Body-Talk, Part 1: Tuning In and Listening to Our Wise Bodies

Driving to the Institute this morning, I was thinking about the idea of girls’ embodiment. In a nut shell, embodiment is a state of being in which we are connected to all of the parts of ourselves–our minds, bodies, and spirits–and in which we acknowledge and enjoy all of the amazing things we are able to do in our minds, bodies, and spirits. For example, our minds allow us to solve math problems and think of creative stories. Our bodies allow us to write with our pens, walk beautiful nature trails, and hug our children. Our spirits get to enjoy working hard toward solutions, seeing the beautiful scenery around us, and feeling love in our hearts when we are hugged. However, we so often miss out on enjoying embodiment simply because we live in a disembodied world. From the moment we wake up in the morning, we are bombarded with outside messages about our bodies. The messages from “out there” come from radio, television, internet, reflections in the mirror. As I stopped for a cup of coffee on my way to work, it hit me: even the coffee break media has a message or two about my body! (Heard of a “skinny latte,” anyone? And, who needs to rest when we’re tired–just hit the caffeine instead!)
OK, so the messages we receive from the media and our culture do affect our (and our daughters’) feelings about our body self-esteem. This isn’t a new idea. Since the 1970’s (that’s almost forty years!), scientific research has demonstrated the effects of media and advertising images on people’s self-perceptions, girls’ and women’s in particular. Most of us have probably heard the statistics (or come to the conclusions ourselves) that images of girls and women portrayed in various media does not adequately represent most girls and women in the world. We don’t look like super models–we come in all different shapes and sizes. We have a wide range of hair textures and skin colors; we have freckles and scars and wrinkles and birthmarks. Ah, such wonderful diversity–way more than we ever see in the media.

We may have heard about the adverse impact of popular media images and beauty/diet advertisements on girls’ self-perception, body-image, and disordered eating. Did you know that teen girls in today’s world are exposed to thousands of media messages per day? Thankfully, there is increased news coverage and reality television that highlight the importance of being healthy in our bodies, and how our physical health can profoundly affect our over-all quality of life. And hurray for advertisers that are taking bold steps to include role models that represent “everyday” girls and women (examples include Dove and Jenny Craig). However, the vast majority of ads portray an appearance standard that only relates to about 5% of us worldwide. Even with increased awareness of these facts and more focus on health and wellness, girls and women continue to struggle with poor self-esteem related to their body-image.

Fact is, even though we may know the facts, we have become so accustomed to attending to messages and images we receive outside of our bodies, we forget to tune into our bodies and listen to the messages we receive from within. The good news is, the empowering messages we receive from our very own bodies are available to us everywhere we go, every time of day! This body-attunement–or, body-talk–is a powerful resource for girls and women who strive to enjoy the positive experiences we have available to us in this life!

Parents and girls alike can use body talk exercises to become more embodied, comfortable-in-our-own-skin girls and women.

Exercise for parents & daughters: Close your eyes and take three deep, slow breaths, deep into your belly. Perhaps you can put your hand on your tummy and feel it expand with the in-breath and empty with the out-breath. Focus your attention on what your body is EXPERIENCING. What are the messages your body is sending you from inside? “This feels good.” “Thank you, more please.” “My shoulders feel tense.” “I need a massage.” “I’m hungry.” “I need a nap.” You may notice some thoughts from your mind chiming in as well. That’s ok. Just distinguish between the thoughts from your mind (“I have so much to do over the weekend”) and the messages coming from your body. If you are enjoying this, you may want to take a few more deep breaths. Perhaps this time, you can extend the out breath–making it 1, 2 or 3 counts longer than your intake breath–whatever is comfortable. For example, if your in-breath is about 4 counts, you can try making your out-breath 5 to 7 counts. Again, pay attention to what is comfortable.

After doing this exercise yourself (or with your daughter), do you notice the difference in the messages you receive from within your body verses the messages we receive outside of our bodies? Body messages such as ‘energized,’ ‘relaxed,’ ‘tired,’ ‘tense,’ ‘hungry,’ ‘satisfied,’ are very different than ‘too fat,’ ‘too skinny,’ ‘bulky,’ ‘pudgy.’

Tuning in to your own “body-talk” is an important, valuable resource for you and your daughters. The field of health psychology has repeatedly shown through scientific research that tuning into our own bodies helps improve a lot more than our self-esteem. It also helps us to take action and make decisions that promote greater over-all physical health and wellness, greater productivity at work and school, and more satisfying experiencing of the world around us. Tuning into our own body-experiences, hearing what they have to say about what we do, think, and feel, and listening to this inner wisdom is an important tool in helping our daughters (and ourselves!) fight through all the outside messages we receive and still come out with our minds, bodies, and spirits intact.

For more ideas, check out Campaign for Real Beauty for information and fun activities for girls and their parents and mentors. For more information on the media and body-image, check out these websites:

Please note: Nothing in what you find here should be construed as medical advice pertinent to any individual. As is true with all written materials, and especially information found on the internet, you must be the judge of what appears valid and useful for yourself. Please take up any questions you might have regarding the content of this website with your psychotherapist or physician.

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