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Thursday, 22 March 2001

Letters About Changing Body Image: Felice Consults with Dancer-Friend Fa

Written by  Fa Chu Ebert

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Dear Fa,

Over the years, we have exchanged opinions on how to respect and care for our bodies, tbe aware of the body, respect limitations, and be on guard for injury.

Today there is a strong emphasis on aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility for every age. A personal trainer at the neighborhood gym believes that these three components are essential for healthy living. Recently, he helped a ninety-year-old woman get stronger with lifting weights twice a week and so he is convinced that no matter what the age, anyone who really wants to and is disciplined can make significant change. He is sure that this is one of the ways of pursuing a vibrant active life.

Exercise has been scientifically shown to release endorphins and so it is a natural pick-me-up, enhancing self-esteem and giving an overall good feeling. I guess one of my questions is, how much exercise? How much of an effort does one make to stay in shape? How does one remain at ease in one's aging body, a body that the pervasive youth culture does not usually view as attractive?

How does one remain at ease in one's aging body, a body that the pervasive youth culture does not usually view as attractive?

A colleague mentioned that he feels out of shape and less attractive and that his age and looks are hurting him professionally. He is debating some light cosmetic surgery to improve his chances for a specific high power job. From his experience, his age has been a negative factor in getting and keeping some jobs.

Rachel, a good friend, who originally came from Algeria, is in her sixties. She recently commented that she always feels sexy and attractive, and she couldn't care less about not conforming to the contemporary definitions of beauty. She says that her legs are like piano legs, thick and solid and she feels they are very grand. What Rachel feels about herself comes through. There is a self-acceptance that is attractive and appealing and ageless.

I am curious as to where you stand. What do you think of cosmetic surgery, of nips and tucks, of fighting against the inevitable? Has Chinese philosophy influenced you in your approach to the body? What is a natural way of aging? Is there more of an acceptance of the natural way of aging?

Sincerely,

Felice

Dear Felice,

As a dancer and professional who teaches exercise, I would answer your first question by saying that exercise should be a part of one's life, like eating and sleeping. It is basic for life. Exercise focuses on staying healthy, on maintaining what there is. You are one total, you feel generally better, the body stays alert and the mind is affected. Exercising affects quality of life. If you stop exercising, you lose those important gains.

Every person should exercise age appropriately. A person of 60 should not do what a 40 year old does.

Every person should exercise age appropriately. A person of 60 should not do what a 40 year old does. I am against overly strenuous aerobic exercise; the extreme jumping, the lack of feedback, the possibility of injury can all be deleterious. I believe in moderation. Another important thing to remember is to choose your exercise according to your interest. Stretching and toning exercises, yoga, swimming, tai-chi are all good choices. Otherwise it is too hard to maintain exercise as an essential part of the weekly calendar.

Aging is not only about gray hair and the body hanging down; it is many things at once. Aging can be about looking at your past, what you have built, the personal achievements, the things you have learned and contributed and what you can potentially contribute.

At the same time, aging can feel lonely, depending on the context. If your context includes close family and friends, part of aging is heartwarming. You celebrate shared experiences. You radiate how you feel -- body language, posture, and carriage are transmitted.

Your posture can radiate grace. Walk as if an imaginary string is connected to the top of your head, pulling you up, stretching and lifting yourself up. Don't feel like a broken-down person. It sounds old-fashioned but I think it is old wisdom that fits contemporary life. If you hold yourself too closed, people feel a wall.

Here is an exercise to maintain supple open movement. Any position is okay but standing -- which tones the whole body, pumps blood circulation and makes you more alert -- is ideal for this exercise. Slowly move the various joints of your body. Circle, up and down, bend, stretch, focusing one at a time on each of your joints from the toes up -- ankles, knees, hips, waist, spine, chest, shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, neck. Finally, squeeze the face towards the nose, stretching eyes and mouth wide open towards the ears and relax. Take a deep breath and let it go. It is good to do this a minimum of four times a day.

Feel good; be more careful about how you dress. Smile, stretch the face muscles -- taut muscles make one look older and not receptive to the outside. If someone thinks a little surgery will help, I am not opposed although one should remember that it is only a temporary solution.

Regarding creams, although they are recommended for the middle-aged woman, they are usually shown on a twenty-year-old model!! Nonetheless, a good cream can temporarily improve skin texture and contribute to a glowing look, as can makeup.

You radiate how you feel -- body language, posture, and carriage are transmitted.

We are flooded by youth culture that creates a dark feeling about aging. Aging is not only about suffering. As a Chinese woman, I say, honor the changes. Accept and see yourself as a whole. There are almost no representations in the media of older, attractive people. Don't be influenced by that. Look inside yourself and see your reflection; how you have lived and what aging has brought with it. People turn to elders for advice, for wisdom that comes from accumulated knowledge and experience. There is a reflexive giving and receiving in life that keeps one vital. Isn't this beauty?

Chinese philosophy is very foreign to western society but perhaps people can benefit from the approach that honors the elderly; as an elder one has more self- confidence, more privileges. The young person has not yet contributed. Carry yourself as a queen; see yourself as an elder, walk with dignity.

Sincerely,

Fa

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Fa Chu Ebert

Fa Chu Ebert, a former dancer, is an educator in dance, theatre and physical fitness.

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