I went to a School of Life event this week called Learn to Love Your Body. I’ve been to one of their events before and it didn’t really work for me; my default setting is ‘get shit done’ and the philosophical thinking style of the event wasn’t a match for me. I am one of those people who finds meandering brainstorming sessions deeply frustrating – I know they need to happen, but please don’t ask me to participate (although once you’ve come up with a shit hot idea, hand it over and I will develop a watertight project plan and it will come in on time and on budget!).
Anyway, I decided to go back because this event intrigued me. I was particularly interested in this bit: “We’ll experiment with sensitive, tactile drawing processes that keep the sense of sight out of the process to help us engage with and appreciate our bodies.” Now, I can’t draw for toffee but as Exposing 40 is at its heart a visual exploration of our relationship with our bodies I thought I would give it a go. In the end there was no drawing involved. There was lots of thinking though…
The day before the event we were asked to think about an “image of someone or something that speaks to you about a nurturing and emotional warmth”. The first image that sprung to mind was of me with my three oldest friends in New York a couple of months ago. We’re fooling around in a photo booth at the top of the Rockefeller Center, mocking up the famous image of the workmen having their lunch on a crane. We are roaring with laughter. There is no pulling in of stomachs, angling of legs, or jutting of chins to define the jawline. We look extremely and gloriously happy.
On the night we had to use the image as the starting point on a journey to find our perfect nurturer. We had to quietly imagine what this person will look like, sound like, what they will say, and what they will do. This perfect nurturer will become our ever-present friend and the voice of reason who speaks to us about our body concerns in times of doubt. Now, I could have run with this if I was in my chosen photo and imagining what my best friends with whom I am always happy and carefree would be saying to me if I was having a crisis of confidence, but this exercise started to come unstuck when it turned out this perfect nurturer was meant to be our inner voice. It completely unravelled at the point at which we were encouraged to talk to, touch and thank the parts of our bodies that upset us, for example “by placing your hands on your spare tyre to apologise to it and thank it.”
I shouldn’t mock too much because this approach could work for some people, I do of course appreciate the value of mindfulness exercises, and I also know that in the social media driven world we live in it is easy to become reliant on comments, ‘likes’ and positive affirmation from others. However, since the poor relationship many of us have with parts of our bodies is driven by the voice in our own head I am not convinced the solution is to be wholly found in our own heads.
When I think about some of the feedback I have had on images posted here, there were times when I thought ‘that’s a lovely thing to say but I think you’re just being nice’. I didn’t always believe them. But if I think about comments I have left for others when they have spoken of insecurities I know I have never once lied in a comment. I simply do not see what they do and if I say I think they look beautiful I mean it. So, if I don’t say things just to be nice, why assume others do when commenting on my images? This simple thought process and the conclusion I reached did so much more for me than laying my hands on my belly and thanking it for liking wine and cheese would have done.
Certainly we are responsible for our own emotional strength and happiness, driving personal change, and kick starting a process of reimagining our own self-image if we need to, but the fact is, when it comes to our bodies we are our own harshest critics so let’s not beat ourselves up if we need to look externally to help ourselves deal with our insecurities and vulnerabilities. For me, the snapshots of friendships that capture how we felt not how we looked, the conversations that are coming about as a result of this project, and the generosity and kindness of the online community is a greater foil to negative thoughts than having a conversation with my body.
Postscript 1: If I hadn’t been in a perfect storm of work and flat-buying stress this week I would have written this in time for Marie’s #wickedwednesday – sorry I missed the deadline, lovely. xx
Postscript 2: I did mention the absence of the drawing and now have two free places for future events. I am now torn between thinking ‘ooooh, freebie’ and accepting that the events won’t really be free if I come away thinking they were a waste of my time!