Book Review: Angela Lansbury's Positive Moves

I have been on the lookout for a lifestyle guide that reflects practical approaches to diet, body image, and exercise. Bookstores are packed with options, but many of them lean on heavy branding, exercise/diet extremes, and absurd contemporary ideas about body image. That is why Angela Lansbury's Positive Moves (cowritten with Mimi Evans) is such a revelation. Published in 1990 at the height of Lansbury's Murder, She Wrote fame, it explores her advice on eating, staying active, and living happily through sage advice and personal anecdotes from her life and career.

Perhaps because our world has become even more visual in the rise of social media, contemporary books that promote diets and exercise are heavily focused on creating Instagram-worthy beach bodies, but are light on the complicated internal dialogue surrounding health and body image. If I have a six-pack, does that mean I am healthy, or does it mean I have met a mass culture vision of beauty? Should I eat a diet because it trims my waist line or because it makes me feel better? Will diet and exercise alter my self worth?

Lansbury's advice addresses these questions, some more directly than others. For example in the chapter "Finding Your Elixir," she  discusses how a sedentary life on a TV set had plumped up her frame more than she preferred. Her remedy is a mix of stretching, walking, staying active around the house, and a reasonable diet that includes lots of fruit, a salad or veggie sandwich for lunch, low-fat cheese, tea with a cookie (for pure joy, it seems), and a robust dinner with lots of veggies plus an entree. To explain her reasoning for this approach, Lansbury writes, "As I look back now, I see that whether I was crash-dieting for my work or to look good for my husband, the weight never stayed off, because I couldn't stick with those extreme regimes for long." A fad diet that did not work for her is the protein-heavy diet that continues to fall in and out of fashion. In 1990, Lansbury was 65, and an older person's approach to health is likely to be more tempered than that of a 30-year-old. However, her wisdom about extremes is a valuable takeaway.

The heart of the advice in Positive Moves is less about visual appearance and more about creating a joyful and confident inner life: "I think  it's important to fight complacency... Keeping my interest alive in a lot of things really keeps me youthful. Plants are meant to sit still and only lean toward the light--not people." Lansbury's focus is on feeling good and having the energy to live the fulfilling life she enjoys with her loved ones, not about looks. The last chapter in her book offers advice on walking tall, dressing simply and elegantly, celebrating the sensual nature of the body, and projecting confidence, but she does not pin her happiness on body-shape alone.

Equating happiness to image is concerning. If we buy workout clothes promoted by a certain celebrity, we will not be healthier, nor will eating a diet heavy on powdered protein and hours at the gym bring happiness per se. Perhaps these approaches are part of someone's successful approach to joyful living, and perhaps they are smoke and mirrors. Lansbury advocates self awareness--try things out, stay active, and discover what works for you.

Positive Moves ends with this proclamation: "There's a lot I haven't had the chance to do yet in my life. I have so much to look forward to. And so do you." Regardless of size or age, we all have so much to be grateful for, and that is what Angela Lansbury wants us to see more than anything else. Her  book is a mixture of class and comfort, avoiding fads and extremes in favor of gentleness, productivity, and practicality; her book is timeless.

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