Tag Archives: self esteem

Exercise from the neck down and the neck up.

Integrating the head and the body through exercise!

We are doing a lot of fun and useful exploration in my Every BODY Can Exercise group right now.  Quite a bit of it focuses on the awesome benefits that come from regular physical activity.  One particular benefit that comes from being more active is that we come to inhabit our entire body more fully.  Many of us who are sedentary (especially if we have low self esteem about our bodies) come to live a life that exists primarily from the neck up.  We live mostly in our heads and become “cut off” from the physical sensations that are found from the neck down.  We shy away from full length mirrors.  We look at ourselves as others define us–as merely a pretty face.  Exercise forces us to reconnect with sensations in the rest of our bodies.  We need to use our kinesthetic awareness to know where we are in space, whether or not we are doing the movements or the choreography or the activities correctly.  We need to inhabit our bodies in a way that allows us to keep  our balance and live in the moment.

Yet, even though physical activity reconnects us with our entire bodies, it is by no means exclusively a “below the neck” experience.  We absolutely need to engage our minds as we exercise.  We need to constantly assess whether or not the movement is pleasurable and safe.  We need to understand our pain levels and whether they represent simple resistance that will dissipate once we overcome the initial impedance caused by inertia or they represent a significant problem in form or substance likely to lead to acute injuries down the road.

One issue that I see quite commonly in beginning or returning exercisers is that a release of tension held in the body, and reconnection with sensation in the body leads to a rush of emotions as well.  Even just a few minutes of movement is often enough to leave the beginning exerciser awash in tears.  There are many reasons for this.  But I think one of the strongest reasons is that our bodies are meant to be experienced in their entirety.  Reconnecting the head and the heart and the rest of the body and reestablishing communication among all the parts leads to a dramatic shift in the effectiveness of both mind and body.  There is an electric current that runs through bodies and heads that are well connected and getting along nicely.  This current can fuel all kinds of thoughts and activities.  But this current can also be quite jarring when it is first experienced.  And it seems, that often this current can vibrate some of our emotions loose and leave us reeling.

This is why I think it is so important to approach physical activity in a way that integrates body, mind and soul.  Resistance to exercise can come from any of these places.  Whether its a misunderstanding about what exercise means or a fear deep in our bellies that warns us that exercise may hurt or cause our hearts to beat too quickly or cause others to say cruel things to us–whether it’s a feeling of unworthiness that makes us loathe to take the time to care for ourselves or a lack of organization that keeps us from integrating exercise into our lives, it’s important to remember that many barriers to exercise are not physical.  In fact physical activity involves a whole lot more than that.

It involves our whole minds, our whole hearts and our whole bodies.  Not only all of these things, but each of these things in their completeness.

Love, Jeanette (AKA The Fat Chick)



Why self esteem isn’t just about you.

I talk a lot about self esteem and self efficacy in this blog, because I think both of those things are very, very important. I think the way we see ourselves and the way we approach the world helps to shape our world.  On the other hand, I think it’s important to recognize that the world we live in shapes us in turn.  Both self esteem and self efficacy involve more than just self.  Because as John Donne said all those years ago:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main…

John Donne

We all function as part of the world.  Our self esteem is deeply influenced by the opinions of those around us.  And frankly, right now, the world is none too kind to people of size.  Feeling good about yourself is really tough in an world containing people who after one look at you consider themselves justified in considering you less than human.  Even when you approach the world in your best dress and your prettiest smile and your very most positive of positive thoughts, it’s tough going when what the world reflects back to you is pity, disgust, shame, disdain and yes, even fear.

And it’s also important to recognize that the tremendous amount of prejudice experienced by people of size in our culture is constantly reenforced by various factors.  The diet and weight loss industry is worth more than 60 Billion dollars in the U.S. alone.  And desire for a piece of the grant/research money pie has fueled a desperate fight against fat people also known as the “War on Obesity”.  A need to find a scapegoat in our difficult economic times and even more difficult health care landscape has led to the fat person as social pariah–blamed for everything from the high costs of health insurance to global warming.

I’m not telling you this because I want you to be depressed.  Far from it.  But I also want to pay homage to the fact that feeling good as a less than skinny person in our culture can be really, really difficult.  This is reality.  And any work that we try to do to feel good about ourselves needs to be seen in the context of this reality.

This is why I think it is so very important to build community to support one another.  I am by no means perfect in my self esteem.  But a great deal of any of the strength I do possess in this regard comes directly from my participation in the size acceptance community.  I am deeply indebted to those who have come before.  That’s why I think it is so important to honor others who are building a better and safer world for people of all sizes.  This year, we honored some of those trail blazers this year in the Shadow on a Tightrope anniversary.  And my dear friend and business collaborator Ragen Chastain is doing very important work in her documentary film project honoring the history of the heroes and heroines of the size acceptance movement.

And beyond just recognizing those who have gone before, there is a veritable army of people out there right now, working to make the world better for people of all shapes and sizes.  People like Marilyn Wann and Ragen Chastain.  Organizations like the Size Diversity Task Force and ASDAH and NAAFA.

So in your look to bolster your self-esteem, I’d like to encourage you to think beyond yourself.  First, I’d like to suggest that you take a look at some of the forces outside of yourself that may be dragging on you.  Learning to recognize these voices that send you negative and shaming messages is an important first step towards choosing what to take on board and what to throw away.

Next, I’d like to suggest that you find community.  Get together in the real world or the virtual one, with like-minded people who allow you to feel supported and safe at any size.  I can’t emphasize enough how much community has helped me and supported me and strengthened me.

Finally, I’d like to ask you to consider how you might help others feel good about themselves.  It’s not enough to simply take.  Community implies a sharing of talents and resources and our very selves.  That’s not to say that we all need to help in the same way.  Some of us will march in protests.  Some of us will send scathing letters.  Some of us will simply support one another with a quick hug or a kind word in the comments section.

None of us is an island.  We are all a piece of the continent, a citizen of the world, a member of the universe.  It’s up to all of us to make that universe a better place for ALL of us.

Love, Jeanette (AKA The Fat Chick)