Websites: www.embodyingchange.co.uk and www.sharoncoxcounselling.co.uk ...... I'm a BACP accredited counsellor, working in North Tyneside. I provide counselling for a wide range of psychological and emotional issues, and have a special interest in eating disorders & body image concerns. I also facilitate training courses and workshops around eating disorders, body image, relationships with food and personal development topics. I'm also currently studying part time at York St John University where I'm working towards a PhD in Counselling Studies, researching the embodied experience of the counsellor when working with clients presenting with eating disordered symptomatology. During 2011 I also achieved a Diploma in Clinical Hypnotherapy and have qualified as an NLP Practitioner
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Turning Forty …

A recurring topic of conversation among a number of friends recently has been around turning 40.  Is the age just about the number, or does it mean more than that?

For me personally, the number itself isn’t that important.  I’m 38 now; one day later this month I’ll wake up and I’ll be 39 … but nothing will have changed.  My friends who turn 40 this year will be 39 until the clock turns to midnight on their birthday and in a split second, they’ll be 40 … but nothing will have changed.  Their bodies won’t suddenly morph into something else, their lives won’t change, there is no concrete template for what a 40 year old person should be … everything will still be the same.

Or will it … ?Turning Forty

I think that for some people, their beliefs around what it means to be a particular age really do cause them to change once they approach that particular birthday.  If someone believes that turning 40 labels them as middle-aged, and for them, ‘middle-aged’ has certain behaviours or ways of being attached to it, then they’ll no doubt rapidly change.  For those people who still believe that ‘life begins at 40,’ then they’re more likely to enjoy entering their fifth decade and make the most of the life they’re living; it might even give them permission to begin enjoying life.

Forty, as an age, does carry some significance however.  It’s near enough the mid-point of average age expectancy.  People tend to have established their careers or have some career experience behind them along with families, marriages, divorces and significant deaths.  By 40, people do have a lot of life experience behind them and it can be a time to reflect on the years that have been lived and to evaluate life up until that point.  It’s a time by which childhood ambitions have maybe been fulfilled or recognised as childish dreams.  Or it can be a time to take stock of life and to make plans for the ambitions yet to be fulfilled.  And this is where the so-called ‘mid-life crisis’ (which it is said can take place anytime between 35 and 55) steps in.

In Jungian terms, the mid-life transition is simply part of the maturation and individuation process that we all experience as we become more true to our inner selves.  And for me, this is an exciting, sometimes scary, and  important part of our life’s journey.  It’s not necessarily a comfortable process, but it can be hugely rewarding as the ego is left behind and one’s Self or Soul comes to the fore.

For me 40 is an exciting age and people are at such different life stages.  Some people have 1, 2 or more marriages behind them whilst some still remain single. Some people have grown up children, whilst others are still raising theirs, and even others, have yet to have their children.  Some people have made their name in their career; others are still climbing their particular ladder, changing careers, or simply happy where they are.

It’s an age at which we’ve experienced a lot, have learned a lot, and have made many mistakes.  But there’s still potentially a lot of life yet to be lived.  And as we take the lessons and learnings from our first forty years in this life forward into the future, we have the potential to create our own unique greatness and individuality.

Everyone is unique.  Everyone’s life experience is unique.  And so, everyone’s experience of turning 40 is unique.  I’ve enjoyed being in my thirties, and I intend to make the most of this decade’s final year, but I’m also looking forward to turning 40.  For me, it’s the year I hope to complete my PhD and that will hopefully be an opening to a whole new world for me.  And at 40, I hopefully, have lots of years ahead of me to continue developing my skills and knowledge and sharing that information in many forms for the benefit of others.

For myself, my age is just a numeric symbol of how many years I’ve been alive.  It’s a number that has no other meaning …

 Wishing you all a happy 40th birthday, whenever it happens, and whatever it means …

Is the body more than an object?

In modern western society, we live in a culture where a great deal of emphasis is placed on how we look as opposed to what our bodies actually enable us to do and experience.  This creates a sense of our bodies as objects and creates a sense of disconnection between our bodies and our experiencing of our selves.

In the past, our bodies were experienced and appreciated more as means of production, ensuring we remained connected to, and within them. Before the advent of modern technology we used our bodies more; housework was heavier than it is now, people were more actively involved in the growth and production of their own food.  The machines we use today create a distance between those things and our bodies, and we no longer experience the satisfaction of using our bodies for hard labour. And it seems that the less, as a society, we have the need to use our bodies for production or constructive reasons, the more the emphasis has shifted on to how our bodies look.Detail of a Chinese health poster via no tech magazine  - the body as machine

Turning the body into an object to be sculpted, to be dieted or exercised into an ideal dictated to us by the media and peer pressure, disconnects us from our selves.  Our bodies are part of our selves.  Our bodies are how we present our selves to the world.  Our bodies are from where we relate to other people.  Our bodies are also what enable us to experience our thoughts, feelings and experiences through our five senses.  And yet, by viewing them as objects which need to be changed to fit society’s ideals and expectations, it’s easy to lose sight of, or to lose touch with, the true value and meaning of our bodies; as experiential containers of our selves.

In modern Britain, it’s almost an accepted norm that women especially, but increasingly men too, will be weight and body conscious, or on some kind of restricting diet in order to mould themselves into an ‘ideal’ shape constructed by the media and society.  It seems that many people are more concerned with what society and our culture tell us about how we should look than with listening to their own Selves, to their own bodies. And this is where disordered eating can begin to creep in as people lose touch with their body’s own hunger signals in their attempts to mould their body to fit these ideals. Our bodies, if we learn how to listen clearly to them will tell us what we need to eat.  Our bodies, if we listen to them and satisfy their physiological hunger will settle at a weight that’s right for them; very difficult to achieve though in a culture which prizes thinness, and often thinness to a point below the natural weight of many women.

Our modern Western world is still based on a patriarchal system where the masculine is prized over the feminine. The masculine principles of individuality, rational thought, autonomy and independence are prized above the feminine principles of intuition, feelings and emotion.  A spiritual theory of eating disorders views eating disorders as a ‘Spiritual Hunger’, as a woman’s disconnection from her Self, her Inner Goddess and her inner feminine as a result of trying to fit into this Western world.  People with Greek statue of Aprodite leaning on a pillar - photo credit mharrscheating disorders tend to have highly developed masculine principles to the detriment of their feminine and spiritual side which shows itself both in their character traits and their determination to eliminate their physical feminine body.

The accepted female shape, or what is considered ‘attractive’ has changed considerably over time.  In past centuries, and even today in other cultures, female bodies are valued and worshipped for the amazing vessels which they are; bodies which nourish and create life.   The idea of woman as a goddess, prevalent in ancient times, has been lost in our society, and today instead, we’re fed images of often painfully, or unrealistically, thin models to aspire to.  A healthy woman’s body is meant to contain a percentage of fat (between 21% & 36%, compared to 10% & 25% for men), it’s meant to be curvy to house her internal organs and prepare her for nurturing children.  A female curvy body with rounded stomach, thighs and hips were once valued and worshipped.  Yet today, women strive to eliminate all such curves; and by doing so disconnect themselves from their full experiencing of them-Selves and their experience of living as a woman in a woman’s body.


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