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Dr Fiona Holland explains what made her realise that re-evaluating judgements about our bodies to promote self-esteem was an important area to look into…

I became interested in body-based messages while studying sport psychology and when I later worked for a company that offered nutrition counselling, exercise programming and self-esteem training for people who were clinically overweight or obese. I realised that people – especially women – struggle with messages about food and health, regardless of their shape or size.

I later learned about the work of Jonathan Robison and Karen Carrier, who proposed that health and wellness should be redefined and messages around weight, exercise and food re-evaluated as people were feeling increasingly less at peace with their bodies. They suggested that people should move away from diet and exercise regimes and towards learning what their bodies needed in terms of food and movement. In my massage training that followed, I realised that touch could help people reconnect with their bodies and I led a study with women who, via receiving massage, began to feel more positive about their bodies.

In my private practice I came across many clients who used body-shaming statements and I supported them in moving beyond these, using massage and more neutral language. As a lecturer and researcher, I discovered that body esteem and dissatisfaction is essentially rooted in our self-esteem and self-beliefs, with many people constantly striving for the unreachable body ideals we are fed by the media. I aim to help both therapists and clients to free themselves from this energy-sapping process and to befriend their body by appreciating what it can do rather than solely what it looks like.

PS. Dr Fiona Holland will be hosting the lecture: Building body esteem: re-evaluating judgements about the bodies we live in and work with (8 July, 3.30pm-4.45pm). www.fht.org.uk/50

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