Play the Part (★★★★★)

play the part

I can honestly say that this book changed my life. After reading Play the Part, by Gina Barnett, I have a newfound awareness of and appreciation for my body—what it’s capable of, the energy and power it’s holding, how it has helped me cope with negative past experiences, and how I have unintentionally been silencing, and therefore limiting, it.

Play the Part is absolutely packed with helpful information and exercises to undo bad physical habits or begin new good ones. However, Barnett says right from the start that the point of this book isn’t to teach people to pretend or act. Instead, she says her aim is to show people how to change whatever quirky mannerisms might be preventing them from connecting with others. It’s about becoming aware of your body, listening to it, and then understanding how you come across to everyone else. Do you walk so fast that your subordinates think you are overwhelmed and hurried, even when you aren’t? Do you hold your neck incorrectly so that you might be looking up or down at your coworkers thereby communicating weakness or hostility?

And here is the most important question, the question that was basically a revelation to me: do you use your body as an instrument for play, imagination, and self-conception? We are physical beings. We are made to feel and then express. But many of us, myself included, have been told over and over again to keep emotion hidden, to not ask questions or break routine. Over time, this strict and limiting attitude manifests itself in us physically. What isn’t expressed verbally gets expressed physically. For example, a woman who was silenced as a child might stop opening her mouth up wide enough to be heard clearly, thereby coming across in the workplace as unfocused, lazy, or just not “management material.” Or a man might rapidly bounce his knee, making coworkers think he is impatient or irritated with them, when really he might just feel anxious. Basically, our bodies show the limitations we are feeling on the inside—whether we are conscious of them or not.

In my case, I have always been a feeler, a ponderer (sometimes annoyingly so, I admit), but, as a child, I was constantly criticized for sharing my thoughts, feelings, and questions out loud. Before I read this book, I thought I had let go of many of those negative past experiences and had silenced that overly critical voice inherited from my parents. But I realize now that I still hold their judging voices in my head and that that judgment manifests itself physically in some of my mannerisms. For example, I clench my jaw and grind my teeth when I feel like my feelings aren’t being heard, and I sometimes slump my shoulders forward when I anticipate being criticized, almost like I want to be invisible. I also feel real dumb real fast when put in a situation where I’m asked to be spontaneous or playful. I’m quiet by nature, yes, but sometimes I am too afraid of embarrassing myself to just let go and have fun.

Thankfully, while reading this book and doing the (many) exercises provided, I was able to open myself up a bit more, to give myself permission to make silly sounds and do weird mouth exercises and pretend to walk like someone else. I felt self-conscious at first (even though I was by myself!) and then I thought, why the hell not? I went with it, and it was actually and genuinely liberating.

I think, above all, that is what I loved most about Play the Part: Barnett encourages her readers to take it all in and let it all out. Experience it. Feel it. Express it. Life is short, you know? It may take focus and attention to change the quirky physical habits you’ve spent the last few decades “perfecting”—and she’s here to help you undo them!—but the fulfillment experienced by, as she says, “removing those blocks that prevent you from connecting” is worth it.

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