stop it.

Assume that you are beautiful. See if that helps.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

By Cary Tennis

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