Do you love your body?
Updated: Oct 9, 2019
I wonder, when you look at your body in the mirror, what do you see? Do you view your body as something you cringe at? What do you think when you look at your body? Do you wish it looked different? Do you dislike parts of your body? Perhaps you wish your thighs were slimmer? Or wish that your nose was a different shape? Do you wish you were taller or shorter, lighter or darker skinned? Do you wish you had less body hair? Do you compare yourself to your friends? Or to celebrities you see on the TV or in movies or in pages of glossy magazines?
Or do you honestly love every part of your body? Have you always been confident in your appearance? Have you never compared yourself to others unfavourably?
When I was a young teenager I was fortunate to be able to spend a fair amount of time with my grandparents. My family moved back to Scotland when I was 9. I hadn't seen much of my grandparents before that as they had returned to Scotland long before I was born. I was particularly fond of my grandfather, it seemed that we had a lot in common, we liked many of the same foods and he was just a very large male figure in my life. I didn't see that much of my father because he would be working and then he left when I was 14 so I guess my Grandpa was my go-to male role model. My sister and I would go to their house for lunch during the school day and often go there after school. I have fond memories of sitting at my Grandpa's feet, leaning against his armchair, while he would stroke my hair as he watched the horse racing or the wrestling at the weekend. I loved my Grandpa very much and was devastated when he died three weeks before my 18th birthday. But I'm digressing somewhat.....
Unfortunately, his love could not outdo the damage my granny caused. My grandparents generation had lived through WW2. My Grandpa was a civil servant and had been posted to Africa. My mother was born in Malawi and I recall hearing my Granny talking about not having much in the way of furniture. I am fairly confident that food would have been in short supply in Africa as well as back home. So, I am not really surprised that she would continually encourage me to eat more food. When you come from a place of lack it does become a focus. She would say to me:
"You're far too skinny, you must eat more"
"Eat more, you're too thin"
"Have some more, get some meat on your bones"
This seemingly endless focus on my body shape had a very real and lasting effect on my psyche. Throughout my teens I would wear clothes that covered my 'skinny' limbs. I wouldn't conceive of wearing a mini skirt because people would see my skinny legs. I wore long sleeves because I was embarrassed that my arms were like sticks from wrist to shoulder. I would see fashion clothes I liked and my mum would buy some for me but then I would lose confidence and not wear them. This must have infuriated her as a single mother trying to make ends meet. I was acutely aware of my small breasts and so would round my shoulders forward so that no-one could see just how little I had. I would wear baggy tops in an effort to hide my lack of feminine attributes. My posture suffered. My whole demeanour, when I look back, was of a young woman lacking in confidence. When I look at the young women I see around town now I grieve for the lost opportunities. I grieve for the girl I could have been, the one who would have held her head tall, who would have worn clothes confidently, who would have embraced the fashion of the day and been proud of her slim figure.
So, even with the best intentions, it IS possible to deeply and even irrevocably damage a young person's confidence and self esteem... ... just with words. My Granny probably didn't mean to cause so much angst and pain in me. We must be so mindful of the language we use around our young people.
Sarah Koppelkam tells us 'How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Body' in the Huffington Post (please read the whole article). I love this quote: "Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul".
Again in the Huffington Post, Lisa Bloom believes we need to start when our children are very young. She wants us to think about 'How (we) Talk to Little Girls' warning us that "teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything". I hasten to add that we must not just focus on the little girls we encounter. We must also be careful about how we talk to our little boys in ways that teaches them to respect their female peers but also in ways that encourages them to be proud of their own bodies. They too are falling prey to unrealistic expectations of their size, shape and capabilities as advertising increasingly targets men.
As a woman in her 50s now I am so sad that it has only been in recent years that I could feel confident enough in my own skin to bear my arms or legs in public. I really don't want that for my daughter. I want both my son and daughter to lift their heads up high and be proud of their amazing bodies. As a birth worker and body worker I am witness to other peoples' bodies frequently. Whether that's watching a woman open up in labour, often invariably throwing off her clothes in pretty much wild abandon, to birth the most exquisite, perfect, new, little body into the world or whether it's providing thoughtful massage strokes to parts of someone's body that needs to relax and release all the tensions they are consciously and, more often, unconsciously carrying. I see all sorts of shapes, sizes and ages, male and female. And you know what? They're all amazing! I marvel at the skeleton that holds them up and all the muscles that work together to move that skeleton. And I marvel at the stories our minds listen to, process and then regurgitate to ourselves, often negatively. Why do we do that to ourselves?
The media has a large part to play in this. We've allowed tv programmes, films, magazines and advertising to promote such an unrealistic ideal of the human form that none of us can live up to. Not even the actors and models used. They are rarely portrayed without extensive touching up via software available in the digital world now.
Everything we're ever exposed to is processed by our conscious mind and then filed away somewhere deep in our subconscious mind, often even forgotten about (but only by our conscious mind). So, although our conscious mind be able to rationalise various thought processes, our subconscious is very much more powerful and will keep telling us that, according to everything we've previously been exposed to, we should look a certain very sanitised, bodyhairless, perfected, idealised way. And when we simply cannot come close to that ideal we crumble and tell ourselves we'll never be good enough, pretty enough, clever enough, perfect enough....
It's time to Embrace our perfectly flawed selves. Embrace the perfectly rounded, the perfectly boney, the perfectly small, the perfectly large, the perfectly disproportioned...... the perfectly INDIVIDUAL and imperfect. It's time to Embrace our uniqueness and not compare it our younger selves, to anyone else and most definitely not to any manufactured ideal in the media.
So, in order to gain strength and resolve to stand up for your fabulous body I invite you to come along to a screening of Embrace on June 26th in the Odeon, Dundee at 6.45pm.
Embrace is Taryn Brumfitt's debut film. She posted an unconventional before-and-after photograph in 2013 which was seen by more than 100 million people worldwide and sparked an international media frenzy. Taryn continued her crusade exploring the global issue of body loathing and is now bringing Embrace to film theatres around the world. It was an absolute no brainer for me. I had to make sure it came to a cinema near me so that I could watch it with my daughter. So I contacted Demand Film and am now working with Tina McGuff to promote the film. We need enough people to reserve tickets before Saturday 25th February in order for the screening to go ahead. So, please, reserve your tickets and tell everyone you think would be interested. That is, anyone who owns a body!