At first, this blog entry about body image was just going to be a few self-deprecating fat jokes and a little about how I perceive myself in this job. I then remembered a book Ross had loaned me ages ago, that I hadn’t gotten around to reading yet, it’s called, “The Body Image Workbook An Eight Step Programme For Learning To Like Your Looks”. Given as I had this book I thought I should at least delve a little more in depth into a subject that affects so many people on a variety of levels, so one morning I settled myself down in the local coffee shop and started to work my way through it. After only working through a few of the exercises and answering the questions it slowly dawned on me that my body and I needed some serious relationship counselling.
You may recall me mentioning that I was bullied at school, I also moved schools quite a lot and as time went on I developed a, “fake it till you make it” attitude to confidence that just carried on as I got older. Trying to ignore the taunts floating from my past about my big nose, dumbo ears or the fact that puberty had raised it’s raging hormonal head and covered my face in spots (and never stopped). Moving on past school there are so many other body issues out there. I remember looking at magazine pictures of models and sniffing, “they’re so thin don’t they eat anything?!” whilst inside desperately wishing that I looked like that.
I could go on with different examples, but what really saddened me as I was completing these tests were all of my self-loathing habits that I had incorporated into my life to such a degree that I didn’t even notice they existed any more; the constant trying to hold my stomach in making me feel really uncomfortable because I wasn’t breathing properly, the unflattering clothes that actually make me feel worse over time because they cover everything up, comforting myself with unhealthy foods whilst mentally berating myself for being a “fat pig”, only allowing myself to focus on what I hate when I look at myself in the mirror (particularly since I had Beth) and transferring that particular habit to making sure I NEVER stand in front of the full length mirror in any of the sessions in our work gym.
Working as a Kung Fu instructor has in some ways been beneficial and detrimental to my body image issues. On the one hand I am more aware of how to start and maintain a healthy lifestyle, how to exercise more mindfully and effectively to achieve healthy goals, how to create more nutritious meals and can now look at the stick thin body types I used to aspire to and happily tell myself that it is not a healthy goal to want. Through my training I need to find a place that’s best for me and my body.
On the other hand I am especially aware that whilst advocating a healthy lifestyle to the children I teach, I am the unhealthiest full time member of staff in the Cambridge Kung Fu office (not helped by my aptitude for baking full fat, full sugar, imminent diabetic coma cakey treats!). While running or jumping around with the Tiny Tigers my attention is dragged to the feeling of my spare tyre wobbling around. The fact that after only a few minutes of running around a room I am out of breath and that in comparison to a lot of our other kids instructors who train with us regularly I have no muscle strength or cardiovascular fitness AT ALL!
But that’s the thing, I am so busy comparing myself to other people that I don’t see what I have that is truly brilliant. For one thing I have pretty damn good proprioception (check me out and my big words!), i.e. I find it incredibly easy to copy someone’s movements and recreate them accurately which comes in very useful when learning and teaching the children the forms they will be doing. In turn this gives me the ability to think of lots of different ways to explain different movements, take any movement in our forms and I probably have at least 3 or 4 different explanations stored away for potential use. I have a good recovery time. Yes I may not have long endurance for running, but give me a minute and my heart rate will be back down to normal and I’m good to go! I have really good storytelling skills which comes in incredibly useful when getting kids involved and excited about a game. Now, none of these are related to my body image. But listing all of them can bring a more positive frame of mind, which in turn makes me view my body and how I look in a more positive frame of mind.
Having adopted this attitude for the past few months, my confidence has grown, I can see more and more things about my body that I like and my attitude to my training has done nothing but improved. To the extent that I voluntarily went to an Escrima Concepts Seminar a few weeks ago and enjoyed it!! Five years ago (when I started working for Cambridge Kung Fu) if you had told me I would do that I would have outright laughed in your face, politeness be damned.
Now imagine if I had been able to develop this positive attitude to an extent where I didn’t need to fake confidence as a child. In CKF classes our aim is not just to help children develop physical fitness and awareness of their environments, it’s also to help develop their confidence in their abilities and in themselves. We have a lot of children who come to our classes and don’t join in any of the games where they perceive that there might be a possibility of “losing” and others who lose any enjoyment from the classes if they think that more than one person is focusing on what they’re doing at any one time. Rather than trying to make one big change all at once, we work on smaller changes to break the overall goal into easier steps.
If we want a child to gain in confidence, we work on getting them to interact more positively within the class environment. Tackling an activity that was an issue to them before and providing positive reinforcement when they do so. Showing them that they don’t need to prove that they’re better than anyone else, they just have to work as hard as they can and let their efforts speak for themselves.
I believe in this so strongly that as soon as Beth was old enough she started training with us. I want her exposed to this attitude, I don’t want her resilience to tough situations to derive from, “fake it ’till you make it”. I want her to be able to stand tall and proudly say, “I did my best” and know that’s enough. There is so much negative media surrounding children these days about how to look, how to act, what’s ‘cool’ and what’s ‘wrong’. They are so vulnerable to these suggestions as they forge their path through life, they need to develop the resilience to say to themselves, “I am fine, the way I am”. The knowledge to enable them to chose the healthier path, to recognise unhealthy behaviours when they rear their ugly heads and the confidence to stand by their decisions. Every child deserves that.