What worked for me with body shame

what worked (1)

I'm 8 years into recovery from Body Shame.

It has not been easy to shift.   And in true neurodiverse style I have tackled it with deep dives of learning.

So far, thanks to my ADHD,  I have produced and directed a movie, created an award-winning body-positive photography exhibition, founded a charitable trust, started a youth program, and am about to tour a body-positive workshop series.   It was all triggered by a question from my neice.  "Auntie Mandi? Am I fat?"  She was 5.  And that was what triggered this excessive response.  And do you know what... there are days I still wake up feeling not "awesome" in my body and confused by all of the messages of more evolved thinkers than myself in the world of intersectionality and the fat acceptance movement.

The truth is there are still waring parts of me that I haven't yet given a full listen to.  Parts that have been valiantly protecting me from our culture that has not loved me for being me; A cross between a Viking shield maiden and the Venus de Wilendorf.  Strong but squishy. But the good news is that I have found a way to come to terms with the internal voices and that is what this discussion is about.

Because body shame has cost me.  Big time.

A recent study in the States has revealed that each year body shame costs the individual on average $6867 per year in Wellbeing, Efficiency, Productivity, and Health System Costs.

Lets do the math. I have memories of body shame from the age of about 6 when my babysitter helpfully pointed out that I had 4 rolls on my belly when I sat down and scrunched up and that was not okay.  I'm 52 now and I would say about 6 years ago I flushed the largest most obvious body shame issues so lets add it up. -  $274,680.00 for 40 years of body shame. WTFlip? Imagine the compounding interest on that as well...

I could have had an extra house somewhere for that.   Or at least a more robust retirement savings.

The goal of our trust is to end body shame in one generation.  Imagine what that would do for our youth if we could help them shed this particularly nasty historical trauma?  It will not be easy.  It is embedded in our culture as a tool of oppression historically for women and it started to become quite prominent right around the time that women got the right to vote.  If we keep women convinced that they are not okay and that they should go slightly mentally insane by putting themselves in a state of semistarvation for most of their lives then we will effectively put them in a cage and contain their power.

Who started it?  Who is to blame?  I have no idea.  But the reality is that we are currently policing our own jail cell and we seem to have lost the key.  Or have we?

I am still on the journey of leaving the cage, I am wandering through the woods and finding people shining lights to help me find my way home.  The brightest light by far that I have found is in an unexpected place...inside my own head.

I had to have others point it out to me however.  It is called Self with a capital S.  It is the part of me that is Conscious, Curious, Compassionate, Clear, Charismatic, Connected, Courageous, Competent, Confident, Calm, Centred, and Creative.   It is my soul, my wairua and it LOVES and is deeply grateful for my body that allows it to exist here on the planet.  My body with all of its aging wiggles and giggles still works enough to allow me to create the things I am inspired by.  My body was the first thing to greet me when I came to the planet and will be my loyal companion until the day I die.    It will be the last one to say goodbye to my spirit when I leave this planet.

My body has taken the hits.  Sometimes literally.  Definitely emotionally.  If something was not possible to process at the time, well it just absorbed it, and packed it away to deal with later to keep me going.  Now in my 50's its ability to keep absorbing is diminishing.  It bubbles up as discomfort now.  A lovely clue that there is something that needs my attention.

I have been doing some internal work called somatic parts work.  This is where you close your eyes and focus on a part of you that is uncomfortable.  For me it was a part of my gut that was causing a great deal of pain.   It would wake me at night.  I had tried every sort of new age elimination "health" non-diet diet combination to help ease it and nothing was touching it.   Then with somatic parts therapy, I found something.  A memory of an adventurous 5-year-old version of me that had been shamed shut down and physically struck in the stomach for being confident and competent (specifically I was sliding down a pole from a walkway down to the back door of our apartment like a fireman).  An adult in my life who had never seen my brilliant skills at this particular move was trying to "protect" me by knocking some sense into me.  He popped me in the stomach and I lost my air.  I was terrified I would die because I couldn't breathe. When I reported the abuse I was ignored and so I stuffed it inside.  Only to have that little girl demand to finally be let free 45 years later.

So I went inside and I reimagined the situation.  I imagined that 50-year-old Mandi fully in "S"elf energy was able to stop this person before they grabbed me.  I hugged the person who had hurt me and said "wait, wait, just watch..." And 5-year-old me climbed over the banister, slid down the pole, and stood down at the bottom waving at the two of us proud as punch.   I then turned to the person who was "protecting" me at the time and said "I bet there is a part of you that was never allowed to be adventurous and powerful like that.  Would you like to let that part of you out to join little Mandi?"  In my vision, a 5-year-old boy popped out of him and jumped over the other side of the railing, slid down the other pole, and ran to find little Mandi.  They then held hands and ran off to find Bryan and Davy my neighborhood adventure buddies. I gave my "protector" a squeeze and saw him cry in my vision and I just stood there hugging him as we together grieved that moment and celebrated the two freed parts of ourselves.

The pain that my doctor had ordered a colonoscopy for...gone.   The next day.  I slept like a baby through the night.   The food I have eaten hasn't changed.  I haven't had any treatment.  But the pain is gone.

I never told the "protector" about this internal parts session.  But a week later I received an unsolicited boost in my bank account from them sending me money to help me get my movie premiere in Spain.  This had never happened in all of our years of knowing each other. I was shook.  In the best of ways. Coincidence...possibly.  But I remain curious.

So here is what I know to be true for me now.  That there is a "S"elf energy (the part that stopped the violence on the bridge).  A part of me that can stay powerful, strong, and curious.  But there are also other parts inside.  Orphans from undigested traumas.  Protector parts that seek to try and make me be "small and safe."  Parts that were forged in the fires of a culture that fears powerful women.  Parts that believe it is in my best interest to reject the parts of me that don't fit.   They are beautiful parts that have been doing everything they could to protect me but they are like a computer program that was written in 1984  playing in the background and need reprogramming.

This takes time and is internal healing.  And each time I heal a part of myself then I protect the next generation from heading down the same path.  I become more aware and I can call bullshit on internalized and externalized body shaming.

So what advice can I offer those who are on a similar journey - understand that in all of my searching, I haven't found a switch to flip.  Instead, I have found Russian dolls.  Each doll I find inside is more and more precious than the next and as I pull off the layers I get closer and closer to my truth and that is a beautiful journey.


Bodies don't always feel like safe places to be.  Traumas will do that.  99% of the women I interviewed for the movie and the exhibition had body traumas.   Sore spots are trailheads.  They lead you to lost parts of yourself.  Parts that you had to lock away to be safe at the time.  If your body shames are shouting at you making you feel less than worthy, may I suggest that it may be less about the scale and more about the weight of lost parts of you that you are carrying around inside that need your love and attention.

The trick that I have found is to get support to enhance your "S"elf energy.  This is the part of you that is naturally seeking true health and well-being.  Yes, there are other sabotaging parts - remember they are just following their programming from 1984, or 2000, or whenever the trauma happened that breathed life into them.  But this part of you that is body compassionate, body grateful is indestructible.  It may be hidden deep under the louder voices of the trauma parts.  Your "S"elf energy may need support of loving community or an excellent somatic therapist to help you dial up the volume.

I have worked with normal therapists and haven't personally had much success as it feels like they are just trimming the hedges that are blocking the view.  Talk therapy seemed to just operate on the head level which in my case was disociated from my body to a large extent to we weren't actually reaching where the issues were stored.  I was like a floating head. In a month or so any "trimmed" parts were all grown back. I was after something that would get to the root of the matter.  The modalities that I have found that get directly to the root of the problem are Parts therapy and Somatic therapies.  Somatic therapy works with sensations in the body which become the trail heads to the lost Parts.  So having a therapist who is trained in Somatic Therapy and Parts therapy or Hakomi or Internal Family Systems seems to be the most useful of sherpas out of the blind allies of body shame.

These paths can be taken individually for some.  Others will need support.

Support available in order of costs:

  • Attend one of our free Finding Venus workshops as we travel NZ.
  • One of the best books on parts therapy that I have found is called "You Are the One You've Been Waiting For" by Richard Schwartz the founder of Internal Family Systems (IFS).  The goal of this is to enable as much self- healing as possible using the IFS model.
  • Every Body is a Treasure Trust Community - For a regular donation to the trust (an amount of your choosing to fit your family's ability to pay) you are able to attend Thursday night Zoom Somatic Group sessions and community healing workshops that take you through the Embodied Creativity Framework that helps you to find where your behaviours are pointing to lost parts of yourself.
  • For youth we have started a one-day school called Natural High through the trust to use art and nature as tools to help unpack body issues for teens in Upper Hutt of New Zealand.  This will be piloted in term 4 of 2024.
  • For deeper dive find a Somatic therapist who is comfortable working with Parts.  I am a holistic nurse by training before I became a photographer and filmmaker and I have returned full circle by going back to my roots and deeping my training in the modalities that seemed to work. I have trained to become a Somatic Coach trained in parts therapy and have developed a framework that helps to systematically identify and work through and find the lost parts.   I have two spaces available at the writing of this but to check and see if I am still available you can follow this link. If I am booked out, then I would recommend checking the Somatic IFS website

Tips for parents:

  • If you are suffering from personal body shame get support to heal yourself (see above).
  • Don't comment on what your child eats, shaming makes it worse and can trigger eating disorders which are the opposite of "health".
  • Don't talk about diets.  They don't work except to make you fatter long term for the majority of people.  The science is pretty solid on that (read Health at Every Size).
  • Help your child to understand that exercise is good in moderation but can also be abused like a drug.
  • Wrap your head around the fact that the advice we give fat people can lead to eating disorders which are far more dangerous than extra fat (read Health at Every Size).  It is the opposite of the advice we give slender people with eating disorders.   Chronic Weighing, Measuring, starvation diets and over exercising are all signs of eating disorders and this is what we advise fat people to do.  It makes no sense.  And understand that people with eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes not just at the end stage of anorexia.
  • Don't offer unasked for opinions on how your child looks. This one is a very hard one to break.  Even if you think they look gorgeous it is still a judgement.  Instead, ask them how they feel about how they look.  Celebrate diverse bodies.  Fat, thin, medium, light, brown, black, able, disabled.  They are all bodies that have brought your spirit here for a reason.  They are all gifts.  Not just some bodies.  All bodies.
  • Help your child understand that they are seeing 600 photoshopped images per day of a narrowly curated group of types of bodies.
  • Read the book Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon.
  • Do your best to become an emotionally fluent household where you model "S"elf energy and are able to support your child when they inevitably run aground against a misogynistic, patriarchial, fat-phobic, ableist, racist world.

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