Body Image – a revolutionary act or a human right?
Can you honestly, hand on heart, say that you love your body? Really? What about your belly or the underside of your arms? Or that bit that you always apologise about in yoga class?
Every day in my massage practice I witness the judgments women hold about their bodies. This shows up as apologies, negative self-talk and numerous other ways, but this negativity is from women who have taken charge of their self-care enough to come for a massage. Imagine all the women out there who didn’t make it this far and couldn’t bear to be seen or touched at all!
Does this matter, beyond the personal tragedy of a compromised body image? Does this really make a difference to women’s lives? Here’s psychotherapist Susie Orbach in the Observer:
“In a time of threat, the places we might be able to call home, our bodies, are being ripped apart by commercial pressures. They bear down on labias (too messy), faces (too tired), lips (too small), eyes (too hooded), breasts (too small, droopy or large)… For each of these crazy designations, there are surgeries sold as empowering, sold as safe, sold as solutions. But what’s the problem and who is generating it? Control girls’ and women’s bodies – whether by the purveyors of “beauty”, the cultural enforcers of female genital cutting, the anti-choice gang in the White House – and insecurity is induced. It’s time to dare to feel OK in our bodies as they age and change.”
Today is International Women’s day and after millions of women around the world marched in January, there will be millions more marching today. I won’t be striking, I am going to be massaging. Here’s why.
I have a mission to support more women to be embodied. As embodied women we are aware of the tension in our bodies, we respect our need for rest and nourishment, we’re aware of our need to be withdrawn sometimes and totally ‘out there’ at other times, we are rocking our cycle, we connect with the earth and the heavenly realms, we accept our limitations and our imperfections. We can celebrate ourselves in all our ordinary, extraordinariness.
We can live consciously in our bodies; listening to its whispers and responding appropriately.
Imagine a community of embodied women, would we put up with abusive relationships or being ashamed of our bodies? Allow laws that obstruct our reproductive rights? Of course not! We wouldn’t be feeling disempowered in a rubbish job, we’d be out there singing our unique visions, acting on our passions and changing the world!
This is not a pampering massage; this is a body revolution!
You are enough
It’s a humbling experience, but my job is to hold the compassion for my clients; to embody the positive feelings they can’t yet embrace for themselves. In receiving touch from me, they can also receive messages like:
- You are enough just as you are.
- You are lovable.
- You imperfection is what makes you unique.
- Your survival is a triumph worth celebrating.
- You can find safety and let go.
In my experience of many years of giving and receiving bodywork, we can only experience what is already within us, so if ‘feeling that you have come home to yourself’ (my favourite feedback from a client, EVER) is possible on a massage couch, it is also possible in the rest of your life. You really can come home to yourself and dwell authentically on the street, not just on the massage couch.
Practical ways to love your body
Other than finding a good massage therapist, here are some ways to lose the negativity and become an embodied woman.
Touch yourself with love
Even if you get a regular massage, you will benefit 1,000-fold when you touch yourself with love. Belly massage is the queen of all, but touching any part of your body consciously with love is a radical, healing act.
You can do it right now!
Just breathe deeply into your heart, let the warmth and love grow there for a few breath cycles, then visualise, feel or imagine the love flowing down your arms to your hands and touch yourself with love. Use the mantra “Thank you, I love you” to really get that loving feeling.
Massage your belly
This is an ancient, womanly practice that for me, addresses the core issues of being a woman. Think of it; when you touch your belly you’re not only starting to accept a much-maligned part of our bodies but also soothing the vagus nerve, the digestion, the womb, emotional and sexual centres… this is working with some hot stuff!
When done with love, self-care belly massage can:
- Bring you in touch with your creative centre.
- Balance the hormones.
- Improve circulation to the womb.
- Support your digestive organs.
- Soothe a frazzled nervous system.
Here is a video to show you how to massage your belly.
Gift yourself regular time to do nothing
The cult of ‘busy-ness’ is endemic to our lives now, revving our engines with social media and Netflix, even once the demands of our external life are met. But just as apple trees need a long period of cool winter to rest so they can fruit in the following autumn, we also need time to rest and restore before we can manifest our creativity.
Yoga Nidra is excellent, but power naps and aimless pottering all work too. You already know what works for you; it’s your secret pleasure!
Journal your negativity
Getting your negative beliefs down on paper is a great way to process and transform them. Especially when they are feelings about your body, which are absorbed from your family right from birth. Not sure where to start? Here are some ideas.
- Take a photo of yourself and write a description of your body.
- Draw yourself and write a description of your most and least favourite parts.
- Write down what you remember your mother saying about her body.
- Write what you remember your father saying about your body or your mother’s body.
Ask your friends what they see
Sometimes it’s particularly hard to find the love for ourselves. This is where it’s time to bring in the cavalry and ask the people who love you for feedback. Explain to them that you’re working on loving your body more and ask them what they see when they look at you. It’s fun to make it a reciprocal deal so you each get a go at feeling the love.
Keep it safe by creating some clear boundaries:
- How much time.
- To only allow positive observations.
- Make it confidential.
- Make it clear you can stop the process at any time.
When they’re sharing what they see in you, notice and see if you can resist pushing away their appreciation. If any negativity comes up for you, take notice of it; there’s something to heal here. Take a few minutes at the end to de-brief and share how the experience was for you. You may want to take time to journal your observations.
Get regular massage. Check out who is working with awareness and safety in your area and follow your guts; your belly will know who you can trust.
Every time we make a move towards loving ourselves, however small, it is a radical act of healing which brings us closer towards full embodiment. And who knows where that could lead? As Susie Orbach said…
“It’s time to dare to feel OK in our bodies as they age and change.”
Every women’s day, I allow myself a treat of being a little more opinionated than my usual posts, if you’re curious about what was getting me going in past years, you can read the other women’s day posts too.