Better Body Positivity Practices
Every month the Freed Bodyworks team will be dishing up tips on how to love, honor, utilize and preserve your body. These may range from best chair positions while typing at your desk to how to survive the holidays and so much more!
One of my favorite things about our team here at Freed is the array of voices and passions that we all have. So, each month we will be posting a collection of tips, one from each of our talented therapists, to help get you living more fully into and appreciating the powerful work of art that is your body!
This month we want to give you some tips for Better Body Positivity Practices. There is no better place to start when trying to change your outlook than with how you view yourself. Every day we are inundated with images and messages telling us how we are too fat, too flabby, too tall, too short, too skinny, too muscular....... We go to the grocery store and there are products like Skinny Girl snacks, Think Thin bars, Lean Cuisine meals and so on. We even see this in bars, 64 calorie beer (are you actually drinking beer at that point?), diet Mud Slide mix (not kidding) and "skinny" versions of your favorite cocktails. Everywhere we go we are hearing how we aren't quite the right body type to enjoy real food or wear the clothes that we want to wear.
So, with this in mind I asked our team to give you all their thoughts on how to face these challenges, get into our bodies and learn to love them for all of the wonderful things that they ARE!
1. Uncouple Compliments from Observations on Weight
Aviva Pittle, LMT
It's amazing how often we hear compliments paired with comments on body size—the ubiquitous "You look amazing, have you lost weight?" It's made a big difference in my life to stop giving or accepting this compliment, with its implicit value judgment. If I think someone looks fantastic, I just say so, I think this is a kinder way to talk to people. After all, there are a lot of reasons someone may have lost weight, none of which are really anyone else's business, and if, for example, they've been sick, they may not be happy about any changes in their weight—but it's also amazing how much it's done for my relationship with my own body to completely refrain from assessing anyone else's. When I don't talk about losing weight as an obviously good thing, I'm a lot gentler with myself when my body inevitably changes.
In terms of accepting those inevitable compliments, I've been baffling my family lately by refusing to respond to this the way they expect. "Have you lost weight?" "I don't know, I haven't been paying attention." Or, if it's a statement rather than a question—"You look great, you've lost weight!" I've been trying out responses like "No, but I'm happier, that's probably what you're seeing." Or even "No, I just look good!" Lately this has been true; the last time I got this compliment I had in fact gained weight, but I looked great because my life was going well, and my happiness showed. But even when I'm actually uncomfortably aware of any changes in my body, that's easier to navigate if I don't let anyone else link my worth or attractiveness to my size.
I'm not a better or more attractive person when I take up less space, and neither are you. Let's stop telling people they are, or accepting it when people say that we are.
2. Slow Down and Cut Your Body Some Slack
Aurora Raiten L.Ac, LMT
In a culture that prides itself on a constant quest for upward motion, the concept of resting has come to be equated with laziness. Intense and chronic stress, pain, and fatigue are all terribly common side effects of this constant climb. We frequently find ourselves pushing to the point of breaking down before we allow ourselves to take time to heal, often because we feel we have no choice. This cycle serves to reinforce negative impressions we hold about our body's abilities: "of course I'm weak, I couldn't even handle 3 days in a row without sleep and two meals and 9 hours of work a day and a heavy workout schedule and and and...!"
As someone who lives with chronic pain, I've found that when I stop and listen to my body, a couple of things happen. One: Resting and rejuvenating, while emotionally complicated, allows me to heal a lot more quickly and with much less lasting discomfort. And two: I am often amazed at how much stronger and more capable I actually am, something that I might not have noticed if I just kept "pushing through the pain."
In other words: allowing your body time to rest does not mean you are lazy, it means you are honoring all of your hard work by giving yourself time to recuperate so that you can get back out into the world and do all of the awesome stuff you do. Trust your body: it is so wise, it will tell you what it needs!
3. Find The Neutral Asha Gray, LPC
When I think body positivity I automatically think compassion instead of judgment. We are bred in this country to judge everything and everyone, which can lead to a negative Nancy of our own inner voice. When you're judging others, you believe they are judging you and eventually you'll do the same. So, next time you find yourself judging another, pull on your inner compassion and find a way to reframe the statement to something more positive or even neutral. My favorite neutral is "That's a choice." If you can do that for others you can do it for yourself. Feeling dumpy one day find the positive, "I have great hair" or "I smile at everyone I meet" or maybe you can only get to the neutral "I showered today."
It may seem hard at first but remember every journey starts with a first step. You won't remember to make the compassionate statements in the beginning, trust me, no one does and that's OK. Just say it after the judging statement every time and eventually it will become your new habit!
4. Get Up and Get Moving!
Aries Indenbaum, LMT
Body positivity, for me, starts by connecting to my body. And in my case, the fastest, easiest, and surest way to re-connect with my body is by ... moving! When I'm feeling awful about my body, I try to take a walk alone, run for a few miles, or set aside time to dance or do some lifting.
When I'm active, doing something requires most of my attention to be on my body, I'm able to see myself in a new way, in terms of capabilities and strength. Sometimes that activity translates to many miles on the trail, and other times, it's just a few laps at the pool. But in those moments of physicality, whether I'm fast or slow, I can recognize that my body is me and mine.
5. Change the Conversation
Elizabeth Goldberg, LMT
Any PR pro will tell you that if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation. I’m not just talking about internal dialog bouncing around in our heads, but also the conversations that we have with our friends, family, and acquaintances. Negative body talk in social settings is pervasive and can be insidious in its disguise - am I talking about the upcoming party, or how I think I should lose weight to fit in the dress for that party? Outward body talk is particularly frequent when we’re eating with others. People will make excuses for what they are eating - “oh I know I shouldn’t, but I had a light lunch/will work out later/am indulging now.” (Amy Schumer’s sketch that takes that this to the extreme is inspired.)
My strategy for changing this in myself was to go nuclear. I told my family and friends that I didn’t want any body talk at the breakfast, lunch, or dinner table. No “I should” or “I shouldn’t” eat, run more, get back to yoga, or “change my relationship with carbohydrates.”* There are so many other things to share and talk about with the people in our lives - things that don’t passively (or not so passively) slam our bodies down but rather enrich the relationships we have with others and ourselves. Plus, changing the conversations I have with others helps me ease away from self-shaming conversation I often have with myself.
*Actually said in conversation
6. Observe with Curiosity Rather than Judgment
Frances Reed, LMT
In our culture, we are taught to observe our body using qualifiers like right and wrong, fixed and broken, pretty and ugly, good and bad. When you use these words to ‘observe’ your body, your observation becomes judgement and judgement is the insidious force that derails body positivity.
Try this: spend the next week observing your body like a scientist observes an experiment.
When you get a cramp in your hand, try to notice everything you can about the cramp, the hand, the joints, and your most recent actions/surroundings.
When your body is wracked from laughter, notice that your cheeks hurt from smiling so much, and then notice all the individual muscles in your face that are affected. Notice how your abdominal muscles cramp in response to breathing normally after the breathlessness of laughing. Examine if your fingers and toes tingle from a brief lack of oxygen?
When you are exhausted after working at the computer, don’t just leave the observation there. Scan your body and notice all the manifestations of the fatigue… eyes, hands, scalp, ears, jaw, neck, shoulder blades, forearms, low back, chest, breathing… Trace these sensations of pain, numbness, tingling, or heaviness. Ask yourself, were you leaning on your arm or sitting with your foot under you? Were your compensating for one part of your body with another, maybe jutting out your left hip to get your right hand closer to the mouse?
Then, once you get the hang of noticing, add a dash of curiosity to your inner monologue. Ask yourself why things on your body do what they do…. You’re walking home and notice a pain in your right-side mid-back. First notice the quality, location and intensity of the pain. Does it refer pain to any other spots on your body? Then notice that you are carrying your heavy briefcase on your right shoulder. Notice the position of your body, are you walking upright? Are you hiking your shoulder or hip in order to balance the weight of the bag? Then start the "what-if" style curiousity. What happens if you shift the bag to the other shoulder? What happens if you hold your shoulders back while you walk? What happens when you take a deep breath and expand your lungs inside your ribcage. Resist the urge to concentrate on how you are ‘out of shape’’ or have ‘bad posture’ and instead attempt to decipher the back pain. The pain might not change until you get home and set down the bag but In effect, you’ve replaced 15 minutes of negative thoughts with 15 minutes of keen interest in how your body is functioning.
Curious observation without judgement is one of the most revolutionary skills I’ve ever learned. It is, in fact, the revolution that I would credit with toppling my cruel dictator, Body Negativity, and permanently exiling it from my life. Decide to be fascinated with the unique organism that is you and I promise that non-judgey awareness will breed compassion and self love.