Find some images online, in card shops, in books or magazines, or elsewhere of women (or men) whose body type resembles your own. It’s OK if this project takes more than one day, but spend at least 15 minutes per day on it until you have assembled several images. You might color-copy or scan some images if you go to the library to find them. When it comes to magazines, you might look in something other than fashion-oriented issues. Try everything from National Geographic to alternative press titles. Pagan magazines are a good bet for a variety of images.
Older woman can find some wonderful images in a deck of cards entitled “Wisdom of the Crone.” You can find them at http://www.wisdomofthecrone.com/home.html but note that the site has music that plays right away—not a good idea at work! These cards simply have beautiful images of women from all backgrounds in their “crone” years, plus a word like strength or courage to focus on for the day.
Once you have those images, you can proceed to the next step. You will need to display them in a very visible place or even spread them throughout your home. You could choose to make a collage or frame them. Attach a small one to the bathroom mirror.
Each day you will see these images and realize that someone thought that a woman who resembles you was worth photographing or drawing or painting. Let that soak in. Know that this photographed, painted, lovingly drawn woman possesses nothing that you don’t have. If she was worthy, you are worthy.
(Editorial note: after all this talk of modesty and body image I felt this is the right time to revisit Tapati”s entire Body Image Workshop. We all need to be reminded we’re beautiful just as we are.)
My involvement with the issue of body image came out of my encounter with the size acceptance movement in the late 1980s. I was fortunate enough to meet Ruah Bull, a body image educator. I had never heard of such a thing but soon I was exposed to her classes at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California. She had studied with body image guru Marcia Hutchinson and had joined with other large women to form a radical group that occasionally defaced billboards with thin models and went out to eat together in public—always a radical act for a large woman. They encouraged each other to wear sexy clothing and supported each other’s efforts to throw off inhibitions that they’d absorbed in our looksist society.
I soon noticed that fat women weren’t the only ones flocking to these body image classes. It seemed that every woman, from tall to short, fat to thin, temporarily able-bodied or women with disabilities, older women, women of different races and ethnic groups—every one found something wrong with her body. Women who looked perfect to me, women in bodies I would have been happy to trade for, were complaining about their bodies and particular features. Some actively hated their bodies. Some felt better about their body but were struggling with the way people judged it. I began to realize that it was a rare woman in my society that loved her body.
By now this is no longer a secret. Our cosmetics, weight loss and plastic surgery industries are booming. Poor body image has spread to men, as actors and male models are now expected to have six pack abs and rippling muscles. Men are even pressured to remove their body hair—something that used to apply only to women. The body-building look has infiltrated the mainstream. (more…)
I remember the lines. You remember the lines. Team captains dividing us into the more or less worthy as we stood waiting for our doom. Nervous laughter accompanying some of the choices. The smell of perspiration pervading the gym as tension mounted and fewer of us remained to be chosen. No one wanted to be last. It was embarrassing enough to be among the last few. We would sell out our best friend rather than be chosen last. We promised God anything if only we would not be last.
Sometimes the worst happened, and I would be the last one chosen. In that position I was supposed to act “cool,” as if it didn’t really matter to me. Over time, from this and other similarly humiliating experiences, I learned to conceal my emotions almost totally. What I still haven’t learned is to reveal my emotions–even to people I love. I learned the lesson all too thoroughly that at any moment my feelings might be used against me: any show of vulnerability brought inevitable attack and ridicule.
Years later, as an adult, I still face versions of “the lines” when I am in public. Most recently–and blatantly–when I began riding the bus to UCSC I soon noticed that I was the last person people would sit by as the bus filled up. At first I thought maybe i was paranoid. But day after day I watched as people consistently avoided sitting next to me until there were absolutely no other seats available. One day people chose to stand rather than sit by me. When finally a person (most often another woman) did sit beside me, they often turned outward to face the other side of the aisle.
I cannot feel natural when I’m in this situation. My throat tightens until I am almost incapable of speech. I hardly dare to breathe, and my entire body tenses with the effort not to touch the other person or take up too much space.
What, I wonder, do they fear–these people who avoid sitting beside me? Do they fear contagion? Guilt by association? Might others suspect them of collaboration? Or am I supposedly so disgusting that they can hardly bear to be that close to me, and dare not risk touching me lest I rub off on them? (more…)
The Model: Five years ago I would have laughed at the suggestion I might be doing nude modeling for an artist. Nothing could have been further from my mind. I was only beginning to work on changing my body image. I was just beginning to appreciate my wide hips, powerful buttocks, smallish breasts, and round belly with its network of stretch marks like ribbons of fine silk. The only parts of my body I had always liked were my blue-green eyes and my soft, thick brown hair.
It was a major step just to go to a beach or a pool in a swimsuit. First I had to know that I deserve access to the water just as much as any thin person. Then I had to use that knowledge as a shield when I ventured out in my bathing suit. I met shocked stares and the occasional rude remarks, but it was worth it to be in the water again. Still, it took a lot of work.
Early in my exploration of body image, I did a series of visualizations with body image educator and hypnotherapist Ruah Bull. The first visualization involved going inside a house–representing the self–and finding the “body room.” I was to enter and take note of what I saw and how I felt about it. The first time I did this exercise, I could not see anything but pitch blackness. It was too scary, this body room. I could not confront it.
Months later, after much work with Ruah, I was able to see into the body room. I saw a room that was much more pleasant than I had expected. It was homey and welcoming. Ruah asked me what changed I might like to make, if any. I said that the windows needed to be bigger to let more light in. When Ruah asked what that meant to me, I said that I wanted more freedom to wear clothing that was revealing, such as shorts and swimsuits. I was tired of being expected to hide myself away.
Years later, I unexpectedly found myself posing nude for an artist’s sketch. I had been swimming with friends in a mountain river, dressed in shorts and a top. I found a natural seat formed by a projection from a cliff wall and sat on it to rest. Everyone remarked that I looked like a mythical Earth goddess and wished someone had a camera. Our host, artist Heather Lee, decided to run home and get her sketch pad. (more…)
This assignment is meant to be interactive. It is a guided visualization followed by discussion or journal writing. You can handle this either by having someone read it to you, going slowly enough for you to visualize, or you can record it and then play it back for yourself. Before you do the visualization exercise, please start by getting into a comfortable position and relaxing with some slow, deep breaths. The concept for this exercise originated with Marcia Hutchinson although I am writing this version myself. You should check out her book, Transforming Body Image, for this and other wonderful body image enhancing activities!
1) Make a list of ten things you would do if you really loved your body. Pick one and start doing it now. As you progress you can choose other things from the list. This is an especially powerful exercise for those women who have been waiting to do nearly everything “until I lose those pounds.”
2) Create a support system of friends who support you in loving the body you have now. You may find that your circle of friends shifts as you seek out people who are supportive and leave behind people who won’t accept your limits on negative body talk or diet propaganda. This requires a commitment to yourself–you realize that you deserve acceptance and won’t settle for less.
3) Surround yourself in your own space with positive images of women in various sizes, colors and shapes. This reminds you that real women represent a delightful variety, not the narrow range shown on TV. Pay special attention to images that resemble your own body type. An inexpensive way to do this is to purchase cards at a book store or stationery store with pictures from art of the past and present (more…)
This one can be a quick brainstorm for most of you–it’s the second step that will take more time.
Make a list of ten things you would like to do if you had your ideal body that you aren’t doing now. Most of us do have a picture in mind of what our ideal body would look like–plus or minus x pounds, minus the scar, with a little more or less height, younger/older, different hair or features–and we imagine we’d be more confident and take more risks or do different things if we looked like our ideal image.
In the case of illness or loss of certain abilities this can be more challenging, of course. There are literally some things you may not be able to do.
Step 2 is to pick one off the list and do it, and continue on down the list. As I said, that may be more complicated if you are ill or have become disabled. You may still be adjusting to things you really used to do and just can’t any more. You may have to look at the spirit of each thing and see if you can come up with a new or modified activity that has that same spirit. (more…)