Body Embarrassment

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bette blue

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.

Using Touch to Over­come Shy­ness and Embarrassment

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.

It’s not the body. It’s the judge­ment.

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: 

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.

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