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Empowering Women By Building Positive Body Image

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

What would you do if someone told you that you’re fat? There’s practically only two things you can do about this type of comment, you can either take it and respond gracefully or it can tear your confidence down and you go into a defensive mode, depression, and stress.

According to studies, 93% of women don’t like their body. Well, that’s a sad number! I think it’s really worth talking about this issue and how we can build a positive body image for everyone, no matter what their age is.

Join us in this episode as we listen more from Kathy Smith and how she helps empower women to build a positive body image.

Read Full Transcript

Donny Osmond: Hi, I'm Donny Osmond, and welcome to the Brain Warriors Way, hosted by my friends Daniel and Tana Amen. Now in this podcast, you're going to learn that the war for your health is one between your ears. That's right, if you're ready to be sharper and have better memory, mood, and focus, well then stay with us. Here are Daniel and Tana Amen.
Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We are here with our friend Kathy Smith, and having such a good time. But we're going to get really serious on a little issue-
Tana Amen: and a little personal.
Dr Daniel Amen: That devastates many, many people; especially women. Do you want to introduce her?
Tana Amen: I do. Kathy, thank you so much for being here, and I know you have touched to many women's lives in a very personal way; millions of women, actually, me included. I mentioned when we first introduced you in our first podcast that you touched me at a very difficult time in my life, and it's something that I've just recently started sharing with people. It's not easy to be vulnerable for us women; I used to have that disease of perfectionism.
I suffered severe depression; I grew up very poor. Learned how to use exercise as medicine, and you were one of the people that I used to exercise to, especially during difficult times in my life. But I had this idea of what I should look like, and it wasn't being overly thin; for me it was being muscular. But being perfect, and there was this body image and this idea of who I needed to be that when I didn't measure up, I would beat myself up and it was pretty toxic.
I'm going to end up getting emotional, because I have a 13 year old daughter now, and I am so cautious. Fortunately, I've done a lot of work, but I'm terrified sometimes that as she comes into her adolescence, the world is not a kinder place for girls and for women. And I just am working so hard to empower her, and I know that is something near and dear to your heart as well. So I'd love for you to talk to us about your experience with body dysmorphia and body image issues, and how you have helped women. And maybe even yourself; I don't know what your story is with that but would love to hear about it.
Kathy Smith: Yeah, it's been interesting through the years. I have to say, personally... I'll get into a personal story afterwards but I want to start perhaps where you started with the children, because I have two daughters and they're older than yours. I have a 25 and a 28 year old, and I remember through the course of their teenage years, all the messages that the media's sending out, but not dissing the media. It's just what they're hearing at school, how they're feeling about themselves.
And so yeah, it became very important to use the right languaging, and especially with the career I was in. And by the way, I have no regrets about it, but I definitely did a lot of for lack of a better word, hotty toddy type of poses and things. I always had my pose that I could always get the curve of the back, and the curve of whatever, and it's marketing. It's like how does somebody look great? But I think my saving grace, and you've mentioned it, was that underneath that was the attention I've had through the years... I started getting into exercise for mental reasons, I was a runner, I loved athletics.
And I really got my daughters involved with outdoors, which I think is really important, to help kids connect with nature. Have them connect with some kind of sports. Get them out. I really believe that when you get girls into... and I'm speaking mainly to girls, I'm not saying that men don't have the same issues, but it's my experience is more with the women of the world... is that if you get them involved with sports and they start to get a community of people that are doing things like trying to win their volleyball game or their soccer game, and the girls are going together. And they start to see different images of people that are succeeding in life with all different body images.
So one of the great privileges I've had is I was one of the founding members of the Women's Sports Foundation. Billie Jean King is the founder of it, I was one of the founding members. This was a whole thing about Title IX; we would go to Washington and meet with the President. I got to meet with presidents, I got to meet with senators and congressman about equal opportunity for girls in sports.
But part of the process is we would have this parade of champions every year; I was involved this year with my daughter. 100 top athletes... from soccer to basketball; to hammer throwers to martial arts people, to billiard players... would walk onstage and as they would walk onstage, you would see 100 different women and each of them has a unique body type. The basketball players were tall, but they were strong. The judo's had a different body type, the equestrians had a different body type. But, they were the best; their faces showed how much they loved their sports.
And when you can get people and women into understanding what the body can do as opposed to just how it can look... now, I know that's sometimes easier said than done. So what are some of the techniques that I've used through the years? Part of it is just language; I'm a big believer in language and I'm sure you guys know with the brain. How you phrase something, like "You need to eat your vegetables" is a much different direction than "CC's coming over, we're making Mexican food tonight and she's got this great dish that has such and such". Depending on the age of the child, obviously. I would use things when they would younger, I would say... it was probably a lie... but "This is going to make you run faster"-
Tana Amen: Probably not a lie, but-
Kathy Smith: You use things that will... do know how that soccer you're going to be... or tomorrow you're going to feel-
Tana Amen: So it's about the benefits..
Kathy Smith: Say that again?
Tana Amen: It's about the benefits; what I'm hearing you say is it's about the benefits.
Kathy Smith: Yes, exactly. So talking about benefits and not just the end result. Now having said that, both of them have gone through different stages. My Olympic athlete, which I've mentioned that I had one daughter that went to the Olympics this year... but she went to Yale, and then after college she was a hot-shot, became a professional athlete. But, I don't know if you've seen what track athletes run around in; they have these little bitty shorts that are about this big and they have these little tops that are about this big.
And I noticed that when you're on center stage and people are going to be looking at your body, whether it's in a bathing suit, whether it's in shorts, whether you're going to have your arms exposed with short sleeves. Then you become self-conscious, and then you start the comparison thing. Wow, look at her arms, look at her legs. Look at my butt; look at Kim Kardashian's butt. Then all of the comparisons start, and I think that you just have to monitor, especially at certain ages, the messaging and have discussions about it.
So they're getting bombarded; children are getting bombarded. I'm kind of flipping around here talking about children and that, but adult women are going through the same thing. And I do want to get into even aging adults because we might be talking about bodies and how skinny we are when we're younger, but by the time you're in your mid-30s you're going into Bloomingdale's... or anywhere, not to dis Bloomingdale's... and some young girl's coming up and saying "Do you want to learn how to get rid of those wrinkles right here? I have a cream for you"-
Tana Amen: And let's not even get into menopause-
Kathy Smith: I wasn't even thinking about these wrinkles right here, dammit, I was just going shopping. But you're being bombarded where now you're kind of going "Oh, do I have wrinkles? I must have, I have to do something with those". And then the next stage is like... there's a great book out there of Joan Didion but it's like I hate my neck, but I know there's a time when all the women are like "Oh, it's the neck". And then you go into other parts of the body and here's the thing; good grooming, looking good, trying to look good, is fine and then there's a point.
It's like how do we walk that line of feeling confident, like yeah I want shiny hair. I'm going to buy the product that's going to make my hair a little shinier or whatever. But how do I not get sucked into and I also need whatever. I'm not going to go down that path, but yes. I have found that there is a group of women that have come to me and said "Listen Kathy, why don't you represent the group of just let your hair go gray, do all the things" and I'm thinking well, I'm not sure I'm ready for that.
Tana Amen: And I think there's a fine line. There seems to be a fine line between being healthy' being confident and comfortable with who you are, versus feeling like you need to be someone you're not, and I think that's a very different thing. I don't think if... you are in the public eye, and you are on television, and you need to wear something. And you are comfortable with that, and you are okay with who you are, your core values; and you're not bothered by the message and feel you have to be someone you're not. That's very different.
Dr Daniel Amen: So let me jump in; I know I don't have really anything to say here, but... obviously I'm privileged because I'm here with two incredibly beautiful women today. When Tana and I first started dating 11 years ago, I introduced her to a friend of mine Byron Katie-
Tana Amen: I love her work.
Dr Daniel Amen: Do you know Byron Katie?
Kathy Smith: Oh, I love her work.
Tana Amen: So I was about to bring that up, because I use that with this a lot. So go ahead-
Dr Daniel Amen: So I introduced her to her, and then we went to Big Sur and Esalen, and went to a three day seminar that she gave. And one of the exercises, which she wanted us all to write down, what our thoughts were about our bodies-
Tana Amen: What we don't like about our bodies. Can I tell the story? I was sitting in the front row, so my back was to the audience, to the rest of the people there. And Katie asked somebody to stand up and read their list, and I hear this woman reading her list and she's going on and on. Literally, her list was virtually identical to mine. All the things about her body that she was like... you're supposed to dig deep, right? So all the things that bothered her about her body, and I'm like her list is identical to mine. She sounded maybe a little older than I was.
So I turned around and looked at her, and she was very, very overweight. And I'm like all right, that's really weird, we had the same list. So I'm thinking this is really odd, we have the exact same list and this woman was broken down and crying about this and I'm thinking okay, we all have the same ideas to some degree. So now you can finish telling it, I just wanted to make sure I sort of introduced that that way.
Dr Daniel Amen: I wrote a book once called Unleash the Power of the Female Brain, because I have five sisters, so I think it's my therapy for getting over that. Three daughters, fourteen nieces; and there's one study that said 93% of women do not like their bodies, which I just thought was really important. But women also have significantly lower levels of serotonin, that one neurotransmitter that helps you be happy. According to a study from McGill University, they have 52% less serotonin than men, and when they have less serotonin, their brain fires up and they notice...
So the area of the brain that works too hard when you have low serotonin is called the anterior cingulate gyrus, and it's the area of your brain that helps you shift your attention. So they get stuck on negative thoughts or negative behaviors, but it also sees errors.
Tana Amen: So, which is part of what exercise is so great for-
Kathy Smith: It sees what?
Tana Amen: Errors. What's wrong.
Dr Daniel Amen: So you notice what's wrong in yourself, your husband or your children more than what is right.
Tana Amen: So we can't leave that story where it was; I have to finish that story because it sounds odd the way we left it. What was going on, this woman as she was reading her list, she went on to say her husband left her because... she was very angry. Her husband left her for a thinner, more beautiful woman, all these things, and that it was because of how she looked. But I'm listening to her and I'm like her list sounds exactly like mine, so it wasn't congruent, it wasn't making sense to me. And I never stand up at these things because this is, at that time, not who I was. I never shared my story back then; I've only recently learned to become more vulnerable with some of the things that I've through.
And so I couldn't help myself, it was like someone literally picked me up and stood me up. I couldn't help but speak up. And I stood up and I turned around and it was like someone else was speaking through me. I said "You know, I'm listening to this and your list is identical to mine, almost. Virtually identical. If you're thinking that being thinner, or being younger, or having less wrinkles is going to fix everything, I hate to tell you but my problems are also virtually identical to yours. My marriage still fell apart"...
And I started to go through some of the things that she was complaining about that had happened in her life, and her jaw hit the floor. And I said "I'm not trying to minimize what you're going through, I'm just saying I would sort of rethink that, because it's your list that's causing me to rethink what I was thinking". As I walked out of the tent, all these women came running over to me and I never do that. So it was really odd to be in that place and hear someone with the same problems and the same list, who was in a different place in life.
Dr Daniel Amen: And that's the point of Katie's work, I think, is our thoughts are what makes us suffer. It's not actually what happens to you, it's how you interpret what happens to you that helps you feel awesome or makes you feel terrible.
Tana Amen: One last thing, you brought up something important. You said if you're wearing sleeves and you have to show your arms, or you're wearing whatever, if you have to wear shorts... and this is so true... one little tip that I've learned because this happens to me a lot. I talk about fitness and I talk about health, and I frequently have to wear short sleeves and be fit, and occasionally I'll feel the pressure from that. I do, I feel the pressure from that. Even though my message is to empower women, I'm not going to lie, there are times when I feel like I don't feel like I'm really in my best shape at the moment. If we've been traveling or whatever.
And then what I do is I flip that around in my head. I use Katie's work; is it true? Do I need to be perfect right now, do I need to... where did I ever get the idea that I'm supposed to look perfect on-camera? Or who said I can't wear a sweater, or who said... so I'll start doing this sort of little flip around, this turn around. My message isn't to be a beauty queen, it's to empower women to be healthy.
Kathy Smith: Right messaging. Well it's interesting, one of the books I'm reading right now, I got it for my birthday. It's called The Book of Joy; Dalai Lama meets Desmond Tutu for three days when Desmond turned 80, and the author who is just brilliant... but part of the thing is just what both of you are saying. It's where does joy and happiness come from, and again it's not the events. It's not what happens. It's how you interpret, it's how you have tools in your tool kit to shift your thinking and I think that's getting back to our original message.
And I think the thing with me and exercise, why the different forms are so important because those are in the toolkit of saying "Gosh, I am feeling a little insecure right now. I am feeling... you know what? I think I'm going to go for a run". And I know when I've done my job as a parent when my daughters are calling me. One from New York, so my one daughter works in New York for a non-profit called Every Mother Counts, and it's Christy Turlington's non-profit and it's a great organization.
They're very, very busy and so she'll have a long day or whatever and she goes mom... whatever happened, whether it's with a boyfriend or whatever... and she'll go "I'm not feeling right, I'm feeling really stressed out. I need to go to a yoga class". When I hear those two things in the same sentence, "I'm feeling stressed out, I need to go to a yoga class"... it's not like we're not going to feel those feelings, it's like what are we going to do-
Tana Amen: It's a healthy coping mechanism-
Kathy Smith: For me, the tool chest is fragile. I feel that people are looking at me and I don't look so good, or whatever that might be, I know that I have in my arsenal... and it has to do with movement a lot of times, sometimes with food... because we haven't talked much about food, but food can trigger feelings of insecurity.
Honestly, I will tell you, back in the days when I was just starting my running; right after I dated a football player, I started dating a doctor... and I noticed that if I sat down to dinner and I would have cheese, maybe follow that with some red wine, that there could be a sensation that came over my body and I would just feel a little like the world was coming in a little bit. I felt uncomfortable, and I was thinking gosh, what is that? I started to noticed these associations with things; certain foods, sometimes it was sugar. And I would say "I was feeling great yesterday , and I'm not feeling so good today"-
Tana Amen: It's so true.
Kathy Smith: So if I put this association together with fitness, I also put it together with food. And it wasn't probably as scientific as you'd hope, but it was more like cause and effect. And I wouldn't just do it if it was once or twice or three, but if I started to see a pattern that I didn't feel good when I... like let's say the pattern was we're going out, I'm drinking too much, I'm having too much cheese and I may have had too much sugar; I'm waking up the next morning and I don't look as good, but I also, more importantly, don't feel as confident. I've lost that confidence gene, or that confidence that I had.
So I started putting these two things together, and I have certain things in my tool chest. Let's say with drinking, I know how much I can go out and still feel like next day, I'm going to be the Kathy Smith that I know and love. Or I know that if I go it's not going to be that, so I stopped doing that. So there's no margaritas, there's no this and that, because that doesn't make me feel the way that I want to feel.
And, let's just say that we're not all perfect; that you know that you are going to have mama's chocolate cake, then the next morning it will be a cardio workout and it will be an hour cardio workout because that's going to clean out my system. And once you know these things, life gets so easy, and that's right because go ahead, have the chocolate. You're going to pay a bit of a price for it, but I know how to deal with it the next day.
Going into 2017, those are the things that I would suggest to the audience. It's not like what is the new diet you're going to start? There is a process, and the process is starting to accept yourself and love your body; find that joy in the day to day things, and find something socially and physically that you like doing. Start adding that in. We can break this down more and more; I'm a big believer that forget January 1st. January 1st is a waste because nobody keeps those, but think January. I would start my New Year's Resolutions on January 15th.
But think about what you're going to be doing September 15th, because that's what your resolution should be about. My resolution is about my bike ride on September 15th, and what I'm going to need to do to get there. It's not what I need to do to get to January 21st. What do you want to do? What 10k do you want to be running? What table tennis tournament do you want to be participating in?
Tana Amen: So be specific. I like to tell people to reverse engineer; pick your goal, and then reverse engineer what you have to do to get to that point-
Dr Daniel Amen: So, we have to stop. This was such a joy. There's so many practical things you have shared with us-
Tana Amen: So let's just give them a quick summary. I think having people focus on health rather than just on having a perfect image is really critical. Focusing on your goal for 2017, and having those tools in your tool chest like you said; your diet and having that turnaround like at Byron Katie's. And also having then what? If I do this, then what? But having that turnaround of do I really need to be perfect? No. Who said I need to be perfect? Me. No one else. Having those little turnarounds and being connected to the real reason you're doing things-
Dr Daniel Amen: So if people haven't heard-
Kathy Smith: Perfection is so overrated. I totally agree and I'll make this quick, but one thing I write in my book is start shooting for sixes. We're all shooting for tens, and tens you're always going to disappoint yourself because you're not going to get 10 very often. If you start shooting sixes, then six is good, seven's good, eight's great, nine's amazing, ten... your life just gets happier. I think that's what happened in my life. I life a very happy life, but it's not about lowering the bar in the sense of accomplishments, but just don't... sixes are good, and getting back to my last thing.
A New York Times article just about a couple months ago; they asked my daughter Kate, who was in the Olympics, they said "What's the biggest thing you got from your mother?" And I'm thinking she's talking about fitness and everything. She said "Before every race, mom would walk me... we live in Santa Monica... to the Pacific Ocean, had me look out"... I could cry saying it... "had me look out over the ocean, said you've done the work, now go have fun".
Tana Amen: Yeah, I agree.
Kathy Smith: Just go have fun. Go on that track, drop everything, go have fun.
Tana Amen: Love that.
Dr Daniel Amen: How can people learn more about your work and what you're up to?
Kathy Smith: I think the easiest way... because I've got a lot of different products... I think the easiest way is just to go to my website, which is Kathy with a K, so kathysmith.com. So Kathy with a K, smith.com and then books, videos, DVD's. My messaging blogs, that sort of thing. But that would be the best way.
Tana Amen: Kathy, it's been such a joy.
Dr Daniel Amen: Kathysmith.com. Thank you so much, I look forward to seeing you again soon.
Kathy Smith: Thanks, you guys. Love you. Bye bye.
Donny Osmond: Thanks for listening to today's show, the Brain Warrior's Way. Why don't you head over to brainwarriorswaypodcast.com. That's brainwarriorswaypodcast.com, where Daniel and Tana have a gift for you just for subscribing to the show. And when you post your review on iTunes, you'll be entered into a drawing where you can win a VIP visit to one of the Amen Clinics. I'm Donny Osmond, and I invite you to step up your brain game by joining us in the next episode.