I get the opportunity to learn and share lots of tools and techniques I can use with clients to enhance their sexual experiences. Many of these exercises are not sexual at all – something that surprises some of my clients. American adults tend to sexualize so much. Recently, I discovered a tool that helped me experience a profound personal shift around body image. One that brought me to tears.
…But before I tell that story, let me give you some background.
A few months ago, I told my kids that I feel like a fraud. Teaching body acceptance has been second nature, but right now I am not feeling strong and healthy in my body. This is new for me; I let my exercise routine go while I was finishing my manuscript and I never got back at it. I shared this inner struggle of loving my body but hating my tummy specifically with my adolescent daughters. Of course, after hearing it so much from me over the years, they told me how beautiful they thought I was. Well, that went in one ear and out the other, to be honest. After a while, my 12-year-old started to ask me, “Can I kiss your tummy?” with this adorable, almost cartoon-like face of glee and excitement. The older daughter began to join in as well with “sneak a tummy” – sneak attacks where she showers me with love. It was silly for a while until I got tired of the question and annoyed with the constant silliness. After fending off the request over and over, I finally asked, “Why do you keep asking if you can kiss my tummy?” Cindy said with a smile, “Because I want you to love your tummy as much as I love your tummy.”
So flash forward to last weekend. I was performing a Self-Touch Exercise. Lots of you are already thinking this was something lewd but this exercise was not with the goal of stimulating to orgasm. This 15-minute exercise of nonsexual self-touch was one where the goal was to explore the sensations of my own touch on my body, feel what it felt like, bookmark all of that in my own database (brain), and enjoy the pleasure of it all. While I laid on the rug of the workshop space, I felt the various clothed and unclothed surfaces of my body. I noticed that I consciously avoided my belly constantly. Knowing that the method I’m learning does not avoid triggers, it was almost in an exasperated manner that I thought, “FINE! I’ll touch my stomach.” I lightly ran my hands over my belly and scrunched up my face in disgust. I thought to myself, “I don’t like how it’s so squishy. I don’t like how soft this is.” and then I heard my daughter, “Can I kiss your tummy?”
Fuuuuuck. I started to cry.
Her loving words were writing over my shitty self-talk.
Helping women uncover and overcome body image issues is really challenging in this American culture. I’m raising two daughters who are now in their teens, and I can attest: this shit is hard. My strategy for them so far has been to avoid tabloid magazines and commercial/cable television while also talking to them about so many of the images and messages that are prevalent about women (and men frankly) that we encounter together. The expectations of beauty, the pressure to conform, the standards of “what is beautiful”… it’s a lot.
If you struggle with body image issues or think bad things about your body, imagine the “ideal” that you do have in your head. Now go to a public space and notice how many people are NOT that.
I’m humbled and hopeful by the words of my daughter. Her words are proof that my shitty, negative self-talk can be overwritten like a computer program that is out of date. Thank goodness for that.