Monday, May 05, 2008

Women, Body Image, and Bodywork

This afternoon, without quite knowing why, I picked up a book I haven't looked at in a long time: Minding the Body: Women Writers on Body and Soul (Ed. Patricia Foster). I randomly opened to an essay by Pam Houston called "Out of Habit, I Start Apologizing." I was drawn in for clear massage-related reasons; her first line is "I am lying, facedown, on a massage table at the Doral Hotel and Spa in Telluride, Colorado." But Houston's personal essay moves beyond this moment on the massage table; she delivers vignettes of past and present, weaving moments of reckoning with her body.

Houston expresses her dissatisfaction and fear of her own body in shocking moments of memory and realization: "When I was younger, I used to believe that if I were really thin I would be happy, and there is part of me that still believes it's true." She also confesses, "Sometimes I'm afraid the main reason I spend half of my life outdoors is simply because there aren't any mirrors."
Houston recalls a poignant moment from her youth when her mother told her, "'Let's see if we can make it all the way to dinner without eating anything at all.'"

As I read Houston's essay this afternoon I was struck by how honest she was with her struggle to love her body. I felt my heart drop a little (even though by the end of the essay Houston learns to love her body a bit more), for I began to feel the collective pain so many women feel in relation to their bodies. I have felt this pain, too, and I still can find myself in a body image trap in our culture.

I was particularly impacted by this essay today because I read the piece between bodywork sessions. I had just given a session to a client who was listening to her body's messages, being receptive to touch, and feeling acceptance and love for herself and her body. I now recall how Heida Brenneke once said that she believes that therapeutic touch and bodywork improves body image, for when we allow ourselves to receive touch and listen to the body, we are sending a message of love to our body. During a bodywork session we can chuck those media images out the window and focus on ourselves from the inside out. We can turn the question "what does my belly look like?" to "what does my belly feel like?"

So, in honor of our beautiful bodies, I offer a link to the
National Organization for Women (NOW)'s "Love Your Body" Quiz. As the NOW website states, "See how much you know about how advertising and media affect your perception of body image and self love. "

Oh, and this is a great resource, too: Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Try this:
When you notice that you are criticizing your own body, try taking a deep breath and turn inward. See if you can feel what it is like inside a certain area of your body. Does it have a texture, a sound, a color, a voice? Use all your senses to imagine what the life of this part of the body has had. Instead of merely focusing on how this area looks, try truly feeling this area of the body. Once you have gone deep inside, then gradually move your way out to the surface of your body and also appreciate the skin you're in.


1,000 Faces of MotherHenna said...

Great post, Courtney...I've been thinking about body issues again recently, too. Have you seen the video at:

Wow. And just been feeling aches and pains lately and thinking, "omg, k, you are not taking care" and wondering how aging will unfold in my body and such.

Anyway...hugs to you!

Courtney Putnam said...


I know what you mean about noticing bodily changes with age. I now wake up with creaky knees and a stiff low back. When did that happen?

Thank you for the most excellent link. What a great site! I've added it to my sidebar links in fact!


Anonymous said...

In my social justice class we did a lecture on deconstructing images of women in the media, and this was one of the links that he gave us:

Even as an adult I fall victim to destructive images and messages, but to imagine that young girl, with all her innocence internalizing the messages, it made me really emotional. Thanks for this post, it made me think about a lot :)