Our bodies are constantly morphing creatures that need our love

The only certainty is uncertainty” (a quote attributed to many philosophers…)

When it comes to our bodies, clearly the uncertainties are different for everyone; women’s bodies change in ways that men’s bodies don’t, and yet everyone’s body, different from the start, changes with age and rides waves of well-being and illness that sometimes include disability or disease.

nude woman self-portrait body image

I love to read books that follow characters closely over their lifetime, to get a sense of who they were, what drove them, where they shone and what brought them to their knees. How they felt, how they looked, how they navigated the world.

The only lifetime we really get to know intimately is our own, because we only actually live in one body; ours. And change is the only certainty, even for our bodies. In my fifties now, I am fortunate to have known the joys and pains of pregnancy and childbirth, but also the despair of disordered eating and the discomfort of being both overweight and underweight. I navigated as best I could the awkward stages of puberty and the bumpy road into menopause; the irresistible bliss of sex and now, a strong sense that my creative energy must be poured into pursuits that go beyond me to reach out to others.

At some point, I discovered that the more loving attention I pay to my body by eating well and moving in joyful ways, the better I feel, and yet food and exercise can easily fall under unhealthy, unconscious control. Hunger, emotions, and anxiety still take over sometimes and affect my food choices. I can’t be too rigid or too relaxed about it. It’s been years of trial and error to find out how much control is enough and how much is too much; a constant moving cycle of listening, starting over, going too far and making my way back. It’s the dance of being me, in all the different forms this pushes my body to take, and being okay with myself at every stage has been the biggest challenge of all.

One of the gifts of self-portraiture is gaining the distance that a drawing or a photograph allows – that step back that offers a new perspective. Having taken that step back repeatedly over twenty years, I can see all the changes in my body as inevitable, telling, but also, so natural! We grow, we change, we fall, we pick ourselves up. I try not to be so hard on myself; it’s all just a part of the cycle that is life. We are so fortunate to experience this life through our bodies.

What I like the most about this self-portrait – this moment in time captured on film – is the highly expressive gesture of my right hand pressing into the soft area under my ribcage, just above my belly button. I don’t remember how I was feeling the day I took the photo, but while drawing I understood this gesture to be pointing at where it hurts, yet at the same time offering reassuring touch to a vulnerable place. While disordered eating is without a doubt an act of seeking comfort from the outside, this gentle, tender, albeit tentative gesture seems like a move towards self-love and self-comfort… a doorway to liberation often found in this simple process of drawing exactly what I see.

Take your body image offline for a minute

Last night I watched a documentary about people living off the grid in Northern Canada, in regions so far away from cities that they need solar power or other means to generate electricity. These people are by necessity very handy, and lead gloriously simple lives close to nature.  While many aspects of their lifestyle appeal to me, I know that I am too social  to  thrive so far from other humans. But it made me wonder how living so far away would change the way we relate to our physical appearance.

body image nude woman drawing

Just try to imagine a life without social media. No influencers or outside influence other than geography and the weather. No shopping malls, magazines, make-up ads or fashion, no spas, hairdressers or microblading technicians to be found.

A life where you dress to be comfortable for outdoor work, and rarely look in a mirror, because the only other human you’ll see for days is your spouse/partner, who may be so busy fixing the pump to maintain your water supply from the nearby spring that he/she/they won’t even notice if you’re having a skin breakout or a bad hair day. They look up and they just see you, as you, no matter what your appearance.

Imagine if your own relationship to your body was based solely on how it allows you to move around and complete the tasks you need to do to survive, rather than worrying about how your body looks, weighs, or performs. Imagine that all you need to do is show up every day, no matter how you  look. Just you, doing you.

No comparisons to others’ bodies, no jugements, no concerns about aging or sagging or shapes that you wished were shaped otherwise. Just a functional, healthy body that gets you through the day and lets you sleep at night. A well-oiled machine that does its job. So many of us already have this perfectly functional machine, and yet we spend  hours rearranging it to meet unattainable, unnecessary standards.

I’m not trying to take away anyone’s joy in grooming themselves to feel as beautiful as they possibly can.

What I do wish I could take away, or rather bring back, are the countless hours, weeks,  even years of our lives that we lose trying to be, feel and look better when we are already absolutely okay, just the way we are.

A shadow of what we could be

Accepting this body did not mean convincing myself that it was beautiful, it meant giving myself permission to exist regardless . – trista mateer

* * * * *

Rustling through drawers full of drawings looking for one in particular (that I still haven’t found), I always come across some forgotten ones. Some gems and some that are painful to look at.

This image conjured up more compassion than rejection, but also a little sadness. I remember photographing myself that day.

drawing of overweight woman in underwear

I didn’t realize how much extra weight I was carrying around my middle. I was going through hormonal upheavals and turning to comfort foods to soothe myself. And I was not looking in the mirror on purpose, nor photographing or drawing myself. I was in denial, and this photo popped the safety of my bubble of unconsciousness.

I drew this on tracing paper, which is why the photo on the left comes through so strong. It’s an easy way to copy an image, and to see, while you’re drawing, that your body is not as horrid as your knee-jerk negative reaction and instant jugement said it was.

In hindsight, there was a reason for this heavy-bodied season in my life. For the first time, I weighed more than when fully pregnant, and I was learning to accept my body while carrying around fifty extra pounds.

I had started to buy plus-size clothing and was paying closer attention to what bigger women wore, how they held themselves, how they lived their lives with confidence and pride, and how they suffered, because I could relate. I started to follow different movements – from Fit Fatties and Health At Every Size to The Militant Baker and The Body is Not an Apology. I discovered and learned. I experienced first-hand inner thigh chafing and gave up on jeans, but more importantly, my attitudes towards bigger bodies changed and became more compassionate and accepting.

What strikes me the most me about this image is the shadow effect and the head hanging in shame. I never again want to apologize to the camera or the mirror, in fact not to anyone, not even to myself, for how my body looks. It is my own perception and jugement of my body that has hurt me the most. And for far too long.

I do, however, want to apologize to my body. I am sorry for hating you, for shaming you, for not recognizing your worth and your beauty, no matter what size and shape you’ve been. I am sorry for perpetuating so much self-loathing that kept me from truly being myself and from fully shining my light for so, so long. Enough of that sh**.

Transforming beliefs about creativity and body image

I can’t draw, even my stick figures are disproportionate!

Topic - Stick Figure | ShowMe Online Learning

The messages bombarded on us all day, every day, on repeat, say: “You must be/look your best”, “You have to stay young, at all costs”, “You need do/buy this to succeed/shine/live your best life…” blah-blah-blah.  It gets discouraging if you’re not feeling at the top of your game every minute, which nobody is, ever.

I’ve often heard, “Arts and crafts are for kids…” “Don’t become an artist, so few ever get known or manage to sell anything”, “Ya, but, you can’t make a living off it…”.

nude woman, self-portrait, body image

The truth is, art and creative activities are accessible to everyone. Most people are already creative on a daily basis, simply by thinking outside the box or taking risks to try new things and see what happens.

When people suffer, they find ways to cope. Some face their struggles with positive behaviours that lead to growth, while others compensate in negative ways that keep them down. Often, in the case of eating disorders and body dysmorphia, the innate coping mechanisms are rigid and leave little room for creativity.

We’ve discovered that the visual arts, in this case self-portrait photography and figurative drawing, are positive coping mechanisms for negative body image. As a small women’s art collective, we don’t feel we need to be art therapists to share or teach what we’ve learned, since it’s more about practice than about psychological analysis.

It’s through active seeing (using photography and drawing the body) that our perceptions have changed.

The subtle shifts in viewpoint that happen during a photo shoot or a drawing session are the result of focusing on seeing ourselves as we are, rather than projecting how we should be. We need distance from thinking, judging and our mental projections to reveal ourselves to ourselves in more honest ways.

Perhaps this was a long-winded invitation, but it really is an invitation to move beyond your comfort zone, especially if it’s uncomfortable! Here’s more info on how to practice this process and we are always happy to accompany people online. Let us know how it’s going or how we can support your process at madaboutmybody@gmail.com.

Reclaiming convictions over criticism

I remember this photoshoot well.  A safe space to dare with a kind, supportive friend behind the camera.

I hadn’t been photographed in many years. I had of course aged, and gained weight and I didn’t even want to look at myself, let alone be photographed or draw myself anymore. Inside, I felt pushed down, boxed in, folded over, unacceptable and left out of “the game” (whatever that means!). Uncomfortable with myself. I’d stopped caring. I’d stopped fighting. I’d stopped really paying attention to, or taking care of my body because it didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t live up to my own unrealistic standards. Again.

nude woman squatting during photo shoot to accept her body

But the photoshoot opened something in me, again. And the drawings, done much later, brought acceptance, again. And so we start over, again. What’s true is sometimes so far from our day-to-day thinking and knee-jerk self-judgements that it slips away and we start believing the negative mind chatter, that rattles out lies, over and over until we believe it. And so we have to correct that distorted vision and come back to reality, again and again.

I am convinced that we can change the way we see our bodies, and all bodies. I am convinced that a change in perspective changes our happiness, our health, and our vitality. I am convinced that none of us need plastic surgery or a makeover or a new wardrobe to “look” better. I am convinced that we can change the way we “look” and see, and learn to perceive our bodies differently, to recognize and embrace a simple beauty that was always right there.

I am convinced that the invisible suffering of many, many people who are unhappy with how their body looks is as insidious as a pandemic and as destructive as wildfires. The suffering is too often silent and it has ruined too many lives.

We can change our perspectives and be freed from self-loathing. It is like waking up from a nightmare of devastation and discovering that you are okay, just the way you are. It can be done, and, once you touch this truth, you will never want to go back.

Nude does not have to be lewd or prude

Nude woman, kneeling on bed with hands in hair, smiling shylyThere has been so much abuse towards women’s bodies, directly, and indirectly, using images, that it is totally understandable how protective and defensive we are about our hiding our nudity.  Too many unthinkable  things have happened when people’s privacy was breached and their vulnerability disrespected. Horrible things that can take a lifetime to heal.

It is not a given in our society that sharing a nude image, whether it be a photograph or an illustration, does NOT consent to its sexualisation. I did not take this photo or draw this self-portrait to attract or impress anyone.

I did so to dare to really see myself when I didn’t even want to see myself, to learn to perceive myself in a different light. Today, I see a soft image of a lovely woman, but at the time the photo was taken, I was working through shame about aging and having gained a few pounds, and that was all I could see then. The truth is, I was working through my shit, and it was an act of bravery.

Of course nobody needs to see my naked body, or anyone else’s for that matter, and yet, I’ve discovered that there is freedom in facing this intense fear of being seen and judged.  The more nude bodies I saw, in figure drawing classes, in photo sessions, and during my rare visits to a nude beach, the more comfortable I became with the raw vulnerability of humanity, including my own! And nobody could possibly judge me as severely as I have judged myself.

I don’t share my self-portraits because I’m an exhibitionist, in fact on a sliding scale I am way closer to “prude” than to “daring”.  I reluctantly started this practice almost 20 years ago, and I continue this practice with conviction because it has helped me make peace with my body. I share it because I want to go forward loving myself and sharing the simple tools I have discovered with others.

I remain forever grateful to the models in my figure-drawing classes. By attending and organizing figure-drawing sessions, it allowed me to see a variety of different body types, which led to both a detachment from, and an appreciation for every nude body we were given the privilege to draw.

It is truly a privilege to see a person nude. It’s not a right, or an embarassment, but rather a gift. It is a tender reminder that we are all vulnerable creatures underneath the costumes we wear, no better or worse than anyone else. May we all learn to treat our bodies with all the big respect that they deserve.

Why bother drawing the body?

There is a viewpoint “out there” that says if you are seen nude, you are somehow dishonored. Clearly, the women in our art collective disagree, but we know this perception exists, and we understand where the sense of shame comes from. Nobody wants their privacy invaded, their vulnerability paraded or their intimacy exposed.

Everyone wants to be able to share their intimacy on their own terms. Or not at all. But if we’re not exposed to our own bodies, our own vulnerabilities, how can we accept ourselves, every aspect of ourselves, exactly the way we are?

We draw the human body, often including our own bodies, in order to LOVE what is UNLOVED.

Our goal is to offer tender, loving, eyes upon all aspects of life, including those we are less comfortable with. Drawing is a slow, contemplative process that allows us to see things differently, as opposed to the instant judgment that comes up when we see an image we instantly, unthinkingly like, or dislike. It helps us to see what’s really there, with less judgement and more curiosity and acceptance. To peel back the labels and see what’s underneath.

We invite others to draw in order to participate in this change in perception; to move beyond the exclusion we usually practice with our easy judgments in order to see things the way they are, with love.

Simply write to us to find out how to get started on this process, we are happy to accompany you: madaboutmybody@gmail.com

 

Drawing the body changes the way you see the body

I had the opportunity to participate in a women’s circle last weekend and to lead a drawing session with an amazing group of women. By the time we started drawing, trust had been deeply established between all present, so it was easy to get to the core of the practice of drawing the nude body. Although there were a dozen of us around the table, we drew mostly in silence. It was a comfortable, calming, peaceful silence. The women paired off in twos afterwards, explaining to each other what the drawing represented and how they felt while drawing it. At the end each told the entire group how she had felt and what she had seen. This is what we heard:

Drawing the body brought me comfort, it made me feel calm and connected to myself in a way I had never felt before.

This drawing speaks of tenderness, of letting things flow and and letting go of anything in my vision of myself that no longer serves me.

Drawing images of nudes was a revelation for me… seeing the body in all it’s frailty is so beautiful! But it was also in looking straight at what bothers me… facing up to that discomfort… it became a way of freeing myself from so much judgement. It’s like I was finally able to embrace what I’ve so long rejected, and make peace with it.

I felt so in touch with my own vulnerability while drawing, it helped me accept that part of myself that is fragile, and yet no longer see it as weak.

I don’t like my curves, yet I was touched by the sensuality of the body of the model I was drawing from. It made me feel better about my own body. I felt more alive afterwards.

I really appreciated this process of contemplating the human body through drawing. It liberated me from a huge amount of inner tension that I didn’t even realize I was carrying!

Draw with us! The practice is both simple and accessible and we are happy to accompany you in getting started.

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.

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