I was talking with a friend recently, and the conversation turned to body image. She smiled, and said she’d been working on hers.
A moment or two later, she said that she was worried. She’d just been thinking about her appearance, and suddenly decided that she was “fat.”
Now, interestingly, my friend is a triathlete, in great shape (see below.)
I commented on that.
She sighed, and said that, after 40 years, she was still working on her body image and body comfort. She then mentioned a thought she’d had a few days before — while she’d been our house-guest.
She began, “Boy, there is one huge mirror in your bathroom!”
I replied, “That’s intentional!”
She: “Last Saturday I did what you’d suggested a while ago — I took off my clothes, stood in front of that giant mirror, and looked at my body. I even managed to do it for a bit without judgment. For a minute, I actually liked how I look.
“But today, as I think about it, and especially as I think about what you might be thinking, I think I’m fat.”
All of us experience odd feelings of “not normal” when dealing with our bodies. Because of our obsession with “the dictates of fashion,” we judge themselves against impossibly high standards — “standards” that are airbrushed or digitally manipulated to begin with.
My friend grew up assuming that she was being watched, all the time, mostly because of her father’s endless comments about her body. As a “well developed” adolescent, she was aware of the stares and looks she was getting.
In her 20s and 30s, she wore loose sweats, because somehow she always felt overweight. She even had bulimia for a while. Now, she spends a lot of time in the gym.
Some months ago, I photographed my friend for a poster an aromatherapist wanted. To put my friend’s body “in perspective,” here’s one of the shots.
Now, you may be saying, “Boy! Does she need to get over herself!” And she would agree. But, and this is important, she often feels negative feelings as she evaluates her body. It doesn’t matter what she actually looks like.
All of this starts in adolescence, at the tail end of the ego project. As we move from child to adult, we have a “feeling” that we somehow don’t fit.
In adolescence, we begin to compare ourselves to others and to what we see on TV or in magazines. Men and women do this “sneaking a look and comparing” thing. Because the ego is NOT neutral — because the ego’s “job” is to point out flaws, real and imagined, it’s not hard to figure out why we judge ourselves so.
We develop a “shame,” an “embarrassment” regarding our body.
In the West, we are encouraged to be “modest,” which is just another name for not dealing with the reality of ourselves. We cover up.
My friend’s belly is neutral. It’s just skin over stomach. Sometimes the skin is tighter, sometimes looser. It’s just a belly, until we judge it. Or, until we assume someone else (the infamous “them”) is judging.
My friend’s solution was to ask me to do some Bodywork with her the very next day. She suggested two things:
- First, that she lay on her back and I work on her belly, from solar plexus to pubic bone. I used oil and did a deep massage.
- Second, she asked if she could sit on a stool, and if I’d massage her belly while she was seated, so that her belly would protrude. I did.
Now, what she created for herself was a progressive desensitization. She knew she would make herself uncomfortable when I rubbed her belly, as “I might judge her to be fat.” To allow me to do this, then, required discipline on her part, and a deep desire to get over herself.
And once she adjusted to being touched and seen while on her back, she artificially made the situation “worse” by sitting up. She also survived, and enjoyed, that contact.
Is she over this issue? Likely not. But she is less focussed on her belly embarrassment. She has “homework” to go home and keep looking at her belly in the mirror, and saying nice things. This is the beginning of a transformative experience.
The outcome of the Bodywork I did with my friend, which we repeated a week later, was that she began to release her “hatred” of her stomach.
The muscular tension decreased in her stomach area as she allowed herself to make sounds to express both the pain of the tension, and the relief of letting the tension go. Then, she noticed something else.
She was not grounded. Her knees, legs and lower back were almost seized.
The pain in her stomach had been her focus — she “missed” the pain lower down.
We therefore did more Bodywork, on the muscles of her lower back, her butt (focusing on the sciatic nerve indentation,) her legs and her tailbone.
Pressure is applied deeply, alternating between using the elbow and the thumb and fingers, and the elbow is again used to work down the back and sides of the thigh.
We’re looking to release the stress caught in the body. Yelling, screaming, is not unusual. It is a “letting go.”
With that letting go, my friend came to the realization that she had been blocking a pile of memories about both her body image and her sexuality. She was doing so by tightly locking her muscles — her legs, abdominal and butt muscles were all seized, in an attempt to keep her pelvis still.
We see this, in Bodywork, as the repression of passion, both sexually, and in terms of passion for life.
Working in this area of her body, bringing about emotional release, again and again, session by session, allows her to “simply let go.” The emotions begin to dissolve, and with them goes the muscular tension. The legs become loose and supple, and the pelvis is able to once again move freely.