Sunday, September 25, 2016

4 Keys To Improving Your Body Image

Graciously re-posted from Gurze Publications

Whether we are in grade school, high school, college — or beyond — we can benefit from increasing our body esteem.  We know that negative body image contributes directly to an array of issues, to overall dissatisfaction and unhappiness, but also it is important to see that our bodies also become the object onto which we place negative feelings or experiences.  If we aren’t really conscious about this, we can start to obsess about our bodies (dieting, exercising, etc.) when we don’t want to focus on difficult situations.

According to Schilder’s 1935 book that originally launched the concept of “body image,” a person’s body image includes their perception of the aesthetics and sexual attractiveness of his or her own body.*
As I read that definition, I wonder if I have ever consciously considered sexual attractiveness as part of my own definition of the term… Have You?

As a young, professional actor, I was faced with the incredible pressure to have a perfect shape in order to find paid work.  Contradictory messages came from agents and directors measuring me up to the other actresses in a room.  People told me to whiten my teeth, or lose five pounds, or were concerned about my wrinkles.  All of this fat-talk surrounded my life and negatively affected my body image.  The culture of fat talk mixed with terrible stress management very soon resulted in my falling directly into the trap of placing the center of my existence on my body and shape.

My body was the object I focused on day and night… instead of feeling feelings that were uncomfortable.

Like many young and ambitious people, I became consumed and obsessed with disordered behaviors: working out, running, manicuring and facialing.  I had no idea that I was displacing all of my negative feelings and emotions onto my body … it just happened.  And in this culture, these choices are rewarded.  Handsomely.  I received compliments.  I received roles.  I won awards.

At the end of the day; however, I was unhappy.  My identity and body esteem was enveloped by outside judgements and opinions.  I was the living, breathing picture of a woman who was trained to externally validate, and needed serious grounding and internal guidance.

Thankfully, a series of important events took place that led to my improved body image and self-acceptance.

4 Keys to Improving Body Image:

1.  Try Therapy!  I chose to embark in psychotherapy with a fabulous clinician.  I never struggled from an eating disorder or other illnesses, but chose therapy because it was a popular and fashionable thing to do in New York.  I also knew I was fundamentally unhappy and it was time to figure out why.  Most importantly, therapy taught me how to “feel” my feelings.

I never realized that by not feeling feelings, I was adding to my negative body image!

2.  Find Your Voice!  I began taking voice lessons with a woman who would teach me how to use my body to find my voice.  Based in acclaimed movement techniques such as Alexander, yoga and an array of massage and body work styles (Rolfing, etc.), I was taught aspects of my body that I had no idea existed.  Very soon after working in professional voice study, I would start experiencing my body as something astonishingly unique and wonderful.

My body was now my instrument.  It was no longer a coat hanger, or object for an agent to market or purchase.
There are many ways to find your voice, of course.  Joining a cause, speaking out about issues, speaking up to people and using assertiveness (versus passive or aggressive behaviors) … such a crucial Key!!

3.  Give Back.   I became interested in outreach and in volunteering.  Connecting myself to the greater world instantly offered a new perspective, a higher purpose and a sense of belonging.  When you are teaching kids in Harlem, you aren’t really concerned with how you look.  You are concerned that the kids get fed and that they are safe.

4.  Meditation and Mindfulness.  When I began to study all 8 Limbs of Yoga — not just asana or the physical poses — but the array of ways to unite body, mind and spirit, I almost instantly evolved a healthier body image.  The teachings about deep breathing, mindfulness and meditation connect you to the deepest truths within yourself.

Learning to hear those truths and sit with them are critical to self-acceptance.

Today — some 10 years later — I have a healthier body image:

  • I measure my worth from the inside out
  • I am concerned with “balance” in my overall life rather than with size, shape or weight
  • I love a variety of foods and the culinary artistry in creating them
  • I am assertive in my relationships
  • I feel my feelings
  • I communicate through conflict and disappointment
  • I embrace all aspects of myself.

*Schilder, P. (1935) The Image and Appearance of the Human Body

photo courtesy of digitalart
Robyn Hussa, MFA, E-RYT, is Founder and CEO of NORMAL, for which she was awarded the 2010 Champion in Women’s Health award from Ms. Sue Ann Thompson and the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation. Ms. Hussa is also a professional performer and New York producer and President of WhiteElephant productions in New York City. She is the Editor of the WeAreTheRealDeal blog site and author of Healthy Selfitude.

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