I have been following and quietly cheerleading the work of The Body Positive for years. Created by Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott, LCSW, in 1996, The Body Positive is a community offering freedom from societal messages that keep people in a struggle with their bodies. Connie’s experience with an eating disorder in her teen years and the death of her sister Stephanie inspired her life’s work to improve the self-image of youth and adults. She founded The Body Positive in honor of her sister, and to ensure that her daughter Carmen and other children would grow up in a new world—one where people focus on changing the world, not their bodies.
Like Connie, my work is inspired from the desire to break the intergenerational legacy of eating disorders. I want eating disorders to stop with me, and I want my child to be free.
So it was with great pleasure that I read Connie’s book, Embody (Gurze books, 2014), which outlines the work of body positivity beautifully. Early in the book, Connie outlines how the Body Positive model differs drastically from not only dieting, but also a self-help model or cultural message around “arriving” at a static end point in order to be “done” (and therefore not need to grow, feel, work or explore anymore).
Body Positive: Not Body Positive:
|Tools for a lifetime of exploration||A static goal-oriented view of life|
|A definition of health that is based on balanced self-care and self-love||An idealized external image of a ‘healthy’ person|
|No Double binds||Conflicting messages that leave people confused or frustrated|
|Attuned self-care||“Rules” about eating and exercise|
|A foundation of self-love and forgiveness||“Shoulds” and punishment|
|A celebration of diversity as beauty||A limited definition of “ideal” beauty|
|The development of positive communities||Connecting with others through negative self-talk|
There are so many things that stood out for me in this book. Here are a few that I celebrated in particular:
* Exploring your Body Story through creatively using expressive arts and writing
*Turning your critical eyes toward discernment of negative messages you may have received from your family of origin (without blaming your mother) and culture rather than turning them against yourself.
*Defining and supporting Intuitive eating
*Re-defining exercise as a way to have fun and pleasure in your life (walking, dancing) and release brain chemicals to keep our moods stable rather than a way to punish ourselves or shape our bodies differently
* Including tools for quieting the Critical Voice
*Declaring your Authentic Beauty
Throughout the book, personal stories from Connie, Elizabeth, and people who have participated in Body Positive community are shared. There is a feeling that you are not alone in the struggle, and your are not alone in your journey to re-find (or find in the first place) joy and peace in your body and your life.
It isn’t often that I would recommend a book to friends, colleagues, and my clients! This is that book.
Remember that song about your ears hanging low and wobbling too and fro (Can you tie them in a knot, can you tie them in a bow?) Well, I know many women struggle with their upper arms wobbling. Many years ago, I had a pregnancy related medical condition that required me to be on bed rest for a month. At the end of this time, I had an event I would be attending wearing a sleeveless dress and I wanted to do arm exercises in bed to make my arms less wobbly. The Wise part of me knew that nobody could CARE LESS about the state of my arms and if they loved me, they would love me regardless of the size or wobble level of my arms. A dear friend of mine, also a therapist wounded healer, visited me during that time and helped break my fear open back into the larger space of love. She said, with directness and great love:
“Put DOWN the soup cans. “
Yep, I was using soup can weights to try to combat the powerlessness I was feeling.When she said that, I started laughing and then crying. I knew it wasn’t about my arms. I felt anxious about my growing baby, I felt anxious about being powerless to DO anything but rest, I felt anxious about trusting I was loved as I was and my body was exactly as it need to be in that moment.I had a hard time resting in the knowledge that not doing anything was exactly what I need to be doing. I had a hard time trusting that this tiny baby growing inside was going to be ok. I was scared to make room for the grief of potentially losing this little miracle.
True friends have space for all of your feelings and fears. Bless this friend who held my hand through that difficult time, who let me rest in the awareness that I was loved and that life would continue, not only with wobbly arms, but with the possibility of losing my baby. In the words of Ann Lamott:
“Trappings and charm wear off…Let people see you. They see your upper arms are beautiful, soft and clean and warm and they will see this about their own, some of the time. It’s called having friends, choosing each other, getting found, being fished out of the rubble.”
(This is week 4- arms- in the 8-week Every body love your BODY challenge, so feel free to leave an affirmation for your arms or honoring a friend in the comments below. One random winner will be chosen to receive an affirmation!)