Change from the inside out, not outside in

Cindy Sherman from her 2019 Retrospective at London’s National Portrait Gallery

Cindy Sherman from her 2019 Retrospective at London’s National Portrait Gallery

Cindy Sherman is an American photographer who takes self-portraits in different guises. In every image the persona she presents is different. She has many faces but we never see the real person behind the make-up and props.

I find her photos provocative and thought-provoking - but ultimately unsatisfying. Her speciality is superficial change, whereas I’m interested in something coming from inside that’s deeper and longer-lasting.

The changes that come from learning the Alexander Technique over a period of time are not cosmetic or fake. Instead they originate at a deep internal level. They bubble to the surface as changes in our musculature, alignment and posture. Bit by bit we acquire a new body language, and can show ourselves as we are without artifice or disguise.

Cindy Sherman souvenir porcelain plate in the National Portrait Gallery shop (price £450)

Cindy Sherman souvenir porcelain plate in the National Portrait Gallery shop (price £450)

Showing yourself as you are

My face, like Cindy Sherman’s, has changed. In my case it’s permanent and for the better. I can’t say exactly when it happened though I know it has come through the Alexander Technique. One day in the mirror I noticed everything had become wider and softer. My eyes seemed to take up more space, my jawline was softer and my lips were more full and open.  Fillers and Botox played no part. Through the glass I welcomed a more gentle and lively version of myself, someone I hadn’t seen for some time or perhaps had never even met.

These external changes reflected an internal softening and integration throughout my whole being. I became able to show myself more fully in my face. This is not something I put on or take off, it is who and how I now am.

Renewal and growth

This kind of deep change can be scary. In principle we like the idea of change, but in reality find it uncomfortable and hard to let go. My own experience, if it helps, is that nothing has ever changed faster than I can cope with.

It’s a very forgiving and supportive technique and there’s nothing to be afraid of.  The layers of muscular habit and rigidity that we robe ourselves in were probably at some stage protective and helpful. But there comes a time when they become a handicap. They stop us from moving and thinking freely, and from being our true selves.

My own process has been one of slow but steady change. I had to take on trust that I was making progress. By the time I noticed my face had begun to alter, I had sufficient internal muscular and postural support to feel comfortable in my new skin. I saw it as a positive sign of renewal and growth and an encouraging outward sign of the internal change.

Daring to let go

The Alexander Technique is not just about release, length and letting go. There’s also a sense of connection, integration and resilience that emerges once we let go.  The fear of change comes from not knowing, or not believing, that we really will find something new as soon as we stop over-controlling our movements or using extra effort to hold ourselves up. 

It’s like putting down a walking stick and trusting we’re strong enough to walk unaided. If Cindy Sherman ever packs away her props and shows herself as she really is, then that’s an exhibition I’ll want to go and see.

Photos taken by Sheila Christie of the Cindy Sherman Retrospective, National Portrait Gallery, London 27 June to 15 September 2019