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Body Embarrassment

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Some time ago, I was talking with a friend during a  snuggle. At one point I placed my hand on her tummy. A moment or two later, she commented that she had was worried. She was judging herself, or as she put it, "I thought you might think I was fat." Now, interestingly, this friend is a tri-athlete, in great shape. I commented on that.

She had been a houseguest at our place the weekend before, and then said, "Boy, there is one huge mirror in your bathroom." I commented, "That's intentional!" She replied, "I did what you'd suggested some time ago. I looked at my body without judgment. For a while there, I actually liked how I look."

While I expect that women, more than men, are more likely to be embarrassed or ashamed of their bodies (for men, the negatives seem less intense), all of us experience odd feelings of "not normal" when dealing with our bodies. Because of our obsession with "the dictates of fashion," women often judge themselves against impossibly high standards, and those "standards" are airbrushed or digitally manipulated to begin with.

Sexual embarrassment is also an issue – as far as sexuality goes, we are all over the map. Many are the people who refuse to let others see them naked (even lovemaking happens in darkened rooms.) People wonder, and are embarrassed about, what they look like while making love. And when it comes to genitals, we're in an altogether "interesting" territory. For example, a woman recently commented that she "just knew" that her genitals were ugly and mal-formed, while allowing that she'd never actually seen female genitals other than her own.

Let's talk about this some more.

Using Touch to Overcome Shyness and Embarrassment

My friend, just mentioned, with the "I'm fat" perspective, created a solution for herself. Before we discuss it, let's think about how we actually see ourselves.

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My friend grew up assuming that she was being watched, all the time. As an adolescent, she was aware of the stares and looks she was getting. She spends a lot of time in the gym. Prior to meeting me, she would wear loose sweats, because somehow she always felt overweight. She even toyed with anorexia for a while.

Some months ago, I photographed my friend for a poster an aromatherapist wanted. To put my friend's "body in perspective," here's one of the shots.

Now, you may be saying, "Boy! Does she need to get over herself!" And she would agree. But, and this is important, she still feels negative feelings as she judges her body. It wouldn't matter what she actually looks like. It's not the body. It's the judgement.

All of this starts in adolescence, at the tail end of the ego project. As we move from child to adult, we have a 'feeling" that we somehow don't fit. I notice, for example, that at age 50 I still am not comfortable being called "a man." "Man" seems so, well, old and responsible.

In adolescence, we begin to compare ourselves to others and to what we see on TV or in magazines. Men and women, both, do this "sneaking a look and comparing" thing. Because the ego is NOT neutral - because the ego's "job" is to point out flaws, real and imagined, it's not hard to figure out why we judge ourselves so. We develop a "shame," an "embarrassment" regarding our body. And in the West, we are encouraged to be "modest," which is just another name for not dealing with the reality of ourselves. We cover up.

body embarassment

 My friend's belly is neutral. It's just skin over stomach. Sometimes the skin is tighter, sometimes looser. It's just a belly, until we judge it. Or, until we assume someone else (the infamous "them") is judging.

My friend's solution was to ask me to do some Bodywork with her the next day. She suggested two things:

  • first, that she lay on her back and I work on her belly, from solar plexus to pubic bone. I used oil and did a deep massage.
  • Second, she asked if she could sit on a stool, and if I'd massage her belly while she was seated, so that her belly would protrude. I did.

Now, what she created for herself was a progressive desensitization. She knew she would make herself uncomfortable when I rubbed her belly, as "I might judge her to be fat." To allow me to do this, then, required discipline on her part, and a deep desire to get over herself. Once she adjusted to being touched and seen while on her back, she artificially made the situation "worse" by sitting up. She also survived and enjoyed that contact.

Is she over this issue? Likely not. But she is less conscious of her belly embarrassment. She has "homework" to go home and keep looking at her belly in the mirror, and saying nice things. This is the beginning of a transformative experience.

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