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

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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**.

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.

Vulnerability reconnects us

Vulnerability is not weakness; it brings us closer to ourselves and to each other.

If you have not yet discovered the writings of Brené Brown, please do! The short description is that she is a university professor, author and mother, who has done years of research on shame. At first discovery, I thought: someone actually studies shame? She did and she does, and the discoveries she shares are ground-breaking. Google her name and you will find a list of her books, podcasts, lectures, and many quotes that resonate with many people.

One of my favourite Brené Brown quotes is: “Vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you“.

woman bent over crying

Early on, I learned to act like everything was cool and to make the best of things, even if I was falling apart. To never show weakness or fear; to just push on through with a smile. I’m getting better at being more authentic, which means I cannot always hide my distress anymore. It’s uncomfortable, but rather than sharing and trusting that it will pass, I tend to beat myself up and be angry with myself. Which ends up pushing people away, because ultimately I come off as snobby or rude when refusing to show my true state.

And yet, when I’m not feeling my best, that’s when I most need to feel close to people!

Years ago I ran into a friend of a friend, someone whose path I crossed often, but who I wasn’t really sure I liked. Every time I saw her, her demeanor was light and bubbly and happy and it put me off, I guess because it felt like a show. Her behaviour mirrored my own, and irritated me because I felt like I never got to see her true self.

This time, when I asked how she was doing, she admitted she was having a rough day, and went on to share concerns about things happening in her life. My heart immediately grew twenty times bigger in my chest and I just wanted to hug her! The mask had fallen, and she’d let me in by sharing her truth. A truth that I could relate to with empathy. I think of her and this meeting often when I’m feeling down and not wanting to admit it or show my darker side to anyone.

Observing, photographing and drawing the body, your own or a diversity of different human forms, is another way to access this vulnerability and compassion, and it makes us stronger and more caring towards ourselves and towards others. As it’s often been said before, “in our vulnerability lies our strength”. And in our vulnerability also lies the very gentleness of our souls.

“It’s good to be seen”

My dad loved to make fun of convention. He had some really good lines, but by far my favorite was his response when people said “It’s good to see you”.  His reply was: “It’s good to be seen”.

I always thought he was being bumptious (a great word that means self-assertive or proud to an irritating degree), but later I realized that it IS good to be seen! We need to be seen! We want to be seen! It is a basic necessity for us to be seen, recognized, accepted and loved by others.

nude woman seatedAnyone suffering from negative body image may disagree, at least sometimes. I know I’ve wanted to hide when the focus on my imperfect body, or tired face, or whatever my mind was stuck on at the time, made it hard to go forth and happily be part of the world. And so it became urgent to learn to look at myself with love. Self-portraiture helped me accept myself over time, as well as offering workshops and accompanying others in this process. Drawing others also helps to see the beauty in every body, and the practice of live model drawing is a great way see many other bodies, just the way they are.

With gratitude and respect, I will continue to share some drawings I have done of other people here as well as my self portraits, in order to highlight the beauty of every body.  Lately I have had the opportunity to photograph and draw on commission several women who wanted to undertake the process with direct accompaniment and support. These experiences were very rich, and I am happy to be able to offer the possibility to purchase portraits of your body that I can draw  from your photos. Proceeds from these portraits go to supporting this process of helping people learn to see themselves more lovingly. Perhaps, through someone else’s eyes, you will see your own body differently and agree that you are perfect just the way you are, and, that it’s good be seen.

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) – III

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.

drawing of nude woman lounging

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.

Nude female body posing

“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 (series) – II

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

Bad about ourselves

In French there is an expression, mal dans ma peau, which translated literally means ‘’uncomfortable in my skin’’ or, according to Google translator, “bad about myself”. It’s an easy expression to remember for those who know how it feels to be not be at ease in your own skin; to live with relentless self-criticism, to constantly want to change things about your looks and about your body. For those who know what it’s like to not want to be you.

body image drawing practiceThis discomfort with our physical bodies ravages so many lives! If we seek an outside source to explain the problem, it is at least partially created by, and wholeheartedly encouraged by the beauty and fashion industries, but blaming them won’t change anything fast.

We have a better chance at changing ourselves from the inside out. Not changing our bodies, but the changing way we perceive our bodies. So how do we go about renewing the way we see ourselves?

Hold the plastic surgery, there are other options

It’s a long way home, as anyone with an eating disorder will tell you. It’s a long, slow process. Finding a supportive practice requires alot of outside help, but also a profound commitment to nurturing a new vision of ourselves from within. We have found drawing and photography to be incredibly helpful tools, but they must be practiced repeatedly, just like making healthy food choices on a regular basis, which we all know is a challenge in itself. We can’t reverse a lifetime of self-judgment in a minute; we need support and accompaniment to make lasting changes.

“To draw the body is to really look at what it is to be human, is to find the door to the heart and open it gently, allowing the light of love and truth into the darkest places. To draw yourself is to light a candle in the wind of fear, knowing that you can trust the process and finally let go of that harsh, judgmental, evaluating stare and simply see the beauty in being alive.” – Theresa

¨We’re all just walking each other home¨ ― Ram Dass

Speaking out, for ourselves, and for those who can’t 

One of the hardest aspects of any disorder; whether it be low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, addiction or troubled eating behaviours, is the desire to hide, to disappear, to isolate ourselves from the world and its ideals of beauty and success that we can’t seem to live up to. Learning to look at ourselves more gently, writing about our feelings and becoming more aware of the diversity of bodies that exist are positive ways to start breaking through the walls of silence that keep us trapped in self-loathing.

This invitation to practice photographing, drawing, and to writing about how you feel about your body is a call to arms to fight the body dissatisfaction that is so rampant in our society today, to speak up, out and against the perception that we must change and improve ourselves to become worthy or lovable; to become something we’re not. By denouncing these lies we hope to take our lives back and learn to enjoy ourselves and our bodies and to help those still suffering from negative perspectives.

“I truly believe that every tiny act of acceptance and recognition of what is most vulnerable within us helps the entire world to reconnect to this peaceful place within.” – Marie

The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.” ― Anaïs Nin

Would you like to draw with us and share this journey of learning to love your body?

To know your own beauty

The good thing about growing older, is that we truly do get wiser. Experience is the best teacher and after many trials, errors and a few successes, we do learn to do things differently and to see things differently. While there is something enthralling about youth, newness, guileless energy and strength, we must learn to see the beauty in maturity, in fragility, in slowness and in vulnerability, particularly in ourselves as we slow down and ripen into middle and then old age.

If disordered eating and negative body image are truly forms of mental illness, I never really understood that I was sick. Although I sought help, no real help was to be found other than prescriptions for anti-depressant meds, which I tried, but didn’t get good results on them. So I just kept wading through my own mental muck, thinking everyhing that was wrong with me was my own fault.

madaboutmybody10

After at least twenty-five of years struggling, striving and battling with myself, I think I have reached a place where the self-acceptance is finally greater than the doubts and the self-harassment. Finally. I can’t look back without thinking “what a tragic waste of energy…” and wondering how my life would have been different had my inner life been gentler.

But here I am with my process to share. Reaching out to see if I can possibly grab on to the hand of someone else who is suffering like I was, and help show them the way home to themselves through this simple practice of drawing the body.

When I was in my twenties, I was not that aware of my beauty, or my strengths. I didn’t yet know how powerful I was as a woman, as a human being, with a heart full of compassion. I thought appearing beautiful on the outside was extremely important.  Now I  see so much  beauty everywhere I turn in life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, because I see myself as part of that beauty too, and I’m not trying to change myself any more.