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**.

Your body is your home

The best kind of home can be found wherever you are.

When we are at peace with the body we live in, and not at war with it in our minds, we are free from the inside out, and wherever we are, it is possible to feel safe and loved.

While this does not come naturally to someone suffering from negative body image, addictions, or an eating disorder, it can be learned. Too often we are separated from our own bodies by excessive jugements inflicted on ourselves by our own minds.

Imagine sinking into a warm bathtub, or wrapping yourself in a cosy blanket on a chilly Fall day. Now imagine that living in a body you love can feel that good, all day every day!nude woman, body image

When I look at this self-portrait, I see the inner distress I was feeling, but the positive is that it was being expressed. As my friend photographed me, I told her about my fears and frustrations, and because I was vulnerable in my nudity, what came through seemed less filtered than usual, more raw, more true. Naked and liberating.

These photos were taken during the early months of the pandemic, when we were getting a taste of complete lock-downs. It was hard, and I was struggling with being alone so much, not being able to see my closest family members because they were out-of-town. It was in the weeks leading up to my birthday, which I was about to spend alone, the only human contact possible through video calls. My friend was also suffering from isolation during the lock-down, and by being in the same room together for an hour or so for the photoshoot, we were breaking the rules. And yet it did us both a world of good.

I continue to learn, discover and affirm that my body is my home. I have abused this home with disordered eating for many years. My fears and insecurities have long pushed me to seek comfort in food, but now I am getting closer to finding comfort in the only vessel I have to take me through this life, and to be increasingly grateful for all the wonderful life experiences it continues to allow me to have, pandemic or no pandemic.

It’s time to come home to stay.

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.

Seeing beneath the surface

First impression – what do you see?

A drawing; a photo; a young-ish woman, somewhat thin… nude. Why? What is going on here?

Simply put, a peacemaking process.

self-portrait:  art as therapy

The photograph was taken as a self-portrait during a  difficult time. I photographed myself daily, a process of allowing myself to be seen…

Allowing myself to exist when self-rejection was overwhelming.

Using a timer on a digital camera, I took 3 photos a day for nearly 3 years. While I have taken other photos since, this daily practice was instensely liberating. I have gone back and traced or sketched many of the photos over the years as part of a practice to change my negative perception of my body into a more realistic and accepting perspective of self.

We all have our battle scars; my war with bulimia shows up in visible ribs, and my belly in this photo shows sagging and stretch marks from four pregancies, which while not battles, were powerful events for my body, and some of the most beautiful moments in my life.

I have drawn many self-portraits, and I will continue to do so, inviting others to join me in this practice, because it truly brings me peace. There is no war in my body, the war is in my mind, and this gentle process of seeing myself vulnerable, unprotected and real, is the best way I know to recognize how false and destructive all the noises in my head can be.

Please contact me if you’d like to give this practice a try. You do not need to know how to draw; it can be done very simply with online accompaniment.

madaboutmybody@gmail.com

“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.

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.