Our bodies are extraordinary concepts. Our minds are even more staggering. Yet, however detached we may feel from one or the other they are intrinsically linked. As my role as a play therapist, I have worked with numerous children who have taught themselves not to feel. Due to pain and trauma, they have experienced in their early lives they have learned not to feel pain and to always feel “fine”. Their minds may have taught themselves to dissociate so much that when they fall and hurt themselves they are unable to physically feel it. Addressing the pain is just too difficult. Others are so in tune with their minds, their bodies do things they appear to be unable to regulate. Whatever the case our bodies tend to follow the patterns our minds dictate regardless of whether or not we are in control of this.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year their primary focus is body image. We may think of body image as something we address physically…what we eat, what we wear, how we exercise, but it is so much more than that. The powerful mind, shaped by experience, takes charge and the battle becomes quite different. It is not an issue of shall I get up an hour earlier to go to the gym or shall I wear trousers or a skirt today it becomes all consuming….if I don’t go to the gym….if I wear a skirt what will people think of my body…? And, that’s not the half of it.
As a teenager, I had some very close friends who I respected and loved dearly. However, I watched them become more and more obsessed with what they ate and the amount of exercise they did. Naturally, at that influential time of life, I began to question the same things for myself. Be it a blessing or a curse, I have rather a strong-willed mind and fortunately did not get dragged into the difficulties of an eating disorder, but I was certainly made more conscious of my body image. A number of years later I was faced again with a precious friend suffering badly with bulimia. Listening to the way she spoke about her body was very sad (and not true) but again, at another instrumental time in my life, she was the voice I heard the most of. I have worked hard to use my determined mind to fight the battle of body image and to not be controlled by it. Positive encouragers around me have also had a significant impact.
Bumpino was born out of a desire to provide a space for new mums to connect with others but also to do something for themselves. For many new mummies, body image can be huge and there are studies that show links between poor body image and post-natal depression. Post-natal depression is real and between 10-20% of new mums experience it to some degree. This throws so much more into the mix because it is not only dissatisfaction with the self and appearance, but also the guilt trip this throws you on as a mother. The mortifying thoughts such as “you did this to my body”, “I can’t get myself back on track because I have to look after you” feed away and are kept hidden because they feel so awful. But, the thoughts are real, and they happen. So what can be done about it?
I listened to a wonderful talk about shame last week and it was clear to see how it thrives in silence. Shame enters our lives when we buy into the lies that it tells us. Shame causes us to hide. Ever heard the expression; “a problem shared, a problem halved”? Like the children I work with, addressing the shame is painful and many of us won’t want to go there. But it helps. When we lay our cards (or bricks) on the table, we are no longer carrying them. They’re out. For some, this release is enough, for others, it is more of a process. But, it’s a process to be done with the help of either a loving, caring and understanding friend or group of friends or a professional counselor or therapist. Community brings strength.
On a physical level, it’s good to find something you enjoy. There’s no point going for a run if you hate running, or joining a netball class if you hate netball. Find your passion. Find others to help you make your passion happen.
There is no right or wrong way to look. The beauty is in the difference. The world would be a dull and colourless place if we all looked like the front of a Vogue magazine. We’re all in this together so let’s be in it all together.