How I gradually transformed from an awkward, ungainly and self-conscious child to someone often described as a "free spirit" in the way I move and dance. 3 main aspects are: physical activity, surgery on knees, body hair.
What challenge does this story focus on?
My challenge was how to feel comfortable in my body. As a child I was plump, I fell over a lot, I could not sit cross-legged, and I had knock-knees. I can remember trying to force my feet closer together while my knees were already touching. PE lessons represented my experience of being a 'slow-learner', always struggling at the back, so I did as little as possible. In puberty conspicuous body hair was added to the pot of shame about my body, fueled by goading by my brother.
How has this challenge affected you?
I spent a lot of my early life feeling uncomfortable in my body. I avoided physical activity, in the absence of encouragement and good advice - never mind the rest, do it for yourself, find something that feels good. I wanted to learn ballet but was rejected for being too fat!
What has or is helping you to move forward with this challenge?
A cathartic transformation came when our family GP finally relented and referred me to a specialist for the knock-knees. This resulted in surgery and this transformed the way I thought about it, from a secret object of shame to something that could be fixed, and that I could talk about in a matter-of-fact way. The surgery straightened my legs and I am forever grateful to my parents for pressing for it. Another factor was discovering the joys of dancing, and deciding not to spoil my pleasure worrying about what other people might think. I have been dancing ever since and am known locally to freely dance at any opportunity. I have finally made peace with my body hair.
What have you learnt as a result of this challenge?
Moving our body freely and widely is our birthright and those of us who have a fully functional body can rejoice in its range of movement, which is important for continuing wellbeing into old age. It is not necessary to do strenuous, exerting routines to stay well, unless it floats you boat. Rather, it's keeping a wide range of normal movement that reduces our risk of the body gradually shutting down. Feelings of shame about our bodies are widespread and increasing through social media, They are harmful to self-esteem, interfer with doing healthy activity, and cause people to limit what they do for fear of being judged. I feel I have a duty to keep myself well into old age and not rely on receiving services as far as possible.
How do you use this learning in your life now?
I love to dance, especially in the open air, and encourage folks to join me, hoping to break down the barriers people face. In recent years, I have been working as a mobility facilitator, helping people retain or regain ease of movement, using a variety of methods and approaches, including moving to music. I have learnt so much about how the body moves, and how everything in the body and mind integrates and complements each other. The central nervous system controls a finely-tuned balance of a miriad of actions that enable us to move freely and, for example, walk for hours without fatigue. In former times this was essential for obtaining sufficient food, but in recent times we had to invent exercise to compensate for our sedentary lives. It's not age that limits walking but not using the whole body hence it becomes tiring. I help people adjust the way they walk to rediscover ease of movement. https://waystomove.co.uk. [email protected]
What positive message would you like the reader to go away with?
We don't "have" a body, we are our body. Let's rejoice in what it can do and treat our body with respect and care. We have to keep giving every aspect of it little challenges, otherwise we stop being able to function. Find some ways of moving that feel good and keep doing them. Don't take it for granted, and wait to need a carer for essential activities! It doesn't have to be hard work or painful, but a flowing range of movement. No-one need feel ashamed of how they look or have to second guess what other people may think. The more we see the unusual, the more it becomes usual. " We don't stop playing because we grow old, we become old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw