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?

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85 thoughts on “Body by Lynda

  1. Wow, great insight of the way we think vs our wonderful society and how they make us feel. Glad we have sexy cars

    Sent from Samsung tablet

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    • Glad you enjoyed it, Diana! We as older women especially can struggle with not meeting the culture’s expectations for ‘beauty,’ but we need to love ourselves at every age. And yes, we always have our sexy cars! 😉

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    • This post reminds me of when I look at myself in the mirror naked and think to myself, ” oh god, what an out of shape beer belly fat ass i’ve become!”.It seems like today people have taken more interest in their physical appearance, which points the spotlight on people with less attractive features leaving them feeling ashamed or self-conscious about their appearance. Being in my early 40’s I have learned to appreciate people who are authentic, and find that to be just as attractive as physical appearance.

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      • What you’re describing is a process of maturing, and realizing that there is more to life than looks, and looks don’t last anyway! I hope you’ll stop talking to yourself in that negative way, and maybe instead just make a few healthy changes to your habits – for your future self!

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  2. Very interesting, gives me a different perspective. I have to think about this.it’s hard to go from a body your proud of to one that is not fighting gravity anymore.

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  3. I think that it is very frightening to be open about shortcomings and pregnancy issues. I applaud you for being able to share your story with others. Also, I think it is beyond cool that people want o be surrogate partners. I myself do not think that I have the courage to get naked in front of anyone but my husband. There is a certain level of comfort there. I think sexuality is very powerful and should not be limited. Sexual freedom is the goal.

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  4. I really enjoyed reading how comfortable you are with your body and how open you are about sharing stories about your past life. The fact that you are 65 and still enjoy many factors of your body I admire a lot because many older women are ashamed of what their body look like. I wish to have the same mindset as you when I am older.

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    • I hope so too! It helps to stay healthy. I’ve gained more weight than I’m comfortable with and that’s a main reason why this experience was a challenge for me. But I got through it, and learned something about myself.

      What’s the use of experience if you can’t share it to help others? 😉

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  5. After reading this, I contemplated how I feel about my body and how that has evolved over time. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t been body shamed at some point in their lives. I’m no different. The older I get the less I care what others look like and the more I listen to what they have to say. It’s no longer a criteria at all for dating or intimacy. What’s sad is that it used to be. If I should ever have a child I hope I’m able to teach them body positivity. That’s something it sounds like most of us missed in childhood.

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  6. It’s interesting that we all aquire some sort of discomfort when it comes to being naked around someone we do not know. Many thoughts rush to our heads and we wonder what that person is thinking about our bodies. As we age we need to come to accept our body in its new form, still possessing the beauty of a natural human body.

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  7. I find it very interesting how at different ages, we all feel vulnerable and sensitive about our bodies. At 21, I also feel conscious about my body. I am happy and thankful for the healthy body that I have, but of course there are little things that I would like to change if I would ever get the chance. But with your blog, I also feel empowered. Knowing that it would be hard for you to stand in front of a lot of people naked is going to be hard, you still did it otherwise. I want to have that kind of confidence in my body someday. As of right now, I would try my best to empower myself with the little things that I can do. More power to you!

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    • I would give a lot to have back the body I had at 21 (or 31, or 41). But you know what? Even at those ages I focused more on what my body didn’t have than what my body did have; I was still dissatisfied. Now I’m more focused on the whole of who I am, not just my physical looks. Yes, I did it anyway! And that’s a good place to be.

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  8. I commend you for the comfortability that you have in your own body. It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable with others, despite the possibility of negative feedback. Although I haven’t personally partaken in any activity similar to the one you described, I have noticed that these feelings may be timeless. As of right now I am twenty years old, an age that is almost universally viewed as “young,” but I would still feel the same (if not, similar) feelings and insecurities as you did. During a time that places so much emphasis on having the “perfect body” many people, including myself, sometimes feel that I fall short. I aspire to have the confidence and the comfortability that you do.

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    • I agree that one can be insecure at any age (I was much more so when I was your age). I hope you too find a good comfort level. Part of it is just maturing and realizing that no one is perfect, we all have pluses and minuses.

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  9. beautiful post, everyone needs to take the time to study their body and learn to accept each part, even if it is difficult. Being nude in a room full of people you don’t know probably isn’t the easiest of tasks, so doing it and still being able to focus on the exercise shows great strength.

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  10. Lynda,
    This was really intriguing to read. After recently learning about sex surrogacy and sex therapy, I had many questions about the process. One of them focused on how the surrogates must feel during the therapy sessions. I know for me personally, body image and self esteem has taken me on many ups, downs, twists, and curves (literally and figuratively). Growing up I was always focused on how skinny or fat I was and how I compared to other peers. After graduating high school and entering the college domain I’ve realized there is so much more to our bodies than we can even begin to process. For me to feel healthy and happy in my own skin, I need to be fit and active. Because I am an athlete, weight gain/loss do not affect me in the same way it might others. Sometimes my aim is to actually gain weight and curves because I know it’s all muscle. However, what is right for me won’t always be right for others and that’s okay. I liked reading your entry because I never realized what little thought I gave to older people. Not necessarily in a humanistic way, but just in the sense that I never put myself in their shoes or tried to understand how they might feel about what is going on in their bodies. It joys me to hear how honest and overall, how positive you are about your body still. Especially as women it is essential to feel strong and empowered in our own skin. So, go us!

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    • Go us is right! I’m glad I got you thinking about what it’s like to be an older person (in a body), because we all get there sooner or later (unless we die young, and then look at all we would have missed out on).

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  11. Reading this made me extremely happy. It is nice to hear that even in old age one can enjoy sex and still be comfortable in their own skin. I have dealt with years of existential dread and a lot of that dread has come from anticipating the inevitable face that I will one day grow old. But your perspective has taught me that its not all bad, especially if you find someone that loves you for things beyond the superficial ( although nice legs are important). Thank you for this 🙂

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    • You’re welcome! And if my words help you not to feel so much dread, I’m glad. I must say it was a learning experience for me as well. And guess what – I’ve been invited back to do it again next week!

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  12. I can only imagine how your study must have felt. You are very brave! Your attitude is admirable in how open you are with your body and thoughts on life. We are all blessed with the gift of life and health is most important. Theres a saying, “Growing older is like wine, we get better as we age”. So as I grow older ill keep that in mind when it comes to my body image.

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  13. This is truly inspiring. For you to be so accepting and in love with your body still at age 65, truly gives you a different perspective and didn’t understanding. So many girls my age are so uncomfortable with their bodies or get body shamed for the way they look or the weight they’re at. This just tell girls to love your body no matter what.

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  14. Reading this article gave me a sort of empowerment that you had the courage to stand there and let others view you and feeling comfortable about it. I personally struggle with accepting my body at times but reading this really inspires me to just accept the way I look no matter what age I am or even how I look.

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    • Part of what’s great about the exercise is that you don’t just focus on how you look, but how you feel and function. It’s a balanced picture of some things that aren’t so great, and some that are wonderful!

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  15. This is awesome. For you to love your body at the age of 65 astonishes me. I mean most people over the age of 60 rarely put themselves out there but regardless, it’s amazing. As it is, in this day in age, most women feel very insecure about their bodies. The media has really took in effect on basically everyone. I’m glad you feel this way and it was a great read.

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  16. I love how you expressed how you felt during the process and learning to become comfortable. I too, am pretty open and self loving towards my body but it took me almost my entire 18 years of living to feel this way

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  17. Wow, very inspiring. Even though you are at the age of 65, you still find pride in your body. You understand that it is not the same as it was when you were 25, but you are okay with that. Your husband still adores you for who you really are which is what counts. In our generation, many females are unhappy about their bodies because of what they see in the media which is a really a sad. They are focusing on the physical aspect of being human and missing what is really important which is loving someone for who they are!

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  18. I found this article very interesting and true. As women, were always susceptible to society’s views on beauty and we never stop to really observe the beautiful attributes we have, and notice the negative things, like sagging body parts, loss of hair, and a little more fat in certain areas. When I’m your age, I would love to have that confidence about myself. That is admiring.

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    • You make good points! As you go through life, try to change your self-talk from negative to positive whenever you notice that you’re feeling down about yourself. And you will develop that confidence!

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  19. Thats wonderful that you got to experience this. Hopefully one day everyone will feel better and more comfortable about their bodies and not ashamed of what is underneath our clothes.

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  20. I’m speechless, reading this has made me stop and realize that I’m not going to be young for ever. I have always looked at myself as if was going to have this healthy amazing body with no saggy breast, ass, thighs, and stomach. But now after reading this I was just being stubborn and closed minded about the fact that I’m aging ; i have to start in accepting my self and the process of aging and just being okay with that. I admire you for being able to fully accepting and loving your body at that age.

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    • Wow, when someone says “I’m speechless,” I know I’ve had an impact! I wish I could tell you that you are not going to age and change, but it would be a lie. You’re right, acceptance, and love, are key!

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  21. Thank you for this; it was very informative. Do you have any other posts, or perhaps resources, that you can recommend on the topic of accepting the body and recognizing its beauty?

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    • A good book for men, I think, is The New Male Sexuality by Bernie Zilbergeld. It addresses MANY issues faced by men. (The word New just means that the book was updated at some point, not that male sexuality is New.)

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  22. This is the second article I’ve read on your blog and let me tell you, i am absolutely loving your writing. You are so brave for doing what you did. If I did my own body image exercise, the first I would look at are my insecurities. My stomach, my arms, my butt. I’ve read another article before that said something like, look at yourself in the mirror naked more often and you’ll feel more comfortable and little by little you’ll love what you see. I didn’t do that but I do try to look at the good things I love about my own body. I do love myself but I feel like everyone, I have those days where I just feel disgusting in my own body.

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    • Thank you for the compliment, and I hope you continue reading and commenting! I think taking the advice to look a little each day would be a good idea. Especially to focus on the positive, or at least a balanced picture.

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  23. Your experience is uplifting and just positive. I love that fact that you didn’t feel self-conscious about your body at the age of 65 even though you weren’t young like you used to be. Thinned hair, a sagged belly, and many other features are all part of the natural aging process and I think that this is what makes us beautiful in our own way.

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  24. This is an outstanding post. To be vulnerable and share your whole self with anyone takes courage, and to do it with strangers is even more impressive. It’s not always easy to be accepting of our bodies and their unique imperfections, but it is rewarding. Thank you for sharing.

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  25. I think that it was extremely brave of you to be able to share your story with others. It is amazing how you exemplify such confidence in your body. I feel very inspired and empowered by your personal experience. We need to learn to accept our bodies with all its flaws and imperfections.

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  26. Its so beautiful to read about your self confidence. We are all aging every day and we should always take the time to admire our bodies. Whether 20 or 50, the human body is a beautiful thing. No one should ever feel ashamed of that. Its wonderful to hear that your lover admires you just as much as you admire yourself! Its always great to have someone like that besides you

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  27. This article is exactly what women of all ages need to hear! We as women need to embrace our bodies and the beauty of every single inch of them in order to break down the societal stigma that women should be shameful of certain aspects of their bodies! You provide such great insight into the subject of body positivity and are a true inspiration!

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  28. Some of my older family members struggle a lot with body image. I hope they can one day be as confident as you are. I will share this article with them. Thank you!

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  29. This was such an insightful post. It gave me a lot to think about specifically about the form, feeling, and function of my body. I think in such a fast paced world we forget to appreciate the beauty in something we see everyday–our bodies. And with a media that glorifies certain body types it’s hard to feel comfortable in our own skin… but definitely not impossible. This article taught be that sometimes we just need to slow down, analyze ourselves, meditate about what we see–let our thoughts take over and explore ourselves. From what I’ve read it’s a beautiful experience and one day I hope to gather enough confidence to /see/ myself in the mirror and truly love my body and myself as I am

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    • It can be a long process to love ourselves as we are. I remember when I was younger I was dissatisfied with my body – and now I would give a lot to have that body back! Yet I can’t. So therefore, better to work on self-acceptance at ALL ages. Good luck doing this exercise on your own. 🙂

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  30. It’s funny how we don’t think about how much our self-image affects our
    confidence. It’s always about what other’s think of us. It should be the
    other way around. We should be happy at what we see in the mirror and not
    be afraid of it. This is such a strong exercise. I don’t know if I would
    have the courage. Kudos to you.

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    • I agree about the other way around. And admit I was a little nervous, but I think it was ameliorated by the fact that, in spite of my age, I have been in this field for a long time. And I get that bodies change! Even the youngest and most ‘perfect.’

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  31. I think this is really interesting to think about in terms of confidence. I cannot imagine undressing in front of a room full of people, yet I feel I am confident with my body! I think this exercise is really challenging people to step out of their comfort zone and realize how alike we are to one another (or different). I think doing this especially challenges the stigmas that mass media portrays as the “ideal” type of physique, etc. I feel like what you have said about your body image and how it has changed over the years is truly powerful and living in an ageist society, coming in terms or accepting wrinkles, or grey hair can be a difficult thing for many. Truly insightful how you have come to accept yourself and how you’re promoting self acceptance for not just old/young people, but everyone! 🙂

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    • Thank you, Shreya. It’s definitely a journey and it’s not over (till I die LOL). Because there continue to be changes and I have to roll with them. But why not try to accept ourselves? It makes for a more joyous day and joyous life!

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  32. Your article was very moving and powerful in many ways. The inevitability of aging is upon each and every one of us; which can be quite frightening to some. However, with reading your article, it provided me with some insight that we should all try to embrace our body image, and learn how to love ourselves.

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  33. It was a really nice read for me to be blunt. In addition, it was also very refreshing to have a reminder that your body is beautiful and no matter what insecurities or dislikes you may have, there’s still always more to appreciate than to not. Thank you for giving your readers that insight and experience.

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  34. I really enjoyed to read your article. You have a good positive attitude to help others to overcome from uncomfortable feelings and fail functions when the body reach the menopause age.

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  35. I truly think it’s awespiring how comfortable you are becoming with your body. I used to be quite obese, so weight was always something I have been insecure about. However, even after losing a decent amount of weight, I’ve realized that insecurities are all in your mind, and it’s all about your attitude on what you have.

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  36. I know people of every age that struggle with body image. We lose sight of the amazing things our bodies can do because we’re too focused on trying to look like someone else. We get caught up on trying to be the perfect version of ourselves that we don’t stop and appreciate ourselves for who we are. It is difficult to for people to find self-acceptance, but it is important to find confidence with the bodies we were born into.

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  37. I really like the idea of being in a small group of people who are not there to shame anyone, but rather to share and learn to be comfortable around others about your body and experiences. I would definitely love to take a class like this where I can gain confidence about myself and be able to talk to others that may share the same feelings of consciousness and anxiety about my body.

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    • The purpose of this class was to train surrogate partners, so I doubt if this is what you’d want. But there are workshops designed to help women feel more comfortable with themselves. Just make sure you vet them as much as possible first.

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  38. I feel like society keeps trying to prevent us from feeling proud of our bodies, with constant ads and the media telling us we can look better with surgery and such. But its great to see that there are actual programs designed to counteract this! I do not know if I will ever be brave enough to do something like this, but maybe one day in the future!

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  39. This has been very helpful personally. It;s taken me a long amount of time to get more comfortable with my body. I still have some insecurities however, and this exercise seems like something that can really help me overcome that. I feel that everyone deserves to feel beautiful in the body that they have. Your positive self reflection makes the idea of aging a much more manageable one for me. I feel like I can almost look forward to growing old with grace, and appreciating my body every step of the way..

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  40. WOW! I loved reading this. shows your bravery and your willingness to help not just yourself with exercise, but to also allow others to learn from it. I think from that, in turn, they can do the same for themselves.

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! I recently did this exercise again, and even though many in the class were young and fit, they realize that they won’t always be so – and can still enjoy their bodies at any age!

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  41. As I was reading this, I felt a little anxious because I envisioned myself doing this personally and I could not bear the fact of being comfortable enough to be naked in front of other strangers. I do struggle with body image, however, after reading your experience I felt a sense of relief and comfort on how enlightening this experience was for you. It in a sense gave me motivation to do this personally with myself at home. Thank you for sharing such an incredible experience!

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  42. Wow, this was very intriguing to read! I feel like these topics tend to be very “taboo” in our society and it is people like you that break free from that “social norm” we tend to uphold. It has got to start somewhere, so we might as well start from ourselves. Thank you for sharing this!

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  43. I have always been comfortable with others seeing me naked, however this post really made me think about how I, myself, think of my own body. I often look in the mirror naked after a shower, and while sometimes I see beauty in my imperfections, other times I’m filled with criticism and can even feel disgust. I was very intrigued by the breakdown of your body into form, feeling, and function. I am excited to start thinking in this way and see how it changes my perspective of my body, its abilities, and its beauty as it is.

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