by May Bleeker, 13 March 2009
In 2007 something happened to me that forever changed the way I think about the term 'body image'.
Before this I thought of it as the standard definition:
The way I think my body looks, or the way I think other people think my body looks.
But this is just one layer of understanding. The surface layer.
Just before, and during recovery from an operation I discovered another side to it. Besides the external image (what I look like on the outside), which we can call the first layer, or even the internal image (ideas and attitudes about what I look like) which we can call the second layer, there are other, deeper layers to be found.
Bear with me, please. This is difficult to explain in words.
Besides the physical appearance we can all see in the mirror and the mental concept we have of ourselves (i.e. our body image), there is another way of viewing our physical selves. This view involves metaphors. Metaphors linking dimensions of our physical selves with the deeper, wider, outer/inner world we exist within.
(I say outer/inner - because in reality there is no actual distinction between these! We only think there is!)
Images contain lots of information. They can convey this information much more directly that words, which have to describe every detail.
Metaphors are also containers of information. They add layers of meaning. By putting certain words together (which don't in reality usually belong together) the association that is implied adds another dimension to your understanding.
For example saying you have a 'broken heart' is a metaphor. Your heart is not actually physically broken. But saying its 'broken' gives people an idea of just how bad it is hurting. When you say your heart is broken, people understand that it is hurting as if it is in pieces.
Your mental body image - in the way we usually talk about it - consists of information about your physical appearance (or what you believe to be your physical appearance). But there is also another dimension to explore. The metaphorical body.
This 'view' of your body contains information that runs deeper and is more symbolic in nature than your everyday ideas of your physical self. It seems to relate to what a particular part of your body (or the whole) stands for. And at different depths, a part of your body can stand for different things.
I know. This might not be making sense to you. But read on! Try! I implore you!
Somehow, through some twist of my circumstances and make-up, these layers of information have become more available to me. And as I have found, they can have immense practical value.
Its like looking at your body and suddenly seeing there is more to it. Much, much more than your physical eyes see. Its all about meanings.
At first I didn't know what to call what was happening. I was suddenly 'conversing' with different parts of my body and information was flowing back at me! Then during one conversation with my 'knees' the term 'metaphorical body' came up, so that's what I'm calling it now.
Before you think I'm crazy let me explain how this conversation with my 'knees' came about.
Because this is a long story I've split it into parts to make for easier reading. These are the parts:
Part 2 - The metaphorical body speaking
Part 3 - Conversations with my toes and stomach
Part 4 - Conversation with my knees
Part 5 - Insights from my stomach
Part 6 - Conversations with my skin, heart, blood
Part 7 - How conversations with my body improved my life