How Does Your Relationship Status Affect Your Body?

In case you haven’t heard, Kelly Clarkson has a new boyfriend (who just happens to be Reba McEntire’s stepson, Brandon Blackstock), and she’s also looking noticeably slimmer lately. Coincidence? She says no:

“I have a boyfriend, and if I’m being completely honest, no one likes to be not toned when you are dating someone. I’m eating better and working out, but I’ve always fluctuated within 20 pounds. I tone whenever I want, and I chose to now because my boyfriend and I are both really into it. But we don’t work out together. We did that once and I didn’t like huffing and puffing. I didn’t like looking all red and gross, so I don’t do that.”

This got me thinking about how our relationship status often affects our bodies and body image…

Conventional wisdom says that people in relationships usually gain weight, thanks to a variety of factors like high-calorie date nights and skipping yoga in favor of snuggling at home. In addition, people who work out in the hopes that their toned physique will snag them a suitor might relax their gym routine once they’ve found a mate. Obviously this isn’t true for everyone, though, and I think what Kelly’s describing is a common experience as well: a new relationship can be a big motivator to get in shape, especially if your new mate is more active than you are. I was definitely thinner at the beginning of my relationship, but I feel like my weight fluctuations have mostly mirrored my boyfriend’s, which makes sense because we tend to eat the same food and when one of us is on a fitness kick it inevitably inspires the other to get off the couch too.

What’s much more interesting to me than a number on the scale is how our relationships affect something that’s much harder to measure: our body image. When it comes to this topic, I have many more questions than answers. Do we really take in those comments from our partner about how gorgeous and sexy we are? If — God forbid — we’re dating someone who mocks our body, do we take in that negativity? Do verbal statements even matter or is physical affection more important? Does touching and being touched make us feel more connected and positive about our physical self? How does sex figure into everything? Recently one of my friends was not feeling great about herself and lamenting her single status. “Honestly,” she said, “nothing makes me feel as beautiful as having sex with someone I love.”

I hope that someone like Kelly is going to the gym with her boyfriend because that’s what she wants to do, not because she feels like she needs to change her body for the sake of her relationship. I hope she’s feeling strong and sexy and gorgeous, because she deserves to feel that way, whether or not she’s in a relationship.

I’d love to know how your intimate relationships have affected your own relationship with your body. Do you tend to gain or lose weight when you start a new relationship? Do you feel differently about your body when you’re in a relationship versus when you’re single? What has helped you build positive body image?