Body by Lynda

Ever take off your clothes and stand naked in a room full of strangers?  I just did, and it was wonderful.

I was invited to lead a body image exercise in a program put on by the International Professional Surrogates Association (IPSA).  This is a class of people training to be surrogate partners in sex therapy.  If they become certified, they will work in concert with licensed therapists to help clients with a variety of sexual dysfunctions.  Through a series of touch exercises and ongoing personal sharing, they will form an increasingly close bond that could end in sexual intimacy.  This is a simplistic description of a complex process of building a relationship, the goal of which is to teach a client how to navigate such a partnership in the real world.  In the field of human sexuality, it is a truism that sex therapy is really relationship therapy.  The IPSA website linked above has more information about the therapy, surrogate training, and the code of ethics that IPSA surrogates follow.

In the first paragraph, I tried to create a bit of drama by saying that I was naked in “a room full of strangers.”  In fact, the training classes are small:  There were six trainees, plus the head trainer (and IPSA President) Dr. Vena Blanchard.  The task I was given was to be nude in front of a full-length mirror and do a body meditation that included form, feeling and function.  Form is the physical appearance of the whole and parts of my body.  Feeling is my body’s capacity for sensation and pleasure.  Function is how well my body can perform what I need to survive and thrive.  The rationale is that surrogate partners should have a comfort level with their own bodies to help clients develop self-acceptance and learn what is possible for them.

I began by leading a group disrobing.  Starting with our heads and moving down, participants were asked to remove clothes (or other accoutrements) to the level that was comfortable.  I invited them to focus on things such as what felt easier to remove vs. more difficult; how the skin of the unclothed parts felt as compared to the clothed parts; what they might gain and lose by removing vs. not removing any particular items.  Then I gave permission to just look at each other from head to toe, front and back.

We talked a bit about what it felt like to do this.  It manifested in different ways for each person, spurring both laughter and tears, but each of us became aware of two basic experiences that we had in common:

  1. The vulnerability that comes with sharing ourselves in such an intimate way, as well as the trust that builds when we are accepted by others.
  2. The falling away of judgments about whether a body is ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ replaced by a realization that all bodies are simply human and beautiful in their own individual ways.

Then I turned to the mirror to commune with myself.  I confronted the fact that at 65, I don’t have the body that I had at 25, or even at 45.  In an ageist culture that treats older people as invisible, and older bodies as perhaps even disgusting, it can be hard to find things to feel positive about.  And as we age, we begin to have failures of function that, besides being inconvenient and uncomfortable, also remind us of our mortality.  I was concerned that too much of my focus would be on the things that I have lost or that I feel disappointed in or ashamed of; but I was going to challenge myself anyway.

As I talked about my form, I found, as I’d expected, that I am disappointed that my once lustrous hair has thinned, and embarrassed by my sagging belly.  But I was pleased to note that I’m happy with my still-pretty dark eyes and full lips, and excited that my lover never seems to tire of looking at my shapely legs.  (Hooray for leg men!)

When it came to feeling, I had to admit that the former bright light of my sexual response has dimmed somewhat after menopause.  But my intellectual and emotional interest in sex is still great, and with a little help from modern medical science, my little tubes of estrogen cream and testosterone cream, I can boost my response at will.  My skin is still very receptive to touch, and I didn’t mind at all one day when my lover was caressing my thigh and asked, “When are you going to get old lady skin?”  Thus implying I haven’t.

Years ago, I came late to the idea that I might want to have a child.  By the time I knew, I had lost my reproductive function and suffered a series of pregnancy traumas (I cried during this portion of my meditation).  In addition, the scoliosis (curved spine) that I’ve had all my life is beginning to cause pain and limit some activities.  Nevertheless, I still feel strong in my body and am able to do many of the things that I want and need to do.

After I finished, the trainees thanked me for my openness about my body.  We shared some group discussion, and then they went off to private spaces to do their own body image exercise in pairs.

As I drove home, I had time to contemplate how I felt.  I accepted the inevitability that I am aging and my body is changing.  Instead of feeling cheated out of what I once had, I can enjoy remembering it, and I can still take pleasure in what I have now.  I’ve reached an age where some of my friends have passed away.  I don’t know, but can imagine, that they might wish they could reside in this imperfect yet beautifully alive body that I am still gifted with.  I feel grateful.

woman-in-mirror

What do you think you might find if you did your own

body image exercise?

170 thoughts on “Body by Lynda

  1. The common theme experienced in you and your peers after completing this exercise definitely caught my attention. There is an extreme vulnerability in sharing yourself in an intimate way no matter who you are sharing yourselves to, and there is an overwhelming sense of trust when you are accepted by the individual(s). Changing your perspective on having a “good” or “bad” body and replacing that thought with understanding that we are all just unique, beautiful humans really hit home to me. I struggled with accepting myself in many ways, especially physically in my years prior, but growing from that and learning that I am simply human made me love myself more and made myself more confident in sharing myself with others. You stated that “in an ageist culture that treats older people as invisible, and older bodies as perhaps even disgusting, it can be hard to find things to feel positive about”. It is absolutely saddening that society tends to not be accepting of people who are aging, yet the sadder part is that those same people who treat older people as invisible or disgusting are still going through the aging process. I believe that aging is a beautiful thing and it is something that everyone in this world goes through. We may not have the same bodies that we did x amount of years ago, but it is important that we find the beauty in every stage of life. In a society where it is hard to be satisfied, we should learn to be satisfied with ourselves. Thank you for such a wonderful post.

    Liked by 1 person

      • You’re quite welcome! And you make a good point about how younger people who may be critical of the old are aging themselves as well. Their turn will come.

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  2. I really enjoyed this post, Its very real and you shared vulnerability through this context which I admire profoundly. I am 18 and I don’t think I can do what you did or what the rest of those in the room were capable of doing too. I hope to one day be able to accept myself and come to terms with the reality but if you have any advice or tips, please let me know!

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  3. As I was reading this, I began to point out various flaws my body has as well. When looking at our own body we do tend to point out the things we don’t like about ourselves rather than the good things we like/love about ourselves. You’ve made me look at my body a certain way I never thought I could. It’s very hard to see my body as a positive aspect because of mental abuse I had faced as a child. Though I’m still working on becoming body positive, this definitely made me realize that my body is beautiful no matter how many stretch marks or how much saggy skin I gain in the future.

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  4. Thank you for sharing such an intimate experience! I feel like this Body Image exercise is something that can help a lot of people with body image issues and help create a stronger sense of vulnerability and intimacy like you shared. I like how you talked about an ageist society that we live in and how this can maybe affect your views on your own body but I admire how you are able to see beauty in all stages of life and appreciate aging. We’re all so unique 🙂

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    • We are all unique! And it’s amazing how one can stand naked in front of a group of strangers, and after a few minutes of discomfort, we all just felt human and beautiful.

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  5. was this your first time being exposed in front of strangers? if so, what were some thoughts that you had going through your head? and if it isn’t..well does it get easier each time you do it? or yoou feel different emotions each time?

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    • I’ve done this a few times now. It does get easier. My thoughts change a bit just depending on where I am in my life at the time.

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  6. How long did it take you to agree or come up with the decision to do this? I didn’t even know this was something individuals can do. Its really inspiring and encouraging to see the self love and acceptance you have towards yourself. Everybody would be so much happier with this mindset.

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    • It was actually easy to agree, because I had gone through their training myself many years ago. I know it’s important to teach them how to love themselves … and their clients.

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  7. I love how you are so open and have come to accept how your body looks. Every body is beautiful and it takes a great amount of courage to do what you did with strangers, something I could probably never do!

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  8. First, congratulations on being so open and brave. If I was ever courageous enough to do a body image exercise I am sure that my results would mirror yours, as far as the feelings of accepting what I have at the age am. For now, I know that I am still considered young, although I feel old, but I need to take proper care of my body now since I will not have it forever. Thank you for sharing your story with us!

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  9. Very brave in sharing yourself personally, regardless of who you share with, and there is an immense sense of confidence when you are embraced by the person.

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  10. We are at some point in our lives insecure about our body. Many of us are able to become confident and love ourselves while others are stuck in an endless loop of hatred. Very proud that you were able to overcome what others would label as flaws and love every inch. I’ve hardly felt comfortable in my own skin until mirror exercises where I’d look at myself and I try to normalize the way I look rather than tear it down and “fix” it. You’re very brave and confident for the group exercise.

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  11. I really admire how you were able to get out of your comfort zone and have the strength to be naked in front of people that you did not know. I hope that at some point in my life I will be so comfortable in my skin that I would be able to participate in this activity. It is especially hard now to learn to love yourself in an age where physically unattainable bodies are seen as the “the ultimate goal.” Hopefully, I will reach this level of comfort being myself one day, as you have learned to do.

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    • Thank you, but to be honest, I have to admit it was not easy! I was in my 60’s already when I first did this, and let’s just say the years have taken a toll (at least appearance-wise, but not pleasure-wise!)

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  12. This was absolutely lovely to read, I was intrigued by the very first sentence. After reading this I want to try this exercise. Like you, I myself are disappointed with some parts of my body but I feel like this would be a great experience to find love in those parts that I hate.

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  13. I feel like most of us have our own negative thoughts on certain parts of our bodies, but with your exercise it is amazing how you can learn to appreciate your body.

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  14. While reading this blog this one especially it really made me think about how I see my body and what feelings can come up from seeing myself naked and so vulnerable. I’ve never really taken the time to look at myself and today I actually did and I did cry because I made comments towards myself that weren’t so positive but really took the time to understand my body is beautiful in its own way. Being this vulnerable is hard I hope within time I can see myself in a more positive light.

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    • I’m really glad you did that exercise. I cry sometimes when I do it, too. A little because my body isn’t perfect but more because of how hard I’ve always been on myself. I wish I had been more celebratory of my body through all its stages.

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  15. Working at strip clubs, I’ve always been very critical of my body and what I seen in the mirror. I’m not sure if I’m jumping the gun by saying this, but it seems as if this exercise makes you much more appreciative of the journey you and your body are going through. Not only that, but even the previous comments are a reminder that everyone has their own reservations and insecurities in relation to their body and age. I’m definitely going to try this exercise, because I want to look forward to the changes that are to come as I get older and I want to have the same mindset towards myself now and in the future!

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    • I was very self-critical when I was young, too. And the irony is, I would now love to have that younger body I was so hard on! But it’s not possible, so the only answer is to be as healthy as we can be and embrace the changes. I wish that for you!

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  16. After reading this article, I am truly amazed. The amount of vulnerability this exercise required is astonishing. I am personally very self conscious about my body. Growing up I always struggled with my weight and other body insecurities, so doing something like this seems terrifying to me. However, I admire you for being able to do this and realize that even at 65, you love yourself. This is something I wish to do. It has motivated me to not be so self critical and take self love more serious. i even hope to some day be able to do something like this.

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    • You could start by doing this exercise just for yourself! I wish you more body positivity because being self-critical only piles hurt upon hurt. ❤

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  17. Not going to lie but the first part that I read threw me off but after reading more into it I started to understand what you meant and I find interesting that they make people stand in front of a mirror to not only be comfortable but comfortable with themselves and their own body.

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  18. I admire your courage to stand nude before a group, big or small, of people. Finding comfort within your own skin is challenging and not a common topic to discuss. Although I have yet to experience anything similar to what you have shared. For many years I felt discomfort within my own skin. At the very very young age of 13 I got a rather large tattoo on my stomach that I instantly regretted. It has taken me 10+ years to accept and feel comfortable in my skin.

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    • I have to say it’s an ongoing process, with ups and downs. I try to accept my aging body – and appreciate it, because many don’t make it this far!

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  19. First of all, I am honestly astonished and amazed with the courage of standing in front of strangers, nude and telling them what you feel looking at yourself. I could never do that, its very scary. And I respect your thoughts and courage with your self analysis. Its really amazing for the way you see yourself and the positive outlook on life.

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  20. I admire your bravery in doing this exercise! As I read, I found myself thinking “No way!! Did she really do that?! I could never.” Like you said, it is such an intimate experience. I think it can be done alone or with our significant other, but I would not be able to do it in front of random people. Loving our bodies is important and it is great to see that you continue to do so. Regardless of age women should always be able to feel beautiful in their skin.

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  21. I loved the quote “a realization that all bodies are simply human and beautiful in their own individual ways”. There are such harsh expectations put on what our bodies should look like. I think most people end up comparing themselves to a very warped idea of what the perfect body looks like- one that is largely by the media we consume. At 10 I remember standing in front of the mirror with my best friend and pulling at our stomachs. We constantly heard how our mom’s needed to loose weight or go on some new diet. this mindset carried into my teen years and caused a lot of insecurity for me and for so many close to me. I still feel that there’s a certain way my body needs to look and that I constantly need to be working to that ideal body type. I have gotten a lot more confident and comfortable in my body but it is always such a wonderful reminder to read something like this. I love your take on self love and acceptance. I admire your view on your changing body and I will hold on to your insight as my body grows and changes.

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  22. Lynda,
    Good God I started reading this story out of curiosity then the “big Stuff” hit.. I put myself in your shoes and here comes the water works.. When You ask the question about if we would do it and what will we see…..(birds chirping)…… If I can fix the broken pieces in my brain to admire the two 10 lbs baby skin that formed on my belly and the once dd bra size now to ehh emm small B then maybe just maybe I can stare in the mirror and find what I like.. You have me thinking…
    Mercedes

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  23. I agree that loving the body is the first step to loving ourselves. Aging is a normal natural process, but there are many prejudices against people’s appearance. Whether it is adolescence with hormonal outbreaks, middle-age with constant weight gain, or fragile old age, people are struggling with their body, hating themselves for not being thin enough, not beautiful enough, when youth passing away and the beauty is no longer.

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    • I agree it’s hard not to give in to those prejudices. I’m arguing that it is possible to accept ourselves, imperfect as we are, and hopefully even love our bodies – because without these bodies, we would not have life!

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  24. It’s always hard to deal with our bodies. Everyone is a little insecure in someway about it and for you to be able to be openly naked in front of so many people is admirable. After reading this, what I got out of it was you accepted yourself in all areas despite how difficult it was. There are many cons to ourselves but there are also pros to each individual. I feel we’re so hard on ourselves that sometimes credit should be given when deserved even in the smallest things.

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  25. I genuinely really enjoyed reading this post. I am so glad that this exercise was so beneficial for you. I myself have never been able to reflect on my own body image like the way you have but, this has inspired me to do so because who knows if I may find something new to love and appreciate about myself.

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    • I hope you do it, and I bet you WILL find more to appreciate! We tend to agonize over our weaknesses, but we have so many strengths to balance them if we look at ourselves in a kinder way. My friend the sex therapist calls it “kind eyes.”

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  26. Wow! that is the first thing that comes to my mind after reading this I do not understand why I am so late on reading blogs especially yours. This blog post is so informational you go from what is happening at that moment and what you see from your body and observations to your emotional state. I feel that if I were to do my own body meditation I do not know what to expect, but I would be willing to give it a try.

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  27. This blog discusses such an important topic, loving your body despite its imperfections. Although I don’t think I’ll ever find the courage to stand naked in front of a group of people, I think that I should start practicing standing naked in front of the mirror. Taking a look at myself naked would allow me to see my imperfections. I know that at first, this might be hard, I think as I do it more, I will become more comfortable. In the end, I must be comfortable in the body I walk-in in order to love myself, and once I learn to love myself, I will reflect that on to others.

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  28. I really enjoyed the vulnerability and honesty of this article. Society has glorified young youthful bodies and I think a lot of people struggle with what they use to look like versus how they look to date. I really appreciate the veracity of your own experience.

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  29. This is such a comforting piece of writing. You described every aspect seamlessly and still managed to connect back to the main storyline. The paragraph where you start being descriptive of your body and emotions is well written. I have never seen people for their age. This is the first time I’ve heard of someone feeling ashamed or having this idea of “aged” bodies being disgusting. It’s good to be aware of others and what they might not feel comfortable with about themselves. Body meditation is something I should try. It’s sounds very therapeutic.

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  30. Loved the way you started this! It’s incredible to think that these classes and resources are available because we rarely ever talk about let alone consider them. What’s most interesting is that like you said, it isn’t necessarily “sex” therapy but rather a different approach to “relationship” therapy.

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  31. I was educated about the wonders of kegel exercises and estrogen cream for the ladies. Human sexuality covered that. I admire your bravery for participating in this exercise.

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  32. Every time I read one of your articles I admire you more for all your stories. You are a very brave person because not everyone dares to share an intimate experience. I loved the exercise explained at the beginning. I will give it a try because I know it will help me love those parts of my body that I don’t like. I think it would be very good if we all tried the Body Image exercise, so we would appreciate every detail of our body. Thank you for sharing this.

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  33. You were right as I was intrigued or maybe lured by your first paragraph. I felt a sense of curiosity as maybe others. Your description about your experience could actually imagine. I think what I took out of this is that a person’s worst critic is oneself and that I need to accept me before I judge anyone else. Thank you for sharing.

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  34. This really speaks to me because of all the negativity I have about my body. I remember drawing an exaggerated version of all my flaws back in 9th grade because I was so self-conscious. In the picture, I had huge shoulders, lots of acne, a hooked nose, and chubby hands. I love this article because it reminds me that I don’t need to be pretty in order to justify being alive. The world tells us all that being attractive and lusted after is the most important thing in life. But my body can do way more than just look a certain way. My body is the reason I’m alive, the reason can do all the stuff I love to do. My hands may not look feminine and dainty, but they can sure as hell create art, or hit a volleyball. The same things goes for all the other parts that I’m insecure about–they weren’t made to look good. They were made to do things. And they do those things well.

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  35. I would be so nervous to do any of that. Your confidence is something I wish I had. I have always struggled with looking at my body and just loving it. It made me nervous to be intimate with my partner because I was worried on how he saw me. BOY WAS I WRONG!

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