Your body hears everything your mind says

Your body hears everything your mind saysthis powerful quote is attributed to American singer-songwriter Naomi Judd. Thank you Naomi Judd! I just came across it today for the first time, even though I have been following all kinds of body image sites and activists for years, and it really struck a chord.

It made me do a full stop and start questioning just what my mind has been saying about me lately, as I have been in a phase of intense self-judgement. Why? I’m not sure why, perhaps simply because I need to learn to consciously choose to live otherwise. To see myself as I am, to stop imagining I should be someone different or that I am inherently wrong. This sounds so harsh it’s embarrassing to put it out there, and yet I know that I am not alone in this me-bashing! And I don’t want anyone to feel this bad about themselves, ever, not even me. No more. We can’t do much with our lives until we discover our worth, and live like we not only deserve to be happy, but also live like we have, and we are, something and someone worth sharing.

drawing of nude woman leaning over flowers

A friend of mine photographed me this last Spring, with flowers from her garden. I was trying to let go more in front of the camera, to be less balled up than I often am during photo shoots. It was a calming, quiet session, and I later chose quite a few photos to work from. In drawing this one, I fell into criticism, got all freaked out and perfectionist, and let it sit on my desk for two months. Tonight I found it and decided to complete it, quickly, to try to let go of the results and just be with there with myself through the image. It’s soft… a soft woman in a safe place, leaning over freshly cut tulips, her hair falling  gently down over her face, the light warm and golden. I left it unfinished. I’m unfinished too. I’m a work in progress… aren’t we all, always?

Going to start another drawing now, and be ever more careful about what my mind says. I’ll call it out. I don’t want my body to hear any more of that negative bullshit.

For those who know how bad it gets

I am posting this in the “Self-love” category because self-love is what self-loathing screams for.  And self-love is possible, at first perhaps only fleetingly, but with time and nurturing, it grows. (…oh yes, and did I ever mention that drawing yourself can help? )

If you’ve suffered from an eating disorder, addictions, a handicap, illness – mental or physical – or any other major emotional challenge that makes you less than glowingly in adoration of yourself (to say the least!), then you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes it gets really bad. But it’s always better when it’s expressed. When kept inside, it rots and festers.

rough sketch of sad nude woman looking down      sketch of nude woman with writing about dissatisfaction with herself and her body

I found this drawing stashed away in a drawer, and just knew I had to share it, not because it’s awesome but because it’s so real. And I am glad to say that this vision of things is not my only reality anymore, there are many more good days than bad ones, but sometimes the bad ones come back to remind me to keep up the good work 🙂

Apologies for the fuzzy cell phone photos, but trust me, you don’t really want to read all the nasty things I was writing about myself… hopefully you’ll get the gist that it was an angry rant against my apparent lack of worth. Not your typical shiny Instagram-worthy content, and yet I post it hoping that someone else who hears these mad words in their mind will see with a little distance how hurtful we can be to ourselves at our worst. And that better days always come around if we can find a little compassion for ourselves and see deeper than the surface. Our bodies are our best friends… it’s our minds we must train to see ourselves more clearly.

That part of your body you hate is just a squiggly line :)

I’m taking a class to learn how to draw the body without using a photo for reference, and it’s a bit unnerving! I’m pushing beyond my comfort zone, which is good. I will take you along for the ride if you’re interested, but most of all I’d like to share the fascinating symbolic connections I’m discovering in the process.

scribbling sketches related to learning to draw the body for body acceptanceOne thing I’m learning is that every single thing we perceive in the universe is made up of lines and curves. That’s it. Simplistic perhaps, but true. Energy or action either moves outwards or inwards. And intentions generally move up or down, to the left or to the right. Hand-drawn circles are never perfect and erasers are the best second-chance tools ever!

What else? On paper, all bodies are made up of the same parts (of course in life there are exceptions), and they pretty much fit together the same way, no matter how well or how badly we draw them.

So… here’s my little “aha!” moment that happened while attempting to copy these little figures that the professor shared in his lesson. The “aha!” was about how small our really big concerns about our bodies actually are, when put into perspective. How unfounded, unimportant, unfathomably silly our angst about our cellulite, our pimples, our weight or our pointy elbows appears in the backdrop of this effort to reproduce the phenomenal complexity of a human being on paper.

I’m not minimizing anyone’s pain or suffering with their body image or their health or their weight; I totally understand the gravity of these concerns because I share them. But my struggle in making these little figures was an excellent reminder that our bodies are also, always, unfathomably awesome machines made up of many moving parts! And they function marvelously with little intervention on our part (think about the essential involuntary processes the brain commands like breathing and digestion).

So just maybe that thing we think is so wrong with us it not wrong at all, but just another aspect of one of the many manifestations of humanity in all its glory? Can you see how cute you are in my squiggly figures?

Drawing the body even if you think you can’t draw

Drawing is really about seeing. What people enjoy about looking at art is simply seeing things in new ways, from someone else’s perspective, different than ours. But so many of us have this learned belief that you’re either an artist or not, you can sing or you can’t, you’ve got talent or you just don’t. But it isn’t black and white. Talent, desire, interest or a natural inclination towards creative activities certainly help, but there are still skills involved that need to be learned and practiced.

The body is made of up a series of shapes, just like a building or a landscape, and if we break it down it’s much less daunting… the head is an oval, arms and legs are basically sticks, the torso a block and fingers and toes smaller sticks. If we can give ourselves permission to try, humbly enough to not immediately expect exceptional results, we can all learn and improve our skills as our brain starts to see the lines, curves and shapes that make up the overall picture. Then everything around us can be turned into a picture!

This is my husband playing air guitar in the kitchen as he listened to his favorite tunes while cooking. While you can’t see the dynamism of his movements (he was really rocking it!), I managed to capture his form in the simplest way possible… his head is an egg-shaped oval, his arms bent sticks, and his fingers just smaller, curved sticks bent into action.

The drawings on this site, all mine, are mostly copied from photographs, because my process and my practice were about learning to see my body differently and to accept myself the way I am. I got good at it because I’ve been doing it for twenty years! But I want to make the process accessible, as my drive is to invite others to try this process. Because I want them to know the relief I have known from the self-judgement that kept me down for so many years! But obviously, it needs to be accessible.

I am taking a course to learning to draw without tracing photos. It’s a different process, and so I will do my best to share that process here. So even if you think you can’t draw (believe me, I sometimes think that too!) you will see that we can all, at the very least, learn to see… our bodies, and our lives… differently.

Forever a work in progress

In this drawing I see me, about as real as it gets. After I traced the rough outline of my face from a photograph, I spent hours penciling in details and shading. Making hair look somewhat real takes time, but after years of experimenting, it’s no longer a pain, I like doing it. Drawing in great detail has turned into periods of calm contemplation that bring me peace.

I’m still learning how to draw. While I can copy photos with good results, it is something else to learn to sketch freehand, from life, to see the most important curves, lines and expressions that form a person, place or object. I’m also still learning how to see myself with the love and acceptance any human being truly deserves, yet which I would easily offer to someone else.

I’m learning to treat myself and my body with respect. One of the hardest things is committing to feeding myself in ways that give me energy, rather than weighing myself down with the kinds of foods that are really just a temporary escape from my fears; distractions with consequences.

I believe the worst part of an eating disorder is the self-sabotage we consciously and unconsciously inflict upon ourselves that keeps us down. Self-sabotage that goes way beyond what we eat, because it includes self-destructive thinking that keeps us from breaking out of the prison we’ve created and maintain in our own minds.

In this drawing I also see a woman who’s discouraged, exhausted by the self-hate, self-questioning, doubt and disdain she carries for herself. I see too, that at this point, she was starting to get ready to lay down her arms and stop fighting with herself, to finally take some more little steps to work towards freedom. Forever a work in progress…

Anastasia (series) – V – final

Playing the role of camera person for a person daring to pose nude, for me, is always a series of gentle, tender moments. I feel humbled to be invited into the vulnerable space of someone’s nudity, and because I have also experienced the model side of the equation, it is very important that I help them feel comfortable. I believe that by facing up to our fears and discomforts about our bodies, we can get past them. Sometimes facing our own judgments in front of a camera lens is what it takes to allow for a shift in perspective. Most people only undress in front of their lovers or maybe their family doctor, so to do so purposefully opens the door to seeing ourselves differently.

For me, drawing the nude body, whether it’s mine or someone else’s; man or woman, at any age or in any condition, is an act of respect towards the miracle that we are as human beings. We don’t always appreciate the complex intelligence of this envelope that allows us to experience life on earth. When we are unconscious and don’t take care of it, we may find ourselves at war with our own bodies; as many anorexics, bulimics, drug addicts and alcoholics know too well. Aside from these extremes, there are still too many people insulting themselves in front of the mirror daily. Drawing the nude body, no matter how basic our drawing skills may be, is a celebration of the body in every form it takes; a moment of contemplation in front of this miracle; a tender caress of a crayon upon paper translating the simple beauty of our humanity.

And I said to my body, softly, “I want to be your friend.”
It took a long breath and replied, “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.”

— Nayyirah Waheed

Anastasia (series) – IV

We took at least a hundred photographs, then sat down together at my computer to go through them. We agreed that these images belonged to her, and would never be shared with anyone else, but she was okay with me making drawings based on some of them. We sorted through, and she left me about 30 images – those that did not clearly show her face – and the rest were copied onto a CD and erased from my camera’s memory card. 

Curvy woman posing nude to work on loving her body better

I finally drew this series 5 years later. I haven’t seen Anastasia since the photo shoot, but we’ve stayed in contact. I’m not sure where she’s at with her body image or her weight, but she has continued to work on herself and grow stronger. I know that life is not always easy for her, but she is tenacious. Drawing her was a wonderful process for me, mostly because I’d gained weight since I last saw her, and for the first time in my life I was able to identify with curvier women. I saw the beauty above and beyond the extra weight.

Curvy woman posing nude to learn to love her body

You can be sexy and feel confident in your skin, no matter what size you are.” – Ashley Graham