I have been writing this blog for a while now and I still find it interesting that when discussing body image the focus tends to swing from one polarity to the other, obesity to being too thin. When I looked it over I found that most of the articles and stories I post deal with being over weight, weight loss, or the images of women in advertising being too thin and not setting a realistic or healthy body image for females both young and old. It started to bother me, why is it always about the extremes? Why is the middle ground so murky especially when the majority of us fall into that category?
When you are neither fat nor thin, but somewhere comfortable in the middle as far as societies standards are concerned you reside in what I call Body Middle-Earth. However being neither/nor does not exempt you from the same feelings of inadequacies that women on the extreme sides of the subject have. I live in this Body Middle-Earth. To people looking at me I am certain that they might never suspect that I don’t like my body, or at the very least have issues with parts of it. It takes me back to when I first started the blog I did a pre-screening of sorts to friends and co-workers. Upon viewing the “About Me” video in the introduction one person commented, “I found myself re-watching the video to see to see those gorgeous pictures of you, which I don’t think is your point” Where I was flattered that they found them “beautiful”, The pictures were of me dancing the voice over spoke of my feelings of displeasure with my body and the contradiction housed within it. My legs went up, I could jump, and I had power. My body has always complied with my demands but I just never liked what it looked like doing it.” I thought the juxtaposition was the point- Often people think that we look good, but we hate the way we look!
I understood the note, but I chose to leave the video the way it was mainly because the t’ruth of the matter is that you don’t have to appear broken to feel broken, damaged, or inadequate…the evidence is not always visible to the naked eye. Somehow we can understand a person having body issues if they are a “misfit” (to heavy, short, dark, light, lips too big, breast to small etc.) because they clearly stand outside of the social aesthetic,but if a person is okay (looking) if they are average-or above then it gets harder to imagine that they too might harbor insecurities. Very few of us look like the models in magazines. We are all inundated with those images, it is conceivable that we all (regardless of what we look like) are affected by them, the inhabitants of Body Middle Earth as well, we too should be able to enter into the conversation, it’s not about competition but recognition.
Why is there no space, no acknowledgement and little compassion for those who don’t necessarily look the way they feel? Can’t pretty people feel ugly, can’t thin people feel fat, and can’t successful people feel like failures? Well of course they can, and they do but people just get annoyed when they talk about it publicly, and if they do they are seldom met with empathy, but they are treated like they are fishing for a complement or worse, as if they are trying to make other people feel bad about themselves (We all know those types of people) when all they really wanted was to share be heard, and supported.
A while ago I had an exchange yoga studio dressing room a month or so after I started the blog that illustrated my point:
It was after class, and we were all waiting to shower so it was a cornucopia of naked bodies of all shapes and sizes in the room. I was having a discussion with my friend Myrna about how I needed to reign myself I because I was starting to plump up again. It was a personal/private conversation we were having in public (we have all done it) A women interjected saying “your crazy, you have a beautiful body, if you think you’re fat what am I?” I was incensed! First of all no one was talking to her, and second of all NO ONE WAS TALKING TO HER! Now, where I wanted to say that to her, I chose to use it as a teaching moment, “Look,” I said trying to temper my tone,
“The way I feel about my body has nothing to do with the way I feel about yours. The way you feel about your body is a personal thing.”
Where I completely understood where she was coming from, (I have felt the same way myself when friends who are thinner than myself say that they are fat) but I was irritated by the fact that somehow I with my “beautiful” body was not allowed to feel a certain way, and I was definitely not allowed to verbally say it in mixed body company. Living in Body Middle-Earth can be quite isolating. We all have our own internal barometer for the way we feel, and the way we like to feel in our bodies, and that is not for anyone else to judge. It is not to be negated it is not a comparative conversation; it’s a personal one.
There was a similar situation that transpired between the Editor in Chief of Dance Magazine Wendy Perron and myself. She had assigned me my second article on body image. My concept was to talk to dancers about how they felt about their bodies and what were some of their issues. My idea was to interview Wendy Whelan of New York City Ballet because her body is a constant topic of conversation in the dance world as she is extremely skinny. I wanted to know how she felt about her body. I also wanted to talk to American Ballet Theater soloist Misty Copeland (the now it girl) who is not only a ballerina of color but she is curvy as well, I knew there was a story there. Sadly Perron informed me that Whelan had been featured too often in the magazine and she doubted that ABT would let me talk to Copeland especially about her body. Body talk in the dance world is like Wikileaks!
So I came up with an alternative in Maurya Kerr, of LINES Ballet. Maury is a gazelle-like beauty and had been a Poster Girl for much of her career but I knew that she was recovering from hip surgery and I thought that process might make a great angle. When I ran this by Perron her response was “Was she ever fat?” I was bit perplexed and informed her that perhaps we were talking about two distinctly different articles. Once again the idea of “body issues” and the visible “flaw” was the expectation, the people in the middle were once again going to go unaddressed. I was not interested in doing the typical article about misfits, the people who clearly don’t fit into the standard: the flat of foot, tight of hamstring, or turned in. I wanted to highlight the fact that regardless of what you look like (whether it is the preferred aesthetic or not) you can still have issues with your body. This is not a criticism of Wendy Perron it’s just the way that we tend to think about the issue. When we discussed our divergent concepts she thought the angle was important enough to go with. Ironically when I interviewed Kerr for the piece she spoke quite candidly about her battle with eating disorders. Although she was very thin, she had breasts and in the ballet world of flat chested dancers her breasts made her feel “big”, subsequently she stopped eating in an effort to look like the other girls. The article, Learn to Love your Body (not my title) was published in the October 2009 issue. http://www.dancemagazine.com/issues/October-2009/Learn-To-Love-Your-Body.
When discussing the topic with my friend and former student Erika Hand (she too is tall and of average size) she shared that often she felt “dismissed” when talking about her body issues with women, hence feels that isolation, and invalidated. Often the dismissal will come in the form of people saying “You’re crazy” or “There is nothing wrong with you” that may well be true but it doesn’t make you feel acknowledged or heard. What it does is make you feel sorry for sharing such intimate, and sensitive feelings. Just because people think that you “shouldn’t” feel a certain way doesn’t mean that you don’t, and it doesn’t mean that your feelings are less valid. In short, often it’s hurtful.
The middle body ground is murky and filled with such subtlety that it is hard to define, defend or discuss. If you live in this grey zone you may find yourself on the outside of both sides of the issue. It’s like the Occupy Wall Street movement, in reality it’s not purely the 1% versus the 99%, there is probably 20% of the people who are middle class, they may not be “down and out” but the disproportionate distribution of wealth affects them as well. Now imagine if that 20% were not allowed to add their voices to the protest just as passionately as those who are more greatly effected, would they change it to 1% vs. the 69%? I don’t think so. The Body issue discussion in my opinion is no different. I always say,
“If you have a body, the chances are, you have some issues”
they may not be to the degree of some other people but they are yours, they are real and they deserve to be acknowledged and addressed equally.
Theresa Ruth Howard
Jean Kilborne Ed. D is internationally recognized for her groundbreaking work on the image of women in advertising and for her critical studies of alcohol and tobacco advertising. In the late 1960s she began her exploration of the connection between advertising and several public health issues, including violence against women, eating disorders, and addiction, and launched a movement to promote media literacy as a way to prevent these problems. A radical and original idea at the time, this approach is now mainstream and an integral part of most prevention programs. According to Susan Faludi, “Jean Kilbourneʼs work is pioneering and crucial to the dialogue of one of the most underexplored, yet most powerful, realms of American culture – advertising. We owe her a great debt.” Mary Pipher has called Kilbourne “our best, most compassionate teacher.”
Her short documentary films Killing us Softly looks at how advertising traffics in distorted and destructive ideals of femininity. Her work embodies every thing that I, and My Body My Image represents. Her work brings to light the images, messages and stereotypes that are present in advertising and marketing that inform and effect us all by creating and reinforce unrealistic, and unhealthy, perceptions of beauty, perfection, and sexuality. By exposing this information, and bringing it to our attention her work forces us to take notice and take stock of where our concepts of beauty, femininity and sexuality come from and how it is developed. It forces not only the advertising companies and brands to take responsibility but demands that we are consumers also take accountability for supporting it, but more importantly by giving us the information it empowers us, to be informed enough to make a choice! These are some of the reasons thy Jean Kilbourne is our first Body Hero of the week for 2012.
A year ago today I launched My Body My Image. It was a heartfelt project stemming both from my personal struggles and the struggles of the many young dancers I encountered through my years of teaching. Personally I thought that I was on to something, but when we are in our heads we always do! It wasn’t until there was an outpouring of support for the site from friends, and people who just stumbled upon it, and their positive feedback and encouragement that I knew for certain that this was needed. I want to thank all the people who contributed this year:
Natalie, Courtnay, Jenny, Jessica, and Makeda, your voices have added knowledge and a voices to the forum, and helped all that read your work and I look forward to working with you more in the future.
I’d like the thank Christopher Mack of Mack Digital for designing the sight and keeping us up and running!!!
I’d like to thank April Megan, Robert Garland, my Bikram HarlemYoga Family and Linda Denise Fisher- Harrell, for her early support, you all helped me so much in the very beginning, Thank you
To date we have had 58,466 hits and the hits keep coming.
I am so happy and proud and look forward to bringing you more in the future!!
Theresa Ruth Howard
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Every one has a body story, if you would like to share yours just email your submission to email@example.com and join the discussion!
I want to hear your body issues and how you deal with them
What bugs you about how the media portrays the female image?
What do you think about the fashion industry and the female form?
Have you discovered a way to accept appreciate, and respect your body? well share your tool with others!
It’s all In Your Words!
Susan Liddy, M.A., PCC, CPCC
Hosted by Huffington Post
The human body is an utterly amazing creation. Even a basic consideration of its functions boggles the mind. Neurons connect to the nervous system, the nervous system connects our muscles and hair-trigger messaging occurs at lightening speed. Every component is composed of microscopic cells, tiny self-regenerating entities numbering in the trillions. Yet, somehow it all comes together, each intricate system functioning in a harmonious symphony conducted masterfully by the brain.
This exquisite miracle of biology makes it possible for us to move around in the world and to experience it with all of our senses. It is the foundation of our very being. Shouldn’t it be easy to sit back and simply appreciate our bodies for all they are and all they do for us?
Not so according to recent studies. When participants were asked to what degree they love their bodies, results consistently show that the majority of women harbor a negative body image perception.
Body image perception is often measured by assessing the difference between how a person thinks she appears and her ideal image of how she thinks she should look. For much of the female population, what they see and what they want to see is vastly different.
A 2011 research study of British women, conducted by the University of West England, found that 30 percent of women would give up a year of their lives if they could achieve their ideal body weight and shape. Those findings are reminiscent of another study last year in the U.S., which found that about half of women polled would prefer forgo sex for the summer rather than gain 10 pounds. Similarly, a 1997 Psychology Today survey found that 56 percent of women were unhappy with their body image and would go to great lengths to change their appearance. Female body image perception does not appear to have improved over the past decade.
Why is it so hard for women to love their bodies?
As an increasing amount of documents testify, women are sexualized from a very young age. Abercrombie & Fitch’s clothing line is a prime example of this. The clothing giant recently made headlines when it released a two-piece bikini for 7-year-old girls with push-up cups in the top.
The female body is also routinely portrayed as a product and a commodity through advertising. Images of women are routinely used to sell seemingly unrelated products such as automobiles, men’s cologne and destination vacations.
Furthering the idea that the organic female body is not beautiful in and of itself, we are constantly surrounded by airbrushed images of female “perfection” in the form of roadside billboards, magazines at the checkout stands, television programs and internet ads. Everywhere we look, we are bombarded by suggestions that we are not beautiful, that we do not measure up and that we need to be more beautiful in order to live happy lives, have successful careers — and most importantly — attract a suitable mate (lest we die a lonely, frumpy, old, cat lady).
A 2007 report by the American Psychological Association found that this culture-wide sexualization of women contributes to an epidemic of negative body image perception. The constant stream of unhealthy messages about beauty, happiness and success affect women deeply — even on a subconscious level.
It IS possible to love your body as is.
As pervasive and insidious as it is, you can fly in the face of societal programming. Improving one’s own body image perception is a process that occurs over time and requires shifting the way in which you define beauty and your own self-worth.
Key to making the shift to a positive body image perception is becoming acutely aware of the hidden messages about beauty that surround you. Recognizing the impact of these images and observing thought processes that lead you towards beliefs that undermine your self-love is an excellent place to start. Here’s how:
1.) Notice when women are being portrayed sexually to sell a product and notice airbrushed images that do not accurately portray the female form. Recognize the beliefs that you conjure up from these images about your own beauty.
2.) Question what you are looking at and the hidden intentions behind what you see. Oftentimes media images are intended to manipulate you into believing that you are not good enough so that you will then purchase a product.
3.) Form your own opinion about what it is to be beautiful. Include all of your amazing female
qualities in your definition. Connect with the exquisiteness of your body and appreciate the joy,
pleasure and life that it brings to you each day.
Continue after the jump
I have grouped all of the tools for your tool box here so you don’t have to search for them
What are Your Adjectives
Fill You Tool Box:
Stop the Intake of Information that Makes You Feel Bad
1) Stop the Intake-
You can barely open you eyes in the morning and not have someone trying to sell you something. The continuous ubiquity of marketing is impossible to escape, with product placement and soft subliminal plugs everywhere it’s not hard to know when you are being sold something, but discerning the “what” is often more difficult. The reality is- single products are not simply marketed- they are packaged; we are now being sold lifestyles. Like Island hopping cruises or European vacations. Buy this and you’ll look like that, and then this type of person will want to be with you while you drive this car to this house, and you will be beautiful, loved, well dressed and happy. It’s depressing and dangerous. The constant wanting never leaves room or time for one to be content. The desire to upgrade never has you appreciating what you have. Subsequently if you can’t afford it, or won’t ever look like it you end up feelings worthless and inadequate (or buying horribly telling bootleg knock offs).
Sometimes the best thing you can do is just stop. If fashion magazines are making you feel fat, ugly and style-less then why look at them? If lifestyle and gossip rags have you feeling like a loser don’t pick them up. Take a break – too much of the wrong stimuli can do major damage. This is one of the cases where what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Think about it, the point to all the marketing is to make you desirous of whatever the product or lifestyle is, it does not take into account that it may well be unobtainable or unrealistic for the masses- in fact it’s that very reality that it feeds on. If you are clueless you could well be “blues-less” sometimes in ignorance there really is bliss!
Where To Start:
Support the things that support you. Start looking for yourself in the world. T’ruth be told you may not find them. It’s important to note that just because you don’t see yourself does not mean that you are not valid and cease to exist in the real world- you just don’t in the land of make-believe. My rule is if you don’t see or acknowledge me, they why should I acknowledge you especially with my hard earned money. If I don’t exist in your world neither does my money. I’m not say you have to avoid fashion magazines for the rest of your life but just until you can learn how to not to let it affect you in bad way and put you in a negative space. It’s impossible to avoid it all but when you can- choose it not. Once you stop clouding your vision with things that give you the information that you are enough (thin, sexy, white, blonde) or too much (heavy, bland, dark) you might be able to, for the first time see what you truly are without the influence of certain media outlets. You might find out a truth that is quite powerful and empowering- you are fine, there is nothing wrong with you, you are not broken.
No one wants to feel like they are alone or the “only”. In order to see a version of your self in the world you might have to create patchwork Romare Bearden like collage of body parts and characteristic that relate to you. Society’s view is extremely narrow and purposefully exclusionary and we as individuals are far grander and much more broad and deep than its shallow sparse sketch. The key is to get that you are in control, you have the choice, but the key is that you have to utilize that power and control by consciously choosing, and not letting marketing strategies do it for you.
Second Tool: Mind Your Mental
2) Mind your Mental-
Your head can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Thoughts have power. Where you might not be able to bend a spoon with your thoughts you can make yourself depressed, or even sick with what you think. We have all heard the term perception creates reality well it’s true. The way you see yourself not only manifests physically but energetically as that is the vibe you give off to others. It’s a cycle you feel like crap you give off a crappy vibe and then people experience you as crappy. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Arrest the negative speak in your head like Americans Most Wanted! If the things we say to ourselves in our heads were said to us aloud by some else it would be seen as verbal abuse. We would never stand for it. Why should we let the person closet to us do it? Get out of that abusive relation ship with your mind. You can talk yourself into believing just about anything so stopping negative thought patterns before they take hold is paramount.
It’s not easy it- like everything else is a process and will take time but like anything else with practice you get better at it and mastery is possible with consistency.
Where to start:
The best place is at the beginning. Just start to observe when the negative thoughts fire-up, we all have our triggers learn yours so you can get the jump on yourself. Observe what the negative speak is about. With a little thought you might even be able to point where that idea slipped in. Was it something your mother or father said? A teacher? Friends? Or is it something you picked up from the images you take in everyday? (This will be more important is tool three) Don’t try to stop it so much at the start; you need to let it flow so you can get the Intel- so you can wipe it out. After you have a handle on your triggers, when it happens, why it happens and what the thought patterns are we are ready to take action.
Perhaps you stop focusing on what’s you don’t like or not working and shift to forcing yourself to see what is. It may start off as the smallest thing like – I have strong fingernails, and then it will expand to you seeing the beauty of your hands, your arms and perhaps you might see that your shoulders aren’t half bad. Hey it might not fix everything thing but there is so much in this world that is out of our control including who we are born to, and what genes we get, the one thing we can get a handle on are the thoughts in our heads. If your head isn’t on our side does it matter who else is?
Become a friend to your mind- you can have a head that supports you and doesn’t tear you down. It takes time but since your head isn’t going anywhere you might as well learn how to live with it, use it, and have it working for you.
Third Tool: Get Clear
3) Get Clear (About What’s Real)-
Your mind does play tricks on you. Take Anorexics, their minds tell them that at a weight as low as 85 pounds they are fat. Your mind can make your eyes play tricks on you. It can magnify the minutest of flaws into a deformity. It can create an obsessive preoccupation out of a freckle, a mole, or a fleeting zit. Once you start to lasso your negative thoughts about yourself, you can start to look at yourself objectively. I’m not saying that you put on rose-colored glasses and pretend that everything is perfect, but just take the hyperbole out of the equation. Yes you might be noticing some fine lines around your eyes but they don’t make you the crypt keeper. It’s important to get clear about what you really look like so that when you get to Tool 4 (Get Proactive) you are working on real things. To get a better perspective about where you really stand, start to take careful not note of the way people view you- what are the things they say about you- what are your adjectives? This could be a good clue. True- people lie but if ten people have the same view of you, then chances are that’s an accurate assessment.
There are a few things that make this tool a sort of Swiss army knife of tools. The first is the fact that in order to gather the views of others on you, it takes you out of your head. My yoga instructor says “Your head is like a bad neighborhood that you want to stay out of” and at times it’s true. The second is, by creating the opportunity to weigh what you are saying and feeling about yourself against what others are saying and see either how close- or far apart those two ideas are helps you gain perspective and balance. It will help you determine how off (or on track) you are. The third is that when you begin to actively listen to what people say- good things about you- or maybe just things that you hadn’t thought of about yourself, it will help you to “learn to hear” – and take compliments. Often we treat compliments like insults deflecting them with the skill of a gladiator. In order gather this information you might actually have to let a few compliments land- and be absorbed- and possibly take root.
Once you have stopped the negativity coming from the outside, you might well be able to hear and process some of the more balanced, accurate feedback the outside has to offer. These can be the seeds that once owned at take root will begin to re-shape your perspective and image of yourself.
Fourth Tool: Get Proactive
4) Get Proactive-
A problem stays a problem if you just sit around talking about it. Once you stop ingesting things (information) that makes you feel bad, and stop beating yourself up from the inside out, and gotten clear sited about who and what you truly are you can start to work on the things that can be changed. Not everything can be, your genes are your genes and your bones are your bones. If you are short you have to live with that (or live in a pump) Structurally you are what you are, for the most part your shape can be -redefined but your proportions are more than likely what they are i.e. if you are pear shaped you are pear shaped now you can be a smaller more toned pear but you can’t be a zucchini. Commit to making some choices and changes that are going to get you closer to being the best possible you you can be. It may not ever be what you want but knowing that you have done all you can to get to where you are is empowering and who knows perhaps at point that may just become good enough.
Where to Start:
Don’t want to be in shape- get in shape, take one step at a time make sensible, achievable goals don’t set yourself up to fail. If you have never seen the inside of a gym don’t make the declaration that you are going to start going to the gym 6 days a week. Slow and steady wins the race, and we are talking about a lifestyle change, from the inside out. If you know what you need to be doing stop BS and be about it- you’ll feel better in the long run. Sometimes our genes or hormones deal us things like crooked teeth, acne, and facial hair, things that can be embarrassing and debilitating. Things like dental work, and dermatology can cost a pretty penny especially if you have no health insurance but there are some economical ways of getting those things done (we will be talking about that more in Guilty but Forgivable Pleasures).
And for the record I am not ruling out “Procedures” wink wink. If getting your smile lines filled, an eyebrow lift or breast augmentation will really help get you to a better place with yourself- who am I or anyone else to judge? But know that the procedure is not a supplement for doing the work. If you don’t do the internal work, you may have a smooth forehead, ample décolletage, or a flat tummy and still feel the same way about yourself.
Your toolbox should help you get in touch with and take control of how you feel from the inside, recalibrate it and have it translate to what you and others see on the outside. It is empowering to know that you have the capability to create the best you that you can be. It will take work but if you acquire and learn how use all the of tool you can build a better body image for yourself.
When I started this forum there were certain things I was clear about and aware of in relative to the subject of body image because I had made a study of mine in particular. I have always been infinitely interested, it matters little the subject I just have to know. By nature I am a highly introspective person, and have always sought to understand the deeper meanings of things whether personal or worldly. I have never been one to simply “take things at face value” instead I prefer to take a concept, idea, or belief, hold it up to the light slowly rotating, and analyzing it until all sides have been scrutinized and all angles revealed. When I started My Body My Image it’s fair to say that I had done my personal “due diligence” in terms of my own issues, I had identified them, uncovered their roots and tributaries, I had mapped my emotional, psychological and experiential terrain thus I felt comfortable enough to share my findings openly, and honestly with whomever stumbled upon the site. The most delicious thing about this process is that I almost everyday I learn something new, either about the subject, myself, or about how others in this struggle come to a better understanding and harmony with themselves.
Throughout the years I have managed to craft a workable philosophy that has been one of the keys to creating a sense of balance for me in a world (and my mind) that is in constant flux. Through trial and error and the “working” of it in my daily life, personally I know it to be effective. After years of suffering internally with feelings of inadequacy on many levels, (achievement, body image, relationships) and struggling to make some sense of it all, trying desperately to survive it, I arrived at these, my coping tools: Acceptance, Appreciation, and Respect, these were the elements I strung together like raw pearls on silk twine, and wore them around my neck for protection. In times of uncertainty or pondering, I could touch them lightly or roll them between my fingertips and remind myself that there was something larger. That for whatever was going through my head or heart there was a more substantial idea, something real though unseen that had the weight to anchor me into myself. These three concepts reinforced my sense of worth, and validation by reminding me that the simple act of being meant that I was enough, perhaps not perfect but enough.
When I touch the pearl of Acceptance I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes by the indomitable Eleanore Roosevelt “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” When I start to feel not good enough, unworthy, or small, I finger that pearl and ask myself: Is it the situation, the circumstance, or the person making me feel this way? or is it a feeling I already harbor about myself that has somehow been agitated? Does that sense of inadequacy sit at the bottom of my spirit like a finely ground power, benign and stable so long as it stays dry, cool and tucked away in the darkness, but add water, just a drop- in the way of a side glance from a woman, or a trigger word from a parent or friend, and it begins to bubble up into a corrosive, caustic brew that quickly and silently eats through the self esteem and empowerment that just moments before was the solid foundation upon which I stood? The question is, which is the active ingredient the water or those things that lie beneath? Water is just water, as human beings it is 80 percent of our biological make-up, my money is on that powdery substance of insecurity and doubt that like pollen in the springtime gently settles upon us as we go through life until one day it makes us sneeze.
Throughout our lives we tend to collect things without thinking, thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. Periodically we need to purge. I have learned the importance and the necessity of “Spring Cleaning”. I have to go into the recesses of myself and assess what works and what doesn’t, what fits, and what I have outgrown, this includes everything from behaviors to friends. I must clear out the baggage; discard the issues that I had unwittingly subscribed to. Month after month kept arriving, and I like a mindless snacker kept consuming without question. I had to dust! Recently I committed to taking better care of the antique furniture that I inherited from my Great Grandmother Ruth. I went to the hardware store and bought some old school Liquid Gold Wood Polish. Not the spray kind but the type you have to pour out and get a rag to spread, the kind that makes your furniture gleam. Upon opening the canister the scent wafted out and I was instantly thrown back in time to when I was little girl. I was the baby of nine and on chore day it was my job to “Do down the stairs” with a dustpan and brush, and to dust. I hated dusting! First of all it took too long and secondly everything in our three-story house was made of wood! When the aroma hit my nostrils I was 8 years old again, and there was a rush of innocence and weightlessness that came over me. That is what happens when you dust…
It is through this pearl of Acceptance that I realized that, before I begin to judge myself I need to first know who and what I really am. Maybe its not so bad .We tend to spend so much time looking at other people either in the act of coveting or judging we lose sight of ourselves. It reminds me of the title of Erma Bombeck’s book from 1976 “The Grass is always Greener over the Septic Tank” If we stop straining our eyes and necks trying to see what some else has we might realize that we already have all that we need. Once you know who you are, you can then decide who you want to be, and make choices going forward that support that. Through Acceptance I understand that I control not only the way that I feel emotionally, but also the way I feel about my Self. This understanding creates my reaction and relationship to how others feel about me. If you don’t know–if you don’t decide who you are, then anyone can make you believe anything about yourself, good bad, or unimportant. Eleanor Roosevelt also said, “Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”
Acceptance, is not just about accepting yourself but also about accepting the responsibility you have for and to yourself. If you want to take the credit for the success, then you have to be willing to take the blame for the faux pas and failures and know that either way it’s all right. We also have to accept that we are human, and that is a messy and imperfect state of being. When we cultivate an acceptance for ourselves we instantly begin to have an acceptance and allowance towards others, enter compassion…
Sometimes in fragile moments my finger finds the second pearl on the string, that of Appreciation. This is one that I have mostly experienced through the feeling of guilt “You never miss a good thing until it’s gone”. Whether it’s people, things, situations, eras, or health, this adage is so true. As I mentioned before I am the baby of nine, and one day a group of us were hanging out in the kitchen. Somehow we landed on the fact that our mother had nine of us one at a time. There are no twins in our clan. So someone calculated that our mother had spent 5 1/2 years of her life pregnant. We all looked at her astonished! A bit self-conscious My mother replied “Well when you put it like that it does sound horrible, it didn’t feel like that” It started a whole discussion about would you rather be pregnant for five years straight and be done with it or do it normally. My mother said if she had to do the time straight, she wouldn’t have. When you think about it like that, all strung together it’s seems impossible to fathom, but it’s odd how thinking about something slightly differently can change the perspective of that thing. If I linked all the times I have sat and complained about my body, either as a dancer or as a woman I probably would end up with a number that was double to that of my mother’s collective pregnant years. I feel like most of my life has been spent obsessing or bemoaning what I had didn’t have, or wanted, in regards to my body. Conversely if I strung together to times I loved what I looked like, saluted myself, or acknowledged that I was good (as a dancer) or beautiful, lovely, gorgeous, or even not so bad, that timeline would be of no comparison at all. It is not until you lose something that you comprehend its value. As a dancer when you are injured, or age sets in and one’s facility is not as facile, when your health is compromised, or when some one you love is ill or dies, it is only then that you realize that even in your seemingly imperfect state, you are ultimately still blessed. Blessed simply because you are, and really as horrible as it sounds— as long as you are alive it can almost always be worse.
I was 26 when my father died. Though it sounds a bit trite, he was my best friend. More specifically he was a friend to my mind, he understood not only me, and the way I thought, but also the world I lived in and my particular point of entry, therefore he had the ability to council me with a depth of comprehension, compassion and always with utter honesty. I recall the bittersweet moment when he told me that the man I loved did not love me, “At least the way you ought to be loved” he added to soften the blow of reality. He told me when I was getting “chunky” and I needed to watch it. He told me that I tended to see the world differently then most people (including my family members) and that might always to have me standing on the outside but he assured me that it was okay, contrast creates context. After all, the only thing that makes the inside the inside, is the fact that here is and outside. My father was a ballet father and would drag me to the theater, or make me watch the PBS dance specials when I preferred to watch Three’s Company, he often wore me down with discussion and debate, and his is corny jokes, he was exhausting!!! As his illness began to claim his body, and a disturbing frailty replaced what had always been sinewy strength, I was confronted with the reality that the body, though extremely resilient, has its own vulnerability and was subject to breakdown. Weakness has always been more disturbing to me then the idea of death. Death I had experienced early on in my life weakness never. At the age of eight I had been introduced to death when my brother of twelve passed away. It was then that I learned that not only old people die. When I watched my father draw his last breath and I witnessed the peace that came over him upon his soul’s release, it was then that I fully appreciated how full of life he had been, and how much passion for parenting he had possessed.
Since that time, there have been other instances, other losses that have acted as reminders that one should always live with a certain level of appreciation for one’s body, one’s life, in whatever form it takes. Through this forum I have learned to extend that concept to the appreciation of one’s body regardless of its form, weight or size. There is no such thing as perfect, and we may never be what we want, but if what we have works, it more than good enough. I always say that I practice Bikram yoga begrudgingly and it is true, there is a part of me that hates it. I do it not so much because I love it, but more because it works. I get annoyed when I think, “Damn and I going to have to do this for the rest of my life if I want to hold on to what I have left, and prevent losing more?” I am pissed to have to get up, pull myself together, get all sweaty and overheated just so that I can walk with a bit of comfort from my hip, so I can teach class and manage to demonstrate, and so that I can look somewhat the way that I want to physically. But then I take a breath as I trudge up that hateful hill to the studio, and I work towards appreciation by changing my “have tos” into “get tos” I get to do this and I am blessed that I can! I get to do Bikram as much as I’d like (or require) and I can afford it, I have to appreciate that. I get to practice, and I am physically able to and at this point it’s pretty much a breeze (if you have ever taken Bikram you will appreciate the irony of the word breeze in various respects) I have to appreciate that. I get to experience the results! I have to appreciate that I found something that works, some people aren’t that lucky. If I look at my Bikram practice the way we figured my mother’s years of pregnancy, basically I have to endure Bikram for about 7 hours a week. That’s 28 hours a month, which amounts to a little over one day. That’s not so bad.
There is a line in the classic movie Marjorie Morningstar (Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly), someone asks Marjorie’s Uncle Sampson how he’s doing and he replies “I have my health, the rest is mud” that’s kinda my how I feel about it sometimes. If the best or the worst you can say is that you have your health you’re doing all right. Can you imagine being broke or homeless (two conditions that are bad) while you were ill? I have seen people who lead lives of plenty and for all their money they could still not buy their health. In the end even though they could afford the best medical care (which is really important) it still wasn’t enough. If you have your health you have to learn to appreciate the importance of that, because the rest…is mud!
Which brings me to the last pearl on the strand Respect. Respect is so complex and layered; it is a complicated matrix of reasons why we respect something or someone, and why we require it ourselves. Respect is the thing that gives us a sense of validation, acknowledgement and value. It not only implies that you have been seen but that you have been accepted and are held in high regard. It holds within its definition an idea of power, and prestige. Even though on one hand we talk about how no one else’s opinion should matter, in truth we don’t live in a vacuum, humans thrive and rely on one another for physical and emotional interaction, and ones standing within the “tribe” is of paramount importance. However we should not place or replace the opinion of others before or above that of our own. When it comes to respect for our selves, and our bodies it is about creating an intimate relationship with ourselves (mentally emotionally, spiritually and physically) that cultivates an understanding of our functionality and how optimum functionality is arrived at for us. Self-respect if about doing what is best for one’s self and making the best choices possible, be that in people or food. It is learning to take care of ourselves, inside and out. We often expect others to treat us well and yet we abuse ourselves in a myriad of ways daily, from negative speak, to eating badly, not exercising, or getting involved with people who don’t have the best intentions towards us. Respect really does start at home by drawing boundaries that define what is acceptable and what isn’t, and demanding it from ourselves; then we can demand that other tow that same line. When we honor our own beliefs, our values, our philosophies, we begin to stand in our power. When we begin to see our bodies as the vessel that houses the essence of our being and more then a reflection of the ego, or something that is used to attract, perhaps then we would begin to see others in another light as well.
When you respect something you take care of it. I am finding that with age conscientiousness towards one’s body begins to develop. When my father was sick someone once told me,” Well if you keep something for 60 years something is bound to go wrong” and it true. I am beginning to understand why whenever you talk to older people they are always coming from the doctors, going to the doctors or making a appointment, that’s because the older you get he more frequently you have to get things checked out. I have reached a point where I am (in respect for my body and fear of cancer) starting to be more diligent about going to the doctors, the dentist, the gynecologist and ophthalmologist. The irony is I think about how I am happy to get a facial, laser hair removal and will spend copious amounts of money on creams and make-up but when it comes to going to the doctors I have to push myself. T’ruth be told, part of that is I am always afraid that I am dying of something. Respect is a pearl that is a bit heavier than it’s sisters as the other two (appreciation and acceptance) are housed within it. With respect for ones self comes a sort of facing of reality, if we are so lucky, we do get older and things change, we don’t look the way we once did, and we might have to work a little harder at it. We have to appreciate that we are living to see the history of our lives etched into our foreheads, that every moment of laughter now parenthetically frames our mouths, and that though we move a bit slower we still get there…But then the words of Uncle Samson echo in the back of my head “I have my health, the rest is mud”
These three pearls as I like to refer to them as are the foundation of my philosophy and the tenants that My Body My Image is based on: Acceptance, Appreciation and Respect for one’s self, for one’s body. They are not easily arrived at, they are by-products of constant work, and personal housekeeping- dusting, and polishing if you will. We as a society have an addiction of sorts to the body and its image, the commercialization of which perpetuates the issue. We cannot seem to create a relationship to and with it that is healthy and balanced. We share the same sort of relationship with food; it’s either too much, too little, good for you or bad. We obsess about it; it shadows almost every area of our lives. These pearls I have discovered help quiet the chatter, create balance and help me stay somewhat centered. They are to me what the 12 steps are to addicts, they are my steps towards recovery. Like an addict I works the steps, and take it one moment, one day at a time. I encourage you to “Wear your Pearls!!” They are classic and go with almost everything.