Did you know when you say “I feel fat” it’s actually code for something much deeper?
In a special crossover episode, Leah talks with Kate and Haje on the Human Awareness podcast about body image and how many of us feel our personal worth is defined by how our body looks; how we think once we deal with body image issues they should be done and never recur; and how she learned to overcome numbness related to sexual touch.
Human Awareness podcast: https://open.spotify.com/show/0kiaoruWnwMO2ZmBJghrC7?si=0b2d5ee48f5a4d99
LEAH: Welcome to Good Girls Talk About Sex. I am sex and intimacy coach, Leah Carey, and this is a place to share conversations with all sorts of women about their experience of sexuality. These are unfiltered conversations between adult women talking about sex. If anything about the previous sentence offends you, turn back now! And if you’re looking for a trigger warning, you’re not going to get it from me. I believe that you are stronger than the trauma you have experienced. I have faith in your ability to deal with things that upset you. Sound good? Let’s start the show!
LEAH: Hey friends! I need to tell on myself.
The last several weeks have been topsy-turvy for me. Nothing bad – in fact, there’s been a lot that’s good! But I’ve felt like I’m swimming through molasses and always about 30 seconds away from drowning.
Case in point: I was so excited for this week’s episode. The interview was fantastic and I was eager to share it.
But I completely missed all my deadlines to get that episode out to you this week. And I’m in the midst of missing all my deadline for the next episode as well.
Why am I telling you this? Because I’m seeing a lot of people saying similar things lately. It’s like life has gotten exponentially harder yet again, and we blame ourselves because there’s no definable reason it should have.
After all, we’ve been living with this pandemic for two full years now – we should have this way of living on lock, right?
Actually, it’s exactly the opposite. The analogy I like to use is that we’re faced with a lion (in case it’s not obvious, in this analogy the lion is the pandemic).
Our brains are wired to see a lion, go into a heightened stress response that pushes us to do whatever is necessary to avoid the lion. In the wild, that interaction would take a few seconds, minutes, or – at most – hours. Once the danger had passed, we would go into a physical tremor response that would help our nervous system process whatever chemicals remained in our body and brain. And then we’d move on with our lives.
Here’s what our brains are not even remotely wired for: we’re in a one-room cabin with one door and no windows. There’s a lion standing in the door. The lion has been standing there snarling for TWO YEARS. Occasionally the lion takes a nap, but we always know that if we make too much noise or try to get past it, the lion will wake up and attack.
The longer this state of suspended animation goes on, the harder it is on our brains and our nervous system. There is little to no relief – and in those couple of brief shining moments when we thought, “We’ve done it! We’ve beaten this thing and can go back to normal life!” it has roared back even worse than before.
The stress chemicals in our brains never have a chance to fully recede. And our brain function continues to degrade. And that’s just basic “life in a pandemic,” never mind if you’ve lost your job, had a relationship fall apart, had loved ones die, etc.
So here’s the deal: my brain is not functioning at peak capacity. I’m doing my best to handle the priorities, but there are a lot of things falling through the cracks right now. And the only thing I can do is try to give myself some grace.
But in the meantime, you’re not getting the episode I was planning for today. And you won’t get it next time either. Look for a return to regular episodes at the beginning of March. Hopefully. Fingers crossed. No promises.
For February, I’m going to share with you two interviews I gave recently that I’m really proud of. They both deal with body image and how it affects our experience of our sexuality. You’ll hear echoes of the same messages in both, but we approach the question from two totally different points of view, so I think they’re both worth listening to.
In today’s conversation, I speak with Haje and Kate, hosts of the Human Awareness podcast, which is a production of the Human Awareness Institute, or H-A-I, HAI.
HAI has been around for more than 50 years offering workshops where people can experience personal growth and social change while letting go of ignorance, shame, and fear. They foster a space filled with awareness, acceptance, and love. I’ve taken a couple of their workshops and they’ve been wonderful at giving me a space to slow down and breathe. While the pandemic has pushed all their workshops online, they are just starting to do events in person again.
And here’s where you’ll hear the connection with my work: many of their events are clothing-optional, giving you the opportunity to explore the ways intimacy, love, and sex intertwine and differ. The idea of getting nude in a space filled with people can be extremely intimidating for newbies, and you’ll hear us talk about that process during this conversation.
You’ll also hear us discuss how many of us feel our personal worth is defined by how our body looks; how we think once we deal with body image issues they should be done and never recur; and how the phrase “I feel fat today” is actually pointing at something deeper.
Thanks to Haje and Kate for the beautiful conversation, and for allowing me to share this episode with the Good Girls Talk About Sex audience. If you want to hear more of their conversations look for the Human Awareness podcast on all major podcast providers.
KATE: Hello and welcome to the Human Awareness podcast. I’m here with my co-host, Haje, and this is our fourth season.
HAJE: Hi there. We have spent the last three seasons welcoming brilliant vulnerable and thoughtful people to share their stories. We’ve loved hearing what they have learned about their own human journey through love, intimacy, and sexuality.
KATE: The Human Awareness podcast can’t replace the depth of learning that happens in one of our workshops at the Human Awareness Institute, but we hope that in these interviews, you’re able to catch a glimpse of who we are and what we do.
HAJE: I love that. Should we get started with the interview?
KATE: Yes. Let’s do it.
KATE: Hello everyone. Happy New Year! It’s 2022. I can’t believe we’re here already, but it’s feeling good to me. I hope it’s feeling good to you. And we are beginning season 4 with a really special guest today and, of course, I’m here with my co-host, Haje. Hi, Haje.
HAJE: Here we go with me not finding my mute button. Hello. It’s lovely to be back.
KATE: Welcome back. And we’re here with a guest today that we’re going to be exploring a really lovely beautiful topic to launch a new year actually. I’m just thinking about that for the first time, there’s a lot of stuff in our culture about body stuff at the beginning of the year. And so, we have an amazing guest here to talk a little bit about her journey. Go ahead and introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns, and where you’re calling in from.
LEAH: Sure. So, my name is Leah Carey. My pronouns are she/her and I am in Portland, Oregon.
KATE: Awesome. How’s it feeling in Portland right now? Is it cold?
LEAH: It’s a little chilly, but Portland has felt like the epicenter of the apocalypse for much of the last few years. So, right now, it’s blissfully calm.
KATE: Good. I’m glad. May that continue forward as the trend for the year, yes. Okay. I want to begin, Leah, we were talking just a little bit right before we pushed pause about how we really love it when people are willing to come on the podcast and share their own stories, even centered around these topics, but just bringing themselves in. You had such a delightful warm response to that of, “I’m an open book.” And so, I might just start with asking you to tell us a little bit about your story and why does this topic about embodiment, self-love, being in your body, why does that resonate for you?
LEAH: Gosh, where to start? So, I grew up in a home where there was a lot of emotional trauma around my body. My father was an alcoholic, emotionally abusive, who around the time that I started growing breasts, started talking to me about how I was getting too fat. Now, mind you, at the time, I totally believed what he was saying because, of course, he was my father. I was going to take his word as truth. I look back at pictures now and I’m astonished to see that I was like a bean pole. I was so skinny, but my dad would say to me, “You’re getting big.”
The big thing, or at least the phrase that landed for me with I think the greatest degree of emphasis was, “Boys won’t like you if you don’t have pretty legs.” And I happened to have inherited my mother’s very heavy Eastern European peasant legs. There was nothing genetically that I could do about that, but I took it on as this thing that I needed to fix. And until I fixed it, I was totally unlovable and I was a second-class citizen who was defective.
And then, on top of that, my dad was also being sexually inappropriate with me. And I want to be very clear that that was not hands-on, but he was emotionally sexually inappropriate with me, talking to me about my body in sexual ways, talking about his sex life with my mother, talking about other women sexually with me and in front of me. It was all really, really confusing. And then, also at the same time, he was saying to me that he needed to lock me in a room until I was 30 because he would have to break the kneecaps of any boy who showed interest in me.
HAJE: If we’re playing a toxic masculinity bingo here, I think we would have won by now.
LEAH: Right? I don’t want to say the most because every person has their own different story, but for me, it was incredibly confusing. Am I so unattractive and unlovable that no one will ever want me or am I so attractive and so desirable that I have to be protected from the world? And so, what I did was just completely shut down. Internally, I was boy crazy. Eventually, I would also be girl crazy.
LEAH: But all of that stuff was still happening internally. But on the outside, you would never know it. I did not flirt. I didn’t make eye contact with people I was interested in. I didn’t know how to speak to anyone I was interested in because it felt dangerous to me. If somebody expressed interest in me, I ran away literally. The couple of times I remember people expressing interest in me when I was in high school, I literally would pick up my books and flee the room because I did not know how to handle that.
And so, all of this spun up into really terrible body image issues. No one is ever going to love me because my legs don’t look right. And over time, I also began to gain weight like a self-fulfilling prophecy from my dad. He told me I was overweight and I wasn’t. So, in order to align myself with his vision of me, I gained weight. Now, obviously, none of that was conscious, but it was certainly happening.
And so, I lived like this into my early 40s, having such a difficult time not even learning, not having any idea how to present myself in the world so that I could be lovable, so that I could be attractive or desirable and get the kind of love that I wanted. So, instead I settled for the people who showed up, who were mostly varying levels of abusive because that’s what I thought that I deserved.
KATE: Yeah. Leah, I want to zero in on this theme that I’m hearing in what you’re speaking to, which is I want to be very conscious not to spend a lot of time in this podcast polarizing male and female in this, but I think that for a lot of female identifying people or children who have female bodies and are being responded to that way in our culture, there’s this really strong link between my physical appearance, how others respond to that physical appearance and giving messages about that, and my worth, my sense of love.
I’m hearing you say, not only am I something you have to hide away because my whole worth’s wrapped up in whether someone finds me attractive or not and if they like me, they’re going to take me away, and therefore, I have to hide and be vulnerable to the man who might have prying eyes, but then this other conflicting message of, you’re not good enough. No one’s ever going to ever going to love you because of your physical appearance. I resonate with that so strongly. And I wonder if you can point to, is there a place where that narrative started to dissolve a little bit for you? The strong link between how I am in the world physically equals my worth? You know what I’m speaking to?
LEAH: Yes. Thank you for asking that question because I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Those of us who were brought up as little girls, we’re told that our worth was inextricably linked to how we look. Not to say that little boys don’t also get that same message, but it is a much more present loud message for those of us who were brought up as little girls.
For me, the change didn’t come until after both my parents were deceased, which my father died back in 2000, so he’s been gone a long time. But even with him gone, I perpetuated his voice in my own head. I had become so loyal to his voice that I didn’t let it die with him. So, when my mom got sick and my mom and I were very, very close, she got sick and passed away in 2015. And for the first time, I didn’t have to live up to anybody else’s expectations of me. I could let go of that voice in my head that always said, “You have to be the good little girl who fulfills everybody’s expectations of you, who does the right thing, so that you make everybody else look good.”
My mother never enforced that with me. That was just not a thing in our relationship, but it’s such a cultural thing that I held onto it without realizing it until after she died. It’s really hard to say it because I miss her so much, but the truth is that after she died, I was free to become my own person rather than to become the person who I had been brought up to be.
And that led me to I decided to take a year to travel the United States and figure out what I wanted from my life and where I was going to land next. I was very fortunate that my mom owned her home, so I was able to sell it to fund this trip. And in the process of that, I started exploring my sexuality. And that’s a bit of a longer story, but what’s really relevant to this conversation is that I ended up finding my way into rooms where people were nude together. It’s not something I ever could have done in the past. I would have been apoplectic of people seeing my body.
KATE: Great word.
LEAH: But it started with a friend who encouraged me to go to, the word bathhouse is wrong because that brings up a lot of sexual connotations, but just like a bathing facility where it’s clothing optional that has hot tubs and things. And I remember taking off my clothes and wrapping myself in a towel in the changing room, and then scurrying out to where the hot tub was and noticing that the hooks for the towels were about ten feet away from the hot tub and thinking, “Oh, shit. How is this going to work?”
LEAH: And just taking the towel off and as quickly as I could, hanging it up on the hook, and again, scurrying like a little rat over to the hot tub, all hunched over trying to hide all my bits. And once I got into the hot tub, and okay, I’m underwater now.
LEAH: It’s okay. People can’t see anymore. I started watching how other people were moving in that space and realizing that by scurrying and hiding myself in that way, I was bringing more attention to myself because most people were just walking around being naked.
LEAH: And that was for me, the first recognition that, “Oh, nobody here cares how I look. They’re just here doing their thing. What can I do to be more like them?”
KATE: Yeah. For most people who listen to the HAI podcast, at this point, if you’re four seasons in, probably you’ve heard that a lot of our workshops, our in-person workshops are clothing optional.
KATE: Spoiler alert. And this is a huge part of that because it’s the process of letting go of a cultural barrier. Because one of the biggest takeaways I had from my first workshop at HAI was clothes became functional for the first time rather than also or even primarily a barrier to intimacy, a barrier to being seen. And it is liberating, I can relate, and also terrifying for the first time.
LEAH: So terrifying.
LEAH: And the thing is that people will never understand it until they experience it. It’s not the kind of thing that you can explain to somebody and at some point, they’ll be like, “Oh, yes. I understand now and I’m going to do the thing.” It’s like they have to go through their own total disintegration of their brain in order to get there. That was a terrible way to say that, but they have to go through all the fear themselves. You can’t be talked out of the fear of doing it.
I love the Anaïs Nin quote about, and I don’t have it word for word, but at some point, it became too painful to stay in a bud, so the flower opened up and became a blossom, or the blossom opened up and became a flower. That’s how it felt for me. I was in so much pain from having been so unhappy for my life that I had to do something different. And it turned out the gateway for me to doing something different was allowing myself to expose my body.
Another thing that I did, so I ended up joining this group here in Portland called Sex Positive Portland. It’s a little bit more sexually focused than HAI, but there are lots of clothing optional events. And that became incredibly important to me in exploring my relationship with my body. The sex part was fun and I enjoyed it and I learned a lot of stuff about myself there, but it was really the nudity part that helped me come home to my body because I realized I was so afraid that when I walked in that room, people were going to look at me and be like, “Oh my god, put your clothes on. Nobody wants to see all of that.” It was so deeply ingrained in me that my body was unacceptable that I was certain I would be rejected.
And what happened instead was I walked into that room and everybody was naked and everybody had a “flawed” body by conventional attractiveness standards and my body was just as “normal” as every other body in that room. Regardless of size, regardless of shape, regardless of physical ability, we were all just there being bodies together. It so profoundly changed my relationship with my body.
And something that I’ve noticed since the pandemic began because obviously, we’re not having in-person activities or we haven’t been, those have started up a little bit although they’re getting cancelled again because of the variant, but over the course of the pandemic of not being in those spaces, my body image has regressed some. My experience of my own body has taken a backslide because I’m not in those rooms reminding myself on a regular basis my body is just as normal as every other body here.
KATE: Yeah. I had a different question I wanted to ask, which I’ll get to, but I just want to take a moment on that because it feels profound to me because I think that there’s this idea similar to a lot of different areas of personal growth that you’re just supposed to get there with loving your body. You know what I mean? Once you’ve figured it out, it should be that way all the time. And I think like many other things, it’s a process. There’s regression involved. There’s, “Okay, I got to a place where I really felt really good about myself, and then now a month later, I’m struggling again.” And I just appreciate that you just normalized that, so thank you for that, yeah.
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KATE: So, I do have a question for you and I am notorious for asking complicated questions, so this may be at some point, Part A and Part B can come later. And I want to give Haje a chance to ask you questions too, of course. Okay. So, the two things I have in my head is on one hand, I want to take us back a little bit into talking openly about what it is like to feel really uncomfortable in our bodies because I think it’s common to say, “Ugh, I feel fat” or “I don’t really like how I look” or “I’m struggling with body image,” but I wonder if you might be willing to unpack the emotion that sits there in the heart when you’re struggling with your body and what that’s like on a real visceral level. So, that’s my first question. I’ll pause there.
LEAH: Okay. Yeah, so that’s a big question.
LEAH: So, I am now friends with a bunch of people in the body neutrality space. And so, that is a kind of language that I really resonate with. And one of the things that I see them saying so frequently is fat is not a feeling. When you say you feel fat, it’s not actually a real thing. You’re feeling not lovable. You’re feeling unattractive. There are lots of different things that that I feel fat might be pointing to. I feel fat is not actually a thing. I feel sad because the clothes in my closet don’t look the way that I want them to. I feel uncomfortable because I saw somebody notice my body in a way that I didn’t like. There are lots of different things. And I’m going to say right up front, there are lots of times in my life that I have said, “I feel fat. Today, I’m having a fat day.” No, you’re not.
LEAH: But what I was feeling was profoundly undeserving and unworthy of love and that was the language that I knew for it because again, that’s how we train the people we bring up as little girls to look at themselves. Female sexuality is used to sell just about everything. I joke it’s used to sell everything from a cheeseburger to a high-end car and sometimes, it’s a cheeseburger on top of a high-end car. The model is laying on the car eating a cheeseburger.
LEAH: That’s how we see the female form is as something that helps to sell us on something. And if we don’t look like that idealized form, it’s so easy to look at ourselves and say, “I am not worthy.” When in fact, that person doesn’t look like that either. They have been made up and had their hair done and they’re airbrushed and they’re lit in a certain way and they’re posed in a certain way.
A friend of mine, who’s in the body neutrality movement, she used to work as a personal trainer for some of the Victoria’s Secret models and she says they would come in to each session and be like, “Here’s the thing that I’m not happy with that we need to work on getting rid of.” Even the Victoria’s Secret models don’t think that they have “perfect” bodies. This thing is a total myth.
KATE: It’s a total myth and I’m so grateful I asked you that question because you answered it so beautifully. And I think there’s an emptiness, there’s a sadness, there’s like a never ending, never good enough bucket in each of us that’s like you have in the media, we could talk about the media forever being the problem of all of this, but bringing it back to your life experience too, in this weird backwards way, even the people who love us perpetuate this myth, maybe the most harmfully. We can see these ads on television, that’s one thing, but it’s deep when it’s our dad, when it’s our brother, when it’s our sister.
LEAH: Yeah, even the people who love us the most. Now, we can call my father dirty names because he did some really shitty stuff, but my mom she loved me the best way she knew how. She was a really amazing parent. She had all of her own foibles, but she really loved me the best way she knew how. And she never said anything to me about my body or how I looked, nothing negative. But she talked about her own body in incredibly negative terms. And I learned that, I soaked that in from her. This is how women do it. And I look like my mother, so my body must be like that too. So, all of this is happening below the surface and it is so rare unfortunately for anybody to grow up without taking it on to some degree.
KATE: Yeah. I think that’s really right. I want to pivot just a moment to my part B was, I wonder if you can explore with us a little bit about the link you see between one’s relationship with our own body and sexuality. So, in some of these spaces, you described there’s both in the space. There’s acceptance for the body, but then there’s also sex. And so, if we’re in pain about our body, how does that impact our sex? And vice versa, how can sex be both harming and/or healing in our relationship with our body?
LEAH: Yeah. These are such great questions. I love it.
KATE: You’re answering them beautifully, so thank you for that.
LEAH: Okay. So, you cannot at the same time be worried about how your body looks and also enjoying how your body feels. Those are two things that cannot operate in the same space. Similarly, you cannot be performing what you think that sex is supposed to look like and sound like at the same time that you are enjoying the sensations of that sex. So, you can’t be so focused on the outer of someone looking in at you at how you look, how you’re performing, all of that. You can’t be focused on the outer and also experiencing the inner.
So, in that way, as long as we are dealing with our own internal monologue about how, “I’m too fat, I don’t want my partner to see my stomach in this position, I only want to have sex with the lights off because I’m afraid of blah, blah, blah,” you can’t be having all of that in our monologue and also relax into, “Oh my god, this feels so good. I just want them to keep touching me.” Those are two really different spaces.
And so, coming to some kind of peace, even if it’s a momentary peace with our bodies, finding a way to quiet that voice is one of the doorways to accessing more sexual pleasure and sexual sensation. I thought for a really long time that my nervous system was in some way broken because I didn’t experience sexual sensation. If somebody just touched my arm, I could feel that, but as soon as somebody touched my arm in a sexual way, I couldn’t feel it. I literally was numb. And I thought that there was something terribly wrong with me.
What was wrong was as soon as somebody started touching me, my brain was off to the races about how I wasn’t lovable or worthy or what if I do this and I disappoint them and all of those things. So, doing the work and again for me, I will admit that not everybody has the same path, but I will tell you that for me, being in those nude spaces with other nude people was how I kept bringing myself back to my own body and remembering it’s okay. There are people in this room who find me attractive and there are other people who don’t and that’s okay too. One other quick story, during this journey of sexual healing, I took myself to Jamaica for five days to the swingers’ resort Hedonism II.
KATE: Great title.
LEAH: It was way outside my comfort zone.
LEAH: And I didn’t end up having any sexual interaction with anyone for those five days, but what I did was I found a hammock that I laid in for those five days with my book and I just watched people walk by. I just looked at people being in their bodies and I remember I just kept telling myself because I think you would imagine that only thin beautiful people go to those places, in fact, there were people there of literally every body size and shape from very, very large to very, very small and every single one of them had somebody looking at them with desire.
KATE: That’s beautiful.
LEAH: That’s what I keep going back to. No matter what you look like, there is somebody who wants to love on you and that helps me to stay in touch with my own body.
HAJE: Yeah. That’s beautiful. And I think I’m seeing that a lot in the HAI workshops too. I recently redid the first workshop for the second time. And the first time I did it, this is not a big spoiler alert, there’s a disrobing ceremony where you’re invited to undress. And the first time, I don’t remember it happening and I have a feeling I may have been in deep trigger.
And that is fascinating to me because as we were leading up to this conversation, I was talking to Kate and I was like, “You know what? This body image stuff, I am standing on such a mountain of privilege there.” I was bullied relentlessly as a kid like really, really badly, but somehow that part of it that never stuck. And even with that, even with having the privilege of being a tall white guy essentially, I was in a place where it was really difficult to even think about being naked in front of people.
And then, doing it the second time, when I knew what was going to happen and I had actually brought a partner there who had never done HAI before, it was so delightful to be able to look around the room and see how people were reacting and how some people were clearly quite activated and other people had this sense of curiosity about them and supporting everybody in the room through that with curiosity and love and beauty.
That feeling you mentioned of walking into a room of naked people and feeling like you need to hide, I sense the first time I did that. The second time, I just stood proudly. I was like, “I’ve done this before. I’ve got this.” And it’s incredible how quickly that becomes normalized. Three hours later, everybody’s walking around naked and you don’t even notice it anymore.
KATE: Yeah. There does seem to be this important piece on our journey with ourselves and our bodies. I think even the people who have bodies who resemble close to the ideal, who maybe don’t have a lot of extra stuff heaped on them, although that’s not always the case either, but there’s still this your body is really private. There’s something wrong if you’re exposed. And I think there is this unconscious, unseen narrative for everybody in this culture that our bodies are not okay except in these very small places like the shower or a committed partner, whatever the story is.
Leah, you were talking about how part of your journey coming to love yourself more, being more comfortable in your body, it required quieting some of those really loud voices inside of your head. And I think one of the ways that we can do that is to normalize for ourselves being naked, being exposed with others and not having that result in our immediate death the way that it sometimes feels like it will. Social death, yes.
LEAH: Yeah. And something else that I always recommend to people because very frequently when I talk about this, people are like, “There’s no way I’m doing that, so what else can you recommend?”
KATE: That’s fair, yeah.
LEAH: And so, the place that I recommend people start is most of us are on social media at this point, if you’re on Instagram, for instance, that you look at your feed and see how many aspirational people you’re following. Those are the people who are thin, white, pretty, usually blonde, and there may be some people of color in there, but they still are thin and pretty and with a great smile and a big personality, that is the person who fills a lot of our feeds. And so, I would challenge you to mute those people for a day, for a week, for a month, whatever you feel like you can do, and actively go look for some people in the body neutrality space or even the body positivity space, except that is now being taken over by thin, white women.
So, body neutrality is the place often where you can find this now or #DitchTheDiet is another one, especially in January, that’s a big one. But really look for people who are showing real bodies. Because what happens is if 99% of the images that you take in are of thin white women, that’s what you’re going to compare yourself to because it’s the only barometer that your nervous system has. If you start to fill your media consumption with people who live in real bodies, not photoshopped bodies, but real women bodies, that will begin to reset your nervous system to understanding, oh, that’s the normal average body. And then, it becomes much more okay to live in our own bodies because we’re not comparing ourselves against this fantasy.
HAJE: Yeah, absolutely. I love that. And I feel like we collectively live with such a heavy weight on us and I think that is the media. I think that is the from every angle, we are assaulted by the Hollywood thing. But I think Hollywood, we’re almost able to filter that out as not real. And I think what you just mentioned about the everyday Instagram, Facebook, etc., that is almost more damaging because they’re closer to home. These are meant to be real people, but they are also not that. That makes it really, really insidious.
LEAH: Yeah. Not only are they real people, but we see them so often in our feed that it almost begins to feel like they’re our friends. They are a part of our world. That’s really interesting what you’re saying that, I think that people still definitely their body image issues get triggered by seeing beautiful people on TV, but there is still a screen between us. There is still this understanding that they’re living their life and I’m out here watching. Whereas with social media, it’s like, “Oh, they’re here in my phone. They’re here right next to my best friend showing off her new baby.” And there’s an immediacy and a closeness that I think that can fool you into believing.
KATE: Yeah. And then, you add in TikTok where they just feed in thousands of strangers and it’s so much worse. Leah, we’ve got like ten minutes with you at the most. And so, I also want to just ask you another question. Okay. Leah, we’re wrapping up towards the end of the podcast and I am loving where you’re going with this solution of like let’s be conscious of how we curate our social medias. I love that.
And I also wonder about in the previous podcast, we talked about the power of speech on our psyches and I wonder if you’ve ever engaged in any conscious re-storytelling for yourself, giving yourself maybe affirmations or any kind of positive messages for yourself and/or any other tactics you have for building that relationship with your body that’s positive.
LEAH: It’s like you can see into my history of therapy. I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy.
KATE: Give us what you got.
LEAH: Yeah. There is a lot of stuff. And a lot of it is about going back and re-messaging the memories I have with my dad. So, for instance, this is a little more complicated than just a mantra or something like that, but I was working with a therapist and we were doing EMDR, which is both talk and body activation for people who are not familiar with it. I got a lot out of it.
And we were going back to this moment where my father would say to me, “Boys won’t like you if you don’t have pretty legs.” And no matter what I did, I had talked about that in so many bloody therapy sessions and it was not moving at all. And so, my therapist just looked at me and said, “What do you think it would take for it to move?” And I was like, “Oh, wait. Nobody’s ever asked me that before. Let me think about it.” And what popped to mind was Harry Potter. I am a big fan of Harry Potter, which is a little complicated these days.
LEAH: But this was before things got really complicated. I remembered the scene with Neville Longbottom with the, not a dementor, what are they called?
KATE: Which scene is this?
LEAH: Shoot, the thing where they can change into whatever form.
KATE: Oh, yes. The boggart.
LEAH: The boggart, thank you so much. And Professor is teaching them how to deal with the boggart and it comes out and Lupin says, “Who’s the scariest person?” And I apologize for anybody who’s not a Potterhead, this is maybe not going to make any sense to you. But Lupin says, “Who’s the scariest person to you?” And Neville says, “Professor Snape.” And he says, “What can you do to make Professor Snape look laughable or become funny?” And they end up putting Neville’s grandmother’s coat and her hat that has like a crow or something on it and her little handbag all onto Professor Snape. It makes everybody laugh and that weakens the boggart. And so, this pops to my mind when my therapist says to me, “What do you think might help to move this issue?” And I said, “I wonder if there’s anything I could do to make my father seem laughable or to make this experience seem funny.” And she said, “Great, do that.”
LEAH: And that was the end of our session, so I had a week to think about it. And I thought putting silly clothes on him is not going to help. But this was in the aftermath of the former president being elected and seeing how he was dealing with things and how he was like a toddler who was bullying the rest of the world and I thought, “Oh, maybe there’s something there” because actually the former president really reminds me of my dad.
And there were these cartoons coming out like political cartoons that were showing the former president as a toddler in his little bully tantrums. And so, I imagined that in this moment with my dad, he was saying to me, “Nobody will ever love you if you don’t have pretty legs,” but he was that toddler having a tantrum and saying, “Nobody will ever like you if you don’t have pretty legs.” And I was like, “That’s ridiculous.”
KATE: I love it.
LEAH: And again, I can’t say that that phrase has lost all of its power over me, it’s still there, but I can hold it in such a different place when I think of it that way. It really saps a lot of the power out of it.
KATE: Leah, wow. I just love that and I’m going to steal that because it’s just brilliant.
KATE: And the spell, so the boggart is your worst fear and you beat it by making it ridiculous and the spell is Riddikulus or something like that? Yeah.
LEAH: Yes, thank you.
KATE: And you used that word, it’s ridiculous. And I think that it so applies to so much of the pain we take on about our bodies. It’s ridiculous. It’s so laughable and I think that it’s just brilliant to put it into that mindset, to take out of the heavy and serious and the all-encompassing, and allow it to have levity, so that we can fuck that, reject that. I love it. That’s beautiful.
KATE: This has just been juicy. I’m so happy to have you on this podcast and you do such a beautiful job talking about a topic that I think we’ve really been needing to talk about for a long time. I’m so grateful to you. Thank you.
HAJE: It was so funny too. So, I just went upstairs to come and record this podcast and I’m actually in the house with another HAI person right now and I said, “I’m so excited. I’m going to talk on the HAI podcast about body image.” And she without batting an eyelid was like, “Oh, you’re going to talk about how fat I am?” And I was like, “Jesus, woman.”
HAJE: “You have done this work for so long and yeah, that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about.” So, when you started this podcast with your fat is not a feeling, I was like, “Yeah, no.” And it’s so present for so many people and it is so sad that this is so prevalent that so many of us take our value from how sexually attractive we are to other people and that we actually become, in a way, our own detractors in the process. And I’m just like we don’t need to do that. That is completely unnecessary.
LEAH: Yeah. And I really want to acknowledge that while we talk about this a lot in terms of those of us who were brought up as little girls, people who are brought up as little boys did not escape this particular trauma. It out pictures differently, manifests differently for them, for you. And that doesn’t make it any less difficult or any less valid.
KATE: Yeah. And I would add that there’s a whole another podcast about what it feels like when you don’t feel like you don’t belong in the body you live in. So, you add on gender dysphoria or any other kind of experience of being non-binary, it’s a whole another kettle of fish. So, I want to call that out and acknowledge that. And I think it’d be great if we had another whole body image podcast about that at some point. But Leah, thank you so much for your time today and just giving me so much yummy things to think about and continue to put it into my toolbox as I continue to work on this for myself. Thank you.
HAJE: Yeah. I love that.
LEAH: Thank you for having me.
KATE: All right, my friends. We’ll see you on the next episode. Leah, is there any way that our listeners can continue to keep in touch with you and continue to hear your lovely voice?
LEAH: Yes, absolutely. So, I have a podcast. It’s called Good Girls Talk About Sex.
HAJE: I love that.
KATE: Me too.
LEAH: Thank you. I do too.
LEAH: Quick funny story. So, in the podcast, I interview people about their sex lives and I sent it to some friends after I did a test interview to see if it was something that they would listen to, to get their feedback. And one of my friends who’s very snarky responded, “I can’t listen to this. Good girls don’t talk about sex.” And I was like, “Clearly, then that needs to be the title.”
LEAH: For the record, it is not just good girls. It is bad girls and it is non-binary people and it is transwomen, transmen. It’s all over the place, people who grew up in little girl bodies plus transwomen and everyday people who I interview about their sex lives. It’s just regular people talking about their regular stories, not anything fancy or wild. And so, yeah, Good Girls Talk About Sex, you can find that on any of your regular podcasting platforms. And I am also a sex and intimacy coach. And if you’re interested in that, you can find me at www.leahcarey.com.
KATE: Beautiful. Thank you so much and I hope you just have a wonderful rest of your day, enjoying the ease in Portland and we’ll talk again soon. Thank you, Leah.
LEAH: Thank you so much.
HAJE: Thank you both.
KATE: And as always, it was a pleasure to have you with us.
HAJE AND KATE: See you soon!
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