Unravelling the knots

You know, those inner knots that say you’re not okay? The knots that make you believe you’d be better if you did this or that, if you owned this or that, if you used this product or that product, if you were just a little bit better (because you could be…) than you are right now?

Marketing is pretty much entirely based on the principle of convincing us that we’re not okay just the way we are, right now. What a revolution it would be if we didn’t literally buy into those suggestions anymore!

This simple line drawing expresses my despair,  frustration and disgust with selling myself out by accepting that lie. My exasperation with getting sucked into thinking that I’m not okay, and that my body will never be okay. When in truth, my body is and has always been a fine body with functioning parts, a good battery and renewable energy. Why do I feel so much self-disgust and shame, the creeping urgency to improve myself?

I can’t blame marketing for my skewed beliefs. They come from within. The knot is in my mind and I did not put it there, it is something I have had to learn to live with. There is no one to blame for the delusions of those who suffer from body image problems, body dysmorphia or eating disorders. And so many of us, even those not diagnosed with any of the above, are convinced of flaws in our appearance.

We can learn to take a stand against the war we unwittingly allow ourselves to wage within. It uses up so much energy and takes away our freedom to live fully. Taking a stand means recognizing the beauty of body diversity and including our own body in the wide range of acceptable shapes and sizes. Taking a stand means stepping back from our subconscious biases to allow for space in which to begin to recognize the marvelous workings of a human body and mind.

Most of all, unravelling the knots of our belief systems means applying patience and tenderness to the parts of us that are wounded and broken, and giving them a chance to heal. It’s a process that is easier to grow into when we share our experiences and discover that we are never alone with them, and yet we remain unique. What is your body story? Are you giving your body all the love it needs?

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.

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.