Photographer: Michael Clement for BMA models. Model: myself
Our bodies, ourselves was the title of a great book first published in the 1970s by the Boston Women's Health Collective which I remember reading avidly way back and referring to whenever I had a question, which grown ups would not answer, about my then pubescent body. The book is still available, updated for the 21st century and translated into 29 languages. There is now a website and a series of global projects linked with the collective, now renamed Our Bodies, Ourselves. I absolutely love this book and I would say that it shaped my attitude to my body in a big way. Learning to look at my (female) body and the way it functions instilled in me a sense of awe for this most perfectly designed complex organism that is the human body. Like most other women (and men) I too have suffered and occasionally still suffer from body image anxiety, but I am able to shake it off by reminding myself of all the wonderful things my body does and can do. That's why I try to give it nourishing food and exercise it because my body thrives on it.
One of the very best life coaches I have ever met - witty, intelligent, empathic, well read and definitely knowledgeable (and also author of a beautifully written blog) - is Dr Vena Ramphal, among the very few people I know who can talk about sexuality in a very open and frank way, teaching women and men to enjoy and understand their relationship with their bodies and themselves and approach their sexuality with joy and appreciation. She suggests a wonderful exercise that everyone, in my view, should do: when you are on your own, take all your clothes off and look at yourself in a full length mirror. Inevitably there will be the usual criticisms, the usual judgements we pass on ourselves, but, she says, let go of them, let these thoughts arise and then breathe them out. After a while you will be able to look at yourself with appreciation of who you are.
After all, when we are in love with someone, we love them even if their bodies are imperfect, in fact we find their imperfections very endearing. So why should we be so hard on ourselves?
Our bodies are not just an outer shell, separate from who we are - hence the 'our selves' in this post's title. Our cells and our emotions are linked, we feel with our bodies and our emotions are stored in our bodies at a cellular level. And no, I am not going to invoke a quantum reality, as it has been the fashion for a while now - I even know of a Californian life coach that talks about the quantum universe that is our flow and how we should re-programme it by talking to it.
(I recently did some research about this stuff and came across the ultimate Californian weirdness, the work by John Lily, a former doctor who styled himself a psychonaut and advocated rewiring the brain through dropping acid or being immersed in a sensory deprivation tank. It was at the height of the 1960s counterculture).
No, I am referring to the work by Dr Candace Pert on the opiate receptor , which later led her to embrace the notion of a unity of body and mind.
Photographer: Michael Clement. Model: myself