This drawing practice, which has helped me make peace with my own body, was something that was developed slowly, over many years, through experimentation. Not just my experimentation, but that of others, too. Those others are now friends and together we’ve formed a drawing collective with the goal of honouring the body by seeing it differently. All of us have repeatedly photographed ourselves and others, and have discovered and rediscovered that looking at our bodies from new perspectives rather than from our usual critical viewpoint changes something… in fact, it changes everything!
It sounds easy… we photograph, we draw, and we invite others to draw with us, using the simplest of techniques. We start by simply copying or tracing images or photos to make the practice accessible to all; no art experience or talents are required! This photo shows a group of women drawing-tracing the body together as part of a women’s circle workshop. It was a wonderful day of personal sharing for all of us.
Behind the scenes, sometimes getting down to these practices involves facing up to a myriad of fears and resistance, questions and hesitations, that can make any part of the process an emotional challenge that must be overcome. Often it only becomes possible when the process is shared, and it’s important than everyone move at their own speed, attempting new practices as they’re ready, to discover as they go what most needs to be seen, to be brought to the light and to be expressed. Great strides are possible when the light of compassion is shined upon the things we judge the most.
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.
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.
One 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?
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.”
Anastasia was struggling with dieting and really frustrated with her body; not at all at peace with her shape or her weight at the time we met. Talking about it honestly, I think she was surprised to hear that even though I was slim, I felt just as uncomfortable in my body as what she described, and I’d always felt that bad about myself, for as long as I could remember. I told her how using imagery to fight for the cause of improving body image and loving our bodies was helping me work on my issues. I explained that for several years already I’d been photographing and drawing the nude body, including my own, and how liberating it was. She seemed to understand how this process could be helpful, and liked the idea of doing a photo shoot with me. It didn’t happen right away, because as I well knew from my own experiences, a lot of inner resistance came up in the meantime.
Our photo session finally happened about a year later. It had been a rough year for Anastasia; a break-up, a move, and quitting a boring office job that led her to enroll in a course to become an esthetician. She told me about these studies, in particular how the practice periods required intimate contact with other students’ bodies through massage and skin care, and how this had made her a lot more relaxed about everything body-related. She said she now felt ready to be photographed nude, as a challenge to herself. Instead of trying to lose weight or change her body, she just wanted to change the negative opinion she held towards herself.
To explore a body symptom is to enter it, as it has entered us, and to partake in a sacred mystery. It is with the greatest respect and humility that we undertake this task.
Anastasia and I were roommates only for a few months, but a close friendship grew from sharing about our food and weight issues.
Somehow, we quickly managed to breach a huge taboo by admitting that we both turned compulsively to food whenever we felt overwhelmed by the stress in our lives, and that authenticity created an instant bond between us.
” We carry a terrible wound: alienation from our embodied life.
A human body; a human life, is a tremendous opportunity to live and to love.
If we spend our time hating ourselves, questioning everything and finding so much wrong, there is very little energy left to love. Not ourselves, not anyone.
When fear and self-hate weigh down on us ferociously, we have to do the work. And keep on doing the work. We’ll still be imperfect, but it is possible to move beyond negative body image to a much more accepting and appreciative view of our lives and of our deepest selves. This is our one life… and the one body we were given to walk through this life.
This soft, dark drawing is a witness to this transformation; an inner movement from the heavy fear of unworthiness to the light of abandon that leads to self-acceptance. A stripping off of all the usual masks we wear so we can stop hiding from ourselves, from life.
While it is a particularly vulnerable image, it is not meant to show off or to seduce. It’s more like an offering of humility that does not exclude the most fragile and mistreated aspects of the female body. Aspects that deserve to be honored, held sacred, and treated with the utmost respect.
The woman in this drawing is no longer looking for someone to look at her with love.