Positive Body Talk
I’m a bit over talking about women’s bodies, to be perfectly blunt. And there’s a lot of talk. In fact, we even talk about how we talk about them (see this pieces of research on how much women talk about bodies). And then we’re told how to talk about them because the way we talk about them is wrong.
That’s a lot of talking. Talking about women’s bodies.
The reason I am getting bored with talking about women’s bodies is not because it’s not an important issue. While my mid-40’s has brought a calmer and more accepting level of body talk amongst my similarly aged friends, we still live with our awareness of not being as thin/pretty/healthy/youthful/flexible/reproductive/pain-free as we used to be.
It’s a humorous balance of nature. Just when we reach an age that gives us a level of body-appearance acceptance, the serious stuff starts to go wrong. Maybe this is why old women don’t complain about being fat, they complain about knees and blood pressure and failing eyesight.
But we still complain. Though maybe with more laughter now. So, it’s not unimportant that we live with an awareness of how we talk about our bodies. I just see that there’s a bigger dynamic here.
Talking about our bodies avoids the real issue
When we talk to our friends about our bodies, whether it’s how they look or how they’re misfunctioning, we tend create a dichotomy, of sorts. We speak like this body we’re attached to isn’t really us.
“The arthritis in my knee is playing up” separates me from the arthritis and the knee, like the knee has been taken over by this inflammation disease I am helpless against.
“My belly is far too flabby”, usually said with disgust or shame, creates a self hatred that our body was never meant to sustain. This sets off the stress response in our minds, much like an actual threat (ie an attacker with a knife, running towards us) would. The result is a war within us, between mind and body, which is bad for our health on all kinds of levels. (I teach more about this and how to combat it in my course Making Peace with Pain).
“Ugh, my indigestion is really playing up” and so you grab the Gaviscon and force it away. This is classic behaviour in our modern, convenience-medication world. And that’s great, when we need relief from pain. But not when it allows us to ignore the body and what it’s saying to us, and simply drug it into submission to activities that we engage in without thought (in this case, eating things or eating in ways that clearly don’t work for the body).
As we avoid connection with the body and instead, talk about the body (like it’s somehow separate from us), we move away from what we really are – integrated animals who’s bodies are our lifelines to satisfied, healthy lives. Instead, we become beings that assume these bodies are a necessary burden and they should just work, like machines, doing whatever the mind says they should.
Funnily enough, the more we do that, the unhealthier we become.
What would happen if we talked to our bodies instead?
In my post last week (read it here) I talked about getting connected to your body – listening deeply and connecting to how it feels, what it might be needing in order to be happy.
The next step in the process is to start talking to your body.
While I can find a lot of noise on the internet about positive body talk about your body, finding anyone who actively encourage use in positive body talk to our body is almost impossible.
But I find it so very, very important because it actively encourages a relationship of intimacy with our body.
Much like we talk differently about someone than we do when we talk to them, so the same goes for our body. We will talk much more harshly when we talk about it in the third person.
And conversely, when we want to say something kind, loving or complimentary, it has so much more meaning and impact when said directly to someone, than to another person about that someone. When talking positively to our body, the impact is stronger than saying something positive about it in the third person.
Try this out
What do you often complain about, regarding your body – pick something on your body-hate top ten playlist?
I’ll use the example of thinking my belly is too flabby. (I can’t be the only one with that on my top ten list!). But you work through the steps with your own choice of “issue”.
Try saying what you dislike out loud, as in “my belly is too flabby, it sticks out too far, wobbles and bulges embarrassingly, I really hate it”.
Note how that feels. Unfortunately, probably it doesn’t feel too much of anything because it feels “normal”.
Next, turn it around, and say something positive and accepting about that body part, such as “my belly is soft and huggable, it processes food and keeps me alive, it wants me to be healthy and stores fat to keep me alive in emergencies”.
(note, I understand that while you may give logical agreement to these kinds of statements, you may lack the feeling that would make them feel like honest statements! That’s ok, we’re just trying out an exercise).
How does it feel to say something positive about your body? For me, it’s hard work to find positive things to say, it’s carefully chosen (ie I revert back to backhanded compliments, like “it’s round and large but it could be larger”) and I do find myself thinking there isn’t much to like about it……it’s kinda hard work to come up with things.
Did you find something similar?
Now try it talking to your body
Go back to your negative statement, only instead of saying that statement about your body part, say it to your body part – address it in first person, as in “you are too flabby, you stick out too far, you wobble and bulge embarrassingly, I really hate you”.
Notice anything different?
Yep….woh!! It suddenly got a LOT more mean, a lot more critical. I said basically exactly the same thing, but I, the speaker of those words, got so much more cruel and unkind.
Speaking to your body wakes you up, as the speaker, to what you’re really saying. But it also has a more powerful affect on what’s being spoken to.
Say that direct address statement again, and notice what the body part does, how it feels.
My stomach suddenly feels a LOT more noticeable, a lot bigger, wobblier, sticking out more and ugly. Way more.
The disconnection I can achieve in third person language is significant.
Finally, turn around your positive statement, and deliver it in direct address, as in “you’re so soft and huggable, you process my food for me and keep me alive, you store fat to keep me alive in emergencies – oh my goodness, I love you”.
OK, so that wasn’t word-for-word the same positive statement, but it illustrates exactly how it came out of my mouth when I tried to say the exact words to my stomach. The intense emotive attachment that direct address gave me, embellished the factual positive statements really instinctively, with a much greater emotional meaning.
I did feel way more love toward my belly. I wanted to tell it how lovely it was, how much I loved it and thought it was beautiful. I mean, how can I acknowledge something so supportive and loving of me, without loving it back?
Your turn – say the positive statement. How did that feel? What changed? How did the body part feel. (my belly went soft and relaxed and seemed to giggle a bit with me, and my sweet “you’re so soft and cuddly” language).
Just like a little kid that you’re hugging and being loving toward, so your body responds similarly.
A practice of positive body talk to your body
Hopefully, this exercise has highlighted for you just how powerful talking to your body is, both positively and negatively. And I hope you, like I did in my example, experience an unexpected and powerful love for that body part.
Remember, your body is simply doing exactly what a body should be doing, given the conditions it’s dealing with. This is something I truly believe.
Your body isn’t doing anything it should not, it isn’t failing your or hurting you, it isn’t the enemy and it isn’t against you, it hasn’t betrayed you or let you down.
In fact, your body is fighting all kinds of battles FOR you. It’s keeping you alive and healthy despite all the unhealthy things we consume into it, breathe into it, apply onto it, wear on it, force it to tolerate, not let it do enough of and ignore about it. And despite our dislike, or even hatred, of it.
Your body is the best damn friend you’ll ever have.
Until you see it as such, treat it as such and love it as such, you’ll not achieve the optimum healthy, happiness and peace that you seek.
So I encourage you to develop regular positive body talk practices. Here are a few I use regularly:
- Wake up in the morning and say good morning to your body. Be happy you’re waking up with it, that it even woke up this morning! Love on it, first thing, with compliments and sweetness.
- Similarly, when you get into bed, and things are tired, achey or sore, talk to those parts. Thank your body parts for putting up with whatever you made them do that caused the hurt. Tell them how grateful you are and how you love them for it. Tell them you hear their hurt and will do your best to rest them tomorrow (that’s a whole other blog post, about listening back….stay tuned!)
- Whenever you feel a negative thought or comment coming on, counter it with a loving comment in direct address. This commonly strikes me in the yoga studio when I see my body in the full length mirrors next to super muscley young yogi’s. I look my body in the proverbial eye (of the mirror) and tell it I love it, thank it for coming to class and doing these poses as best it can, despite so many years of not doing exercise. I tell it I love how it feels when it does those poses and how I enjoy being in it.
- When talk turns to body dislike with a group of friends, I talk to my body, silently 🙂 , like I would a small child who was scared of something hurtful and came for comfort, to sit on my knee. I tell it I wont speak like that, it doesn’t need to worry. I say I love it because it’s mine and it’s doing such a good job of being alive. I tell it that it’s safe with me, I wont betray it with hateful words.
- Finally, when I’m around young women, I try to find ways to say loving things to my body, as a way of example and training. Because, goodness knows, they’re not going to hear that many other places!
Got questions about positive body talk? Want to share your experience of trying directly addressing your body? I really love hearing from you so use the comments below.