I get the opportunity to learn and share lots of tools and techniques I can use with clients to enhance their sexual experiences. Many of these exercises are not sexual at all — something that surprises many of them, as American adults generally tend to sexualize much of what we experience.
Recently, I discovered a tool that helped me experience a profound personal shift around my body image. One that brought me to tears.
But before I tell that story, let me give you some background ...
A few months ago, I told my kids that I feel like a fraud.
Teaching radical body acceptance has always been second nature to me, but at the time I wasn't feeling strong and healthy in my body. This was new for me; I let my exercise routine go while I was finishing my manuscript and I never got back at it.
I shared my specific inner struggle of loving my body yet hating my tummy with my adolescent daughters.
Of course, after hearing it so much from me over the years, they told me how beautiful they thought I was. Well, that went in one ear and out the other, to be honest.
After a while, my 12-year-old started to ask me, “Can I kiss your tummy?” with this adorable, almost cartoon-like face of glee and excitement. The older daughter began to join in as well with a game she made up called “Sneak-a-Tummy” — sneak attacks where she showers me and my belly with love.
It was silly for a while ... until I got tired of the question and annoyed with the constant silliness.
After fending off the request over and over, I finally asked my younger girl, “Why do you keep asking if you can kiss my tummy?”
Cindy said with a smile, “Because I want you to love your tummy as much as I love your tummy.”
So flash forward to last weekend. I was performing a self-touch exercise. Lots of you are probably already thinking this means something lewd, but I wasn't doing this exercise with the goal of stimulating myself to orgasm. This was a 15-minute exercise of non-sexual self-touch where the goal was to explore the sensations of my own touch on my body, feel what it felt like, bookmark all of that in my own database (i.e., my brain) and enjoy the pleasure of it all.
While I laid on the rug of the workshop space, I felt the various clothed and unclothed surfaces of my body — and I realized that I was constantly and consciously avoiding touching my belly. The method I’m learning does not allow for the avoidance of triggers, so in an almost exasperated manner, I thought to myself, “FINE! I’ll touch my stomach.”
I lightly ran my hands over my belly and scrunched up my face in disgust. I thought to myself, “I don’t like how it’s so squishy. I don’t like how soft this is.”
And then I heard my daughter ... “Can I kiss your tummy?”
Fuuuuuck. I started to cry.
Her loving words were writing over my shitty self-talk.
Helping women uncover and overcome body image issues is deeply challenging in this American culture. I’m raising two daughters who are now in their teens, and I can attest: this shit is hard.
My strategy for them so far has been to avoid tabloid magazines and commercial/cable television while also talking to them about so many of the images and messages that are prevalent in our society about women (and men, frankly) that we encounter together.
The expectations of beauty, the pressure to conform, the standards of “what is beautiful”… it’s a lot.
Something I'm doing with them must be working, though.
If you struggle with body image issues or think bad things about your body, imagine the “ideal” that you do have in your head.
Now go to a public space and notice how many people are NOT that.
I’m humbled and made hopeful by the words of my daughter. Her words are proof that my shitty, negative self-talk can be overwritten like a computer program that is out of date.
Thank goodness for that.
Check out Lanae's advice to a woman who was told she's "too fat for birth control" below:
Dr. Lanae St.John, ACS is a San Francisco Bay Area Board Certified Sexologist, Parenting & Relationship Coach, and Sex Educator who teaches Human Sexuality to college students at City College of San Francisco, writes a blog as “The MamaSutra” and has recently completed a manuscript for a parenting book about human sexuality. She is also the proud mother of two daughters with whom she actively embodies her message of empowerment, freedom of expression, and a sex and body-positive mentality.
This article was originally published at The MamaSutra. Reprinted with permission from the author.