Cissy Brady-Rogers
Cissy Brady-Rogers Cissy Brady-Rogers Cissy Brady-Rogers

Archive for 'body image'

Last week I received an email from a colleague. She’s learning how much more effective self-acceptance is than self-hatred for motivating positive health behaviors. She told me what I’d said  the last time we met kept coming to mind: “I love myself more as I get older because there’s more of me to love…”
I don’t remember saying it. But God knew I needed to remember!
Most of the time I’m content with aging, grateful for the wisdom and sensibility of growing older and I accept my body just as I am. But last week I looked in the mirror a few times and felt that old familiar sense of shame and dissonance flood my body and mind. My particular body story combined with living in a body-shaming culture, I don’t expect to ever “get over” it. And I’m not sure that’s either realistic or necessary.
My mantra when that old story of “I’m not okay just as I am” shows up: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” And repeat as needed until dissonance vanishes.
 
Sometimes that’s not enough. I need time to work my way there. Not with compulsive exercise or dieting…but with breathing in God’s love, naming the shame, writing in my journal, talking to my husband or a friend.
As Brene Brown has confirmed with her research, shame thrives on silence and secrecy. When we can name it and tell another about it, it loses its power.
Glory be to God in Christ, we don’t need to remain silent about the shame that so easily entangles.
With the season of summer comes more body shame activation opportunities. And each one is an opportunity to breathe in God’s love and let go of shame.
I take a deep inhale and pray, “Lord, have mercy.”  I exhale and pray, “Christ, have mercy.” And will repeat as needed!
Don’t let shame win! When it hits you, take a deep breathe and remember how deeply, fully and unreservedly loved you are by God, just as you are right now.  If that cloud of shame is still hanging around after a while, call a friend and talk about it.
Let’s not let shame have the last word this summer!
May the final word be LOVE.

In 2007 I began offering retreats, workshops and groups for women struggling to live in harmonious relationship with their bodies. Topics have included: dieting, fitness, health, beauty, perfectionism, sexuality, stress, mind-body connection, compassion, self-care and mindful awareness–just to name a few.

Sharon Song was an early adopter of the alive and well way. What began when she attended a Christ-centered yoga class back in 2007 has evolved into a shared mission to help women heal shame-based relationships with our bodies so we can love and enjoy being in our bodies, just as we are!

AWW VisionIf you relate to Sharon’s story, please visit our Alive and Well Women Facebook page.  We’d love to have you join us in creating communities where women can be ourselves, unconstrained by other people’s agendas for our lives.

Sharon Song

Sharon Song

Over-caffeinated, over-sugared, over-stressed and over-committed is how Sharon once described herself. She was on the verge of burnout and completely disconnected from what her body really needed.

“Alive and Well helped me learn to listen to my body–especially the stress that was telling me I needed better self-care. I learned that loving and caring for myself is a way to connect to God’s love for me.”

Sharon lives and works in South Los Angeles with an urban ministry community. Inspired by her own transformation, Sharon became a certified fitness trainer and is training to be a spiritual director. She’s committed to using what she’s learned to support others in living healthy, sustainable, urban spiritual lives.

For more from Sharon, please visit her blog “Live Move Be in the city” – a journey of South Los Angeles urban life. Featuring the Sonshine Shop thrift store and vintage items. Explorations on faith, fitness, fashion, food, fun, and more.

This is old news that our instant gratification conditioned culture doesn’t want to hear. So here’s the reminder as we begin 2015:

DIETS DON’T WORK!

When I first saw this Daily Beast article, I was hesitant to re-post on Facebook. I prefer to encourage rather than discourage. The negative spin of the headline “Why Your New Year’s Diet Will Fail” activated my resistance to generalizations and absolutes. But, truth is truth. All the research indicates that most often, diets offer temporary weight loss at best and in many cases contribute to increased metabolic efficiency — they train your fat cells to hold on tighter to that stored energy you’re trying to get rid of!

DIET = SLOWER METABOLISM = WEIGHT GAIN

Sure, some people begin their road to better health with a specific diet and eventually transition into permanent lifestyle changes. But they are the exceptions, not the norm.

The diet industry is profiting heavily off our discontent. Recent estimates indicate that in the U.S. alone $20 billion of our hard earned money goes into diets that don’t work. As nutritionist Evelyn Tribole points out, the diet business model uses our culturally induced shame to create a fail proof business model: “It’s the only thing we buy that, when the product fails, we all blame ourselves and then go buy another version.”

So, before you go waste your money on another diet program, I suggest you take time to reflect on the core issues:

How’s your relationship with your body?

– Do you honor your need for 7-9 hours of sleep a night?

– Do you drink plenty of water and stay well hydrated?

– Do you minimize the use of caffeine, alcohol and over-the-counter medications to regulate your energy?

Begin with the basics of self-care so your body will trust that you have your own best interest in mind.

If you aren’t already getting adequate sleep, start with that. Insufficient sleep disrupts the hormone cycles and metabolic functioning that support your body’s optimal energy efficiency.

If you aren’t drinking enough water, start with a commitment to hydration. Most of us need 9-13 cups a day minimum. More in some cases.

And if you’re using “legal” drugs (yes coffee and alcohol are drugs) to compensate for disrupted sleep and energy cycles, begin with getting that part of your energy regulation normalized.

If you’d like support in making these foundational changes in your relationship with your body, I’d love to be of service. Contact me about how health coaching can help you create a more loving relationship with your body that will support positive behavioral changes.

I look forward to journeying with you in 2015 as we love and enjoy living in our good bodies, just as we are.

Two commentaries on the challenges of being female in the church and in the broader culture came to my attention this week.

Andrea Heinrichs’ blog “What I Would Tell my 12-Year Old Self About Gender Roles” reminded me that in spite of great strides toward egalitarian relationships between women and men through groups like Christians for Biblical Equality, most of the church is still stuck in a binary model that assigns roles, capabilities and value according to gender. Similarly, in the culture-at-large women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles in government, media and business. On top of all of that, media stereotypes about masculinity (“real men” are tough, stoic and violent) and femininity (“real women” are sex-objects) limit our options for moving beyond the binary model.

I first came across Laci Green when searching for videos for my human sexuality and sex therapy class. She began her public work on gender and sexuality as a sex educator while studying at U.C. Berkley. In her signature irreverently humorous style, her video “Why is Zero a Size Tho?” confronts multiple issues related to women’s embodiment As she points out, “zero means nothing…It suggests that a woman should take up so little space that she actually disappears.” A culture filled with both covert and overt messages that make staying small and taking up as little space as possible severely limit the possibilities for female empowerment.

Finally, I love the way Richard Rohr’s daily mediation this morning reminds me what my faith in Christ says about who I am and what it means to be a real woman or man:

The object and goal of all spirituality is finally the same for all genders: union, divine love, inner aliveness, soul abundance, forgiveness of offenses, and generous service to the neighbor and the world. Here “there is no distinction…between male and female” (Galatians 3:28). Mature Christian spirituality leads us toward such universals and essentials. Yet people invariably divide and argue about non-essentials!”

Amen!

Twenty-two years ago I chose not to have reconstructive surgery following my mastectomy. My reasons were psychological (I wanted to process the loss of my breast before adding anything new to my body) and practical (I figured I’d wait until after I had children then get both breasts done to match). There was nothing noble or moral or revolutionary about it. I just wasn’t ready.

I spent the next decade healing from my own disordered relationship with my body as I walked with others in the same journey. None of that was in my plan when I started graduate school training in marital and family therapy. Developing my own media literacy skills and teaching clients to critique cultural messages and social conditioning about beauty have played a critical role in deciding not to have reconstructive surgery, and to my commitment not to have cosmetic surgery of any kind in the future. It also plays a part in why I’ve chosen not to color my hair — although that is still negotiable as at some future date I may decide to go blonde or add an orange streak to my hair!

Why is having two breasts so important? Does having only one breast make me any less a woman or less sexy or less myself? Would I feel “more myself” and have greater love if I had two breasts? NO! And what about my softening neck or wrinkling eyes? Am I less beautiful with a sagging neckline?

Cultural critique was on my mind yesterday morning as I reflected on my experience at a self-help conference. The beauty and wellness communities are full of self-love messages. Ironically cosmetic surgery to alter self-perceived unacceptable aspects of physical appearance is often also viewed as an acceptable avenue to greater love and self-acceptance. How does “love and accept yourself” work together with choosing cosmetic surgery?

Clinical psychologist William Sheldon wrote that “Deeper and more fundamental then sexuality, deeper than the craving for social power, deeper even that the desire for possessions, there is a more generalized and more universal craving in our human make-up. It is a craving for right direction – for orientation. ” For youth and young adults, that orientation is about developing a solid sense of who they are, forming an identity that enables them to use their lives to create a better world for everyone.

Showing now - check website for locations and times

As I viewed Darryl Robert’s latest documentary America The Beautiful 3: The sexualization of our youth on Sunday night identity development was on my mind. The first two America the Beautiful films explored America’s obsession with beauty and body size. All three documentaries draw attention to the exploitation of basic human insecurities by commercial industries. Sex, slim bodies and beauty sell products from hamburgers to pharmaceuticals. Picture vibrant, slim, well dressed,  youthful looking middle aged couples in commercials for Viagra!

We want to be beautiful or handsome. It’s a basic human longing. We want to “look good.” Even before mirrors and photography people engaged in beauty enhancing techniques based on cultural norms. While across cultures the definitions of what is attractive vary, it seems that throughout history how one looks factors into identity development.

As a “chubby” child and early adolescent, I escaped the beauty, weight and sex traps by opting out of the game. I knew the rules: fat is not attractive. So rather than even trying to play the game, I mostly sat on the sidelines and played support crew for my more beautiful friends who were on the field. That isn’t to say I wasn’t deeply ashamed of my appearance – at least my body size. But I learned that my identity needed to develop from something other than how I looked.

Fast forward 40 years and I am grateful for the psychological insulation my fat provided. I learned that looking good (whatever that means) isn’t as important as being a good, kind, genuine person. I learned that being sexy was actually quite risky as I watched my “more attractive” friends suffer the slings and arrows of adolescent love games. Not to mention a few that ended up choosing to abort unwanted babies when they’d “forgotten” to use protection or the one who ended up marrying the father, moving to Oregon and becoming a teenage wife and mother.

Before I get on too much of a downer here, let me come back to what initiated this blog. My friend Chris Kresbach, who works in the film industry and knows all too well how messed up our cultural norms about beauty, weight and sexuality are, posted this video on Facebook today. It’s a wonderful tongue-in-cheek take on women, beauty and body image. All of which, along with sexuality, are central to the essential human need to know who we are. But they aren’t everything. We must find ways to love and enjoy our physicality and work with the inevitable challenges and changes, but not allow appearance to define us.

Let’s be at the forefront of reminding ourselves and each other about what is most important in life. Perhaps sharing this video with your friends would be a fun and simple way to do that!

Offered with my prayer that you will find ways to love and enjoy your body,  just as you are today!

The following Hymn of Divine Love by Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) arrived in my email this morning.  Through embodied spiritual practices like yoga, moving meditation and body prayers, I have experienced the transformation he describes. Everything that was hurt, everything that once seemed to me “dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged about my body,” has been transformed. The sagging places, the stretch marks, wrinkles and blemishes document the life I’ve lived. I am beloved in every part of my body,  just as I am.

My work is to pass this grace on so that the upcoming generations of young women and men will not live in fear and guilt or be ashamed of their bodies. That’s why I teach Christ-centered yoga, offer workshops on transforming your relationship with your body and other topics. In Christ we are free from shame, but too many Christians live their entire lives ashamed of some aspect of their physicality. I’m on a mission to change that!

Thanks be to God for Symeon’s wisdom that is a rich but neglected part of the Christian tradition.

Thanks be to God for the amazing grace of Christ that sets us free.

Thanks be to God for transformation worked in our lives to set us free.

And thanks be to God ahead of time for the freedom that will come through us to upcoming generations.

Hymn of Divine Love #15 by Symeon the New Theologian

We awaken in Christ’s body,
As Christ awakens our bodies
There I look down and my poor hand is Christ,
He enters my foot and is infinitely me.
I move my hand and wonderfully
My hand becomes Christ,
Becomes all of Him.
I move my foot and at once
He appears in a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous to you?
—Then open your heart to Him.
And let yourself receive the one
Who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
We wake up inside Christ’s body
Where all our body all over,
Every most hidden part of it,
Is realized in joy as Him,
And He makes us utterly real.
And everything that is hurt, everything
That seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged
Is in Him transformed.
And in Him, recognized as whole, as lovely,
And radiant in His light,
We awaken as the beloved
In every last part of our body.

May each of us awaken to the radiance of God’s life living, moving and taking delight living through us today!

Amen.


Last month I met filmmaker James Colquhoun at a screening of his film Hungry for Change. This month I’m excited to tell you about his recently launched FoodMatters.tv – a website devoted to bringing the best information about food and health together in one place. They are on a mission to educate and inspire us to remember the wisdom of Hippocrates: food is medicine. In their vernacular: You are what you eat!

James and his wife Laurentine share my vision of individual responsibility for good health. “We believe that your body is worthy of good care and that no one is more suitably qualified to care for it than yourself.”  Amen!

Inspired by the healing of his dad’s chronic disease through eliminating a boatload of medications and introducing a plant-based diet, James and Laurentine are the real thing. I’m delighted to benefit from and support their efforts to help each of us become our own best advocates for good health.

On the tail of my recent post about breaking up with my hairstylist, I read in Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly that how we look remains the number one shame trigger for women! She says that “after all of the consciousness-raising and critical awareness, we still feel the most shame about not being thin, young, and beautiful enough.”

Over the  years I’ve heard hundreds of  “I’m not enough” stories from female graduate students, clients and workshop participants. I have my own version of the story. And in spite of over 20 years of consciousness-raising and personal work on these issues, I too have my moments of feeling “not enough.”

Saturday afternoon I had a partial meltdown when I couldn’t get my hair to do what I wanted it to do. I’ve had some bad hair days since going short, but never felt as frustrated as I did Saturday.

What was behind my reactivity? For me it was a feeling of being less than picture perfect. Heading out to several parties with people I don’t already feel a sense of love and belonging with activated the “I’m not enough” messages that Brown’s research indicates we all have and we’re all afraid to talk about.

Where does the expectation that I need to look a certain way come from?

For me it comes from internalizing destructive images and messages about beauty. I live in a subculture highly indoctrinated in the importance of external appearances. Here in Southern California, if you have enough money (even if you aren’t young or thin) you can pay someone to dress you up, do your hair and makeup, and come out looking stylish and fashionable in a way that passes for beauty. It’s a world where beauty  is often only skin deep. You’re as beautiful as the clothes and accessories you can afford. And, if you can afford those, you can probably pay to get your hair colored regularly, blown out weekly, and have cosmetic surgery to “fix” whatever wrinkles, bulges or sags are detracting from your “beautiful self”.

There’s a whole world of Botox parties, style consultants, and other opportunities to purchase services and products to fix yourself up if you aren’t happy with what you see in the mirror.

Lord, have mercy.

An eating disorder colleague told a story that illustrates how our fixation with image is a byproduct of socialization. Back in the mid-1990’s she’d just returned to the United States after 9 months traveling around the world. Digital cameras had recently become available to the general public and were a novelty in many of the areas she visited. The children were especially intrigued with seeing pictures of themselves.

One day, a group of kids were crowded around her, laughing and delighting in seeing “themselves” for the first time. One boy looked surprised as he viewed the screen. He pointed at it and asked the other kids “Is that me?” The others laughed and pointed back, “That’s you!” It occurred to her that those kids had no idea what they looked like. They didn’t have mirrors and they didn’t have cameras.  Her conclusion: “They don’t have an image of their body. They are their body. They don’t have mirrors and photos that turn them into an object of their own observation. No disembodiment. No body image. Just themselves.” Self-image, at least as it relates to appearance, is largely a product of living in a world of mirrors and photographs.

The desire and instinct to adorn ourselves, beautify, and enhance seems to be instinctual. Using makeup, hairstyles, fashion and accessories and even cosmetic alterations of body parts to match cultural standards of beauty is nothing new. Women have been beautifying ourselves since time began and we see it in cultures across the globe–even those in remote areas where the standards aren’t set by big businesses.

But in our image driven subcultures where mirrors and digital images of ourselves are ubiquitous, that natural desire to beautify gets hijacked by internalized images of beauty offered us by the industries that profit off of our discontent and shame.  We compare the image in the mirror to the one in the magazine and fall short. Then, frustration, disappointment, anger and a host of other feelings surface  in self-protection. The helpful message those feelings want to convey:  stop comparing yourself to others; just be you! But because we’re socialized to feel ashamed about our appearance, we turn our anger against ourselves and add another layer to the “I’m not enough” story.

On Saturday after my meltdown, I decided to just do me. I went back into the bathroom, messed with my hair a bit more, and decided my hair was good enough. I don’t have anyone to impress. I’m just going to do me!

I love India Arie’s latest album which includes “Just Do You” – an inspiring song to help us increase our shame resiliency by making choices that align with our truth. In reviewing the video I saw that even India Arie succumbs to cultural pressure when it comes to making videos. Highly stylized, hipster types populate the piece.  While I have nothing against hipsters, in some way it’s just another expression of the pressure to have a style and align with a particular subculture’s standards for appearance. But that’s for another blog. Enjoy the video.

Normally I spend significant time on my blogs. I edit for brevity (thanks to Dave Rogers who tells me less is more). I eliminate needless details about my personal life that don’t really support the point I want to share with my readers. But today, I mainly want to vent.

Last week I decided that after 2 1/2 years of seeing her every 6-8 weeks I’d had my last appointment with my hairstylist. It’s not so much about her skills, but more about being true to myself.

Our values about beauty are completely different. I’ve known that since my first appointment. But I figured that being “stylish” and concerned about looking just right goes with her territory. I gave her a break and joked about needing to hire her as a style consultant.

Along the way I also learned that she’s a competitive bodybuilder–a world that celebrates many of the values and behaviors that reinforce disordered relationships with food and bodies. But I decided she isn’t my client and what she does in her personal life isn’t my business. And, in the beginning she was very pleasant, gave me great cuts and was conveniently located. Moreover, when I decided to go from long to short hair a few years ago, she’s the one who took me into my new look. For that, I’m very grateful.

But as my time with her progressed, I also began to notice that when preparing for a bodybuilding show, she got especially crabby and didn’t give as good a cut. (Sometimes being a clinician trained to observe patterns in people isn’t such a good thing after all.) I also noticed that she often spoke critically of other clients or even her husband and kids.  My growing sense was that I just didn’t like or enjoy her a person. I put up with her tough, slightly caustic and sometimes negative attitude, ignored my truth and kept going back for my next cut.  All the while complaining to my husband and friends about the bad cuts, values differences and my dislike for her.

She wasn’t the problem. I was. If I were true to myself I would have broken up a long time ago.

Last week when she casually mentioned her use of Botox during my appointment and gave me a dissatisfying cut, it was the third strike.

Bad cuts on occasion are one thing. Irritability at times is understandable. But when I heard her voice her preference for Botox over Frownies in the salon conversation about the best way to deal with wrinkles, I realized I’d been compromising my values by continuing to support her business.

She’s not the problem. I am. As is always the case when it comes to relationships that aren’t working for me, I need to look at my side of the street, be completely honest with myself and take responsibility for how I’ve contributed to the problem.

My error: not listening to myself. I need to be true to myself, my values and views about authenticity, beauty, and health, and invest my time and money being with a stylist I respect and enjoy.

Fortunately, I have a number of stylists already on my list.

Now I’m wondering: how do I break up with my stylist?

I googled it and found plenty of advice. The bottom line seems to be that I’m probably more concerned about “how” than she’ll be. Clients come and go. It’s all part of doing business.

The last time I broke up with anyone was 27 years ago when my husband and I were dating. We still playfully argue over who broke up with who when sharing our story. But I remember it being fraught with tears and strong emotions. Thankfully, this break up isn’t hard to do. I just need to listen a bit further and decide what is the most equitable way to say good-bye.