Your body hears everything your mind says … this 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.
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.
This photo session with Anastasia taught me how uniquely each person reacts in front of the camera. We made a date, and she arrived mentally prepared for just about anything, but when the time came to undress, she started to feel uncomfortable and wasn’t sure if she could go on. I reminded her that it was totally her call and I left the room to give her a few moments to herself. When I came back, she was sitting on the floor wearing a camisole and underwear and still unsure about what she wanted to do. Since we were in a room with a camera set up just for that purpose, I proposed to take a few photos of her anyways, just like that, but as soon as I disappeared behind the camera she made up her mind and removed the last pieces of clothing.
What happened next really surprised me. I didn’t tell her what to do or how to pose, I only suggested she try to feel her way into different positions according to how she was feeling. Once the ice was broken, she seemed incredibly comfortable in front of the camera, in fact, her poses were creative and natural, and clearly she was having fun playing the game of shifting positions to expose her body from different angles. I was quite touched by how easily she was able to move around while I took the pictures. She did not look like someone who was ashamed of her curves. What I was seeing was someone who lived fully in her body from the inside out.
“Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world.
Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form.
Risk being seen in all of your glory.”
― Jim Carrey
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.
— Rose-Emily Rothenberg, The Jewel in the Wound
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.
Your flesh shall become a great poem. “
– Walt Whitman
alone in my room experimenting with the camera at bedtime
years later drawing in bed before going to sleep
honoring the soft warmth of this perfectly imperfect body
we are sensual beings