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.

Stand back and behold your beauty

It is true that when we’re too close to something we can’t see it clearly.

Standing back, even taking a break from seeing something, can help change perceptions. Imagine if there were no mirrors in your home, and you no longer checked your appearance on a daily basis… how would you see yourself if you only saw yourself on rare occasions? You might actually like what you see, much more than you usually do.

Photographing our bodies can be very helpful in changing perceptions, because is gives us that “stand back” view, and it also allows us to see angles of our physique that we can’t normally see at all. Without the help of photos, we really do not know what we look like from the back! This practice also gives us a sense of time; growth; transformation and the inevitable changes that come as we age.

Photographs made into drawings add another layer of detachment and appreciation to this process of self observation and self knowledge.

nude women sitting with loose belly flesh

Too many people focus solely on the aspects of their bodies that they find unacceptable. I wish I could cure us all of these misperceptions by somehow bringing us all back to the simple wonder of a human life living in a flesh costume. No matter how much we may dislike our thighs, our breasts, our cellulite or our arm flaps, it really is urgent to understand that our lives are precious fleeting moments and no matter how we look, we are so very fortunate just to be alive in a human body.

When you look at these intimate drawings, what do you see?

 

Drawing the body even if you think you can’t draw

Drawing is really about seeing. What people enjoy about looking at art is simply seeing things in new ways, from someone else’s perspective, different than ours. But so many of us have this learned belief that you’re either an artist or not, you can sing or you can’t, you’ve got talent or you just don’t. But it isn’t black and white. Talent, desire, interest or a natural inclination towards creative activities certainly help, but there are still skills involved that need to be learned and practiced.

The body is made of up a series of shapes, just like a building or a landscape, and if we break it down it’s much less daunting… the head is an oval, arms and legs are basically sticks, the torso a block and fingers and toes smaller sticks. If we can give ourselves permission to try, humbly enough to not immediately expect exceptional results, we can all learn and improve our skills as our brain starts to see the lines, curves and shapes that make up the overall picture. Then everything around us can be turned into a picture!

This is my husband playing air guitar in the kitchen as he listened to his favorite tunes while cooking. While you can’t see the dynamism of his movements (he was really rocking it!), I managed to capture his form in the simplest way possible… his head is an egg-shaped oval, his arms bent sticks, and his fingers just smaller, curved sticks bent into action.

The drawings on this site, all mine, are mostly copied from photographs, because my process and my practice were about learning to see my body differently and to accept myself the way I am. I got good at it because I’ve been doing it for twenty years! But I want to make the process accessible, as my drive is to invite others to try this process. Because I want them to know the relief I have known from the self-judgement that kept me down for so many years! But obviously, it needs to be accessible.

I am taking a course to learning to draw without tracing photos. It’s a different process, and so I will do my best to share that process here. So even if you think you can’t draw (believe me, I sometimes think that too!) you will see that we can all, at the very least, learn to see… our bodies, and our lives… differently.

Forever a work in progress

In this drawing I see me, about as real as it gets. After I traced the rough outline of my face from a photograph, I spent hours penciling in details and shading. Making hair look somewhat real takes time, but after years of experimenting, it’s no longer a pain, I like doing it. Drawing in great detail has turned into periods of calm contemplation that bring me peace.

I’m still learning how to draw. While I can copy photos with good results, it is something else to learn to sketch freehand, from life, to see the most important curves, lines and expressions that form a person, place or object. I’m also still learning how to see myself with the love and acceptance any human being truly deserves, yet which I would easily offer to someone else.

I’m learning to treat myself and my body with respect. One of the hardest things is committing to feeding myself in ways that give me energy, rather than weighing myself down with the kinds of foods that are really just a temporary escape from my fears; distractions with consequences.

I believe the worst part of an eating disorder is the self-sabotage we consciously and unconsciously inflict upon ourselves that keeps us down. Self-sabotage that goes way beyond what we eat, because it includes self-destructive thinking that keeps us from breaking out of the prison we’ve created and maintain in our own minds.

In this drawing I also see a woman who’s discouraged, exhausted by the self-hate, self-questioning, doubt and disdain she carries for herself. I see too, that at this point, she was starting to get ready to lay down her arms and stop fighting with herself, to finally take some more little steps to work towards freedom. Forever a work in progress…

Anastasia (series) – I

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.

Anastasia1

” We carry a terrible wound: alienation from our embodied life.

Your flesh shall become a great poem. “

                    – Walt Whitman

From photo to silhouette to artsy whatever

With digital cameras we can get creative photographing ourselves and our bodies in order to get more comfortable with them. Unfortunately the most accessible photos of the human body are usually highly sexualised, erotic images, or excessively idealized fine art nudes, yet there is a huge spectrum of possibilities in between. Where are the regular people of all shapes and size doing ordinary things? These types of images of the body are so hard to find, that in order to draw the body from photos, my group of artist-friends found that we had to take the photos we wanted ourselves.

This image is an example of playing with the camera… I was hiding behind the scarf at first and slowly pulled it off and wrapped in around myself in different ways while taking photos using the timer and a tripod. First it’s traced, then colored, painted… whatever. I had fun with the scarf because I love to mix decorative patterns with the simple beauty of the human form.

mad about my body tracing mad about my body drawing

My self-portrait sessions only ever happen a result of periods of feeling really bad about myself and my body, and they always bring me peace. The process of drawing even more so. This little photo shoot turned into a series that I thought was quite lovely, but that I would never have conceived of or produced, were it not for my need to work through my intense body shame.

I wish I could bring this change of perspective on the body to every human being who cannot see their own beauty. To those who have lost all sense of connection to and recognition of the wonders of the body that they inhabit. Who have been blinded by the insane unattainable images that our society feeds us, making us sick with desire to be what we are not. I know what it is to carry that false vision and to live the pain of self-rejection. So I continue to draw, and share my story, again and again… and invite you to draw with us so you can see the bigger picture that for now, your mind cannot.

madaboutmybody@gmail.com

 

Model drawing & modelling when you’re not a model

Do you have that recurring nightmare about being naked in public?

What’s that about? I’m pretty sure it’s about vulnerability. Fear of being judged if you were to find yourself completely unprotected and fully “seen”.  And sometimes, it’s about body shame. And the difficulty with healing body shame is that you can’t do that without involving the body, when all you want to do is hide it!

For ten years I ran figure drawing workshops, which usually involves hiring nude models to pose, so that people can practice drawing the human form. But our group did it all backwards. We started in my living room, with the bravest among us offering to be the model. As we were just beginners slowly forming a group, we didn’t want to charge those learning to draw, so we didn’t pay those modelling.

And we discovered that there was a subtle difference when the models were not paid; instead of it being a job, it became a gift they offered to those drawing… a gift of their vulnerability.  They were there because they wanted to be, not to be paid. So we continued that way intentionally. We called it a “figure drawing workshop for body acceptance” and invited people who wanted the challenge of finding themselves nude in front of others to model, even if they had no previous experience. And it worked!

It allowed people who were uncomfortable in their own skin to start working through their shame. They gave us the gift of their vulnerability, and in return received the gift of discovering that the artists were really only there to draw their body, not to judge, exploit or even necessarily admire their bodies. And that was a gift in itself. With time, the artists started making a point of showing their work to the models, and to offer them one of their drawings to thank them for posing.

I was never particularly strong at drawing models, and I was not a willing model! I preferred to find models and run the workshops, but that also put me in the hot spot if models cancelled at the last minute. It’s scarier to think about it than to actually do it, so who could blame them! When this happened, we asked for a stand-in in the room. If nobody responded, then it was me.

This is a drawing I received from an artist at a session I posed at. It helped me see myself differently than I usually do… definitely with less judgement. It’s just another body… unique as they all are…

Waist or no waist

“Who I am is certainly part of how I look and vice versa. I want to know where I begin and end, what size I am, and what suits me… I am not “in” this body, I am this body. Waist or no waist.

But all the same, there’s something about me that doesn’t change, hasn’t changed, through all the remarkable, exciting, alarming, and disappointing transformations my body has gone through. There is a person there who isn’t only what she looks like, and to find her and know her I have to look through, look in, look deep. Not only in space, but in time.”

building positive body image with aging

“There’s the ideal beauty of youth and health, which never really changes, and is always true. There’s the ideal beauty of movie stars and advertising models, the beauty-game ideal, which changes its rules all the time and from place to place and is never entirely true. And there’s an ideal beauty that is harder to define or understand, because it occurs not just in the body but where the body and the spirit meet and define each other.”

– from the wonderful writings on aging by  Ursula K. Le Guin

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.

Sincere Self-exposure

If you want to be seen in this world, you have to seek exposure. Those seeking worldly success, fame, notoriety, have to promote themselves and their cause shamelessly to “get out there” and be seen.

But if you are shy, or suffer from self-doubt or low self-confidence and are still searching to find your way in the world, no matter how old you are, you may prefer to hang back or even hide rather than put yourself in the limelight.

No matter what we end up doing with our lives, the most important thing is to learn to be ourselves, accept ourselves and to be kind to ourselves. Easier said than done for someone with body image issues or for those who suffer from disordered eating and all the underlying pain that causes this behaviour.

These self-portraits are me looking at myself. Exposing myself to myself. Really looking closely for a change; not hiding from my perceived flaws. Sometimes seeing ourselves frankly staring back at our own bare face is even more confronting than seeing our unclothed bodies.

wethair1-bw      wethair2-bw

Although the drawings may appear pretty raw, this exercise was extremely liberating. I took the photos fresh out of the shower, unsmiling, when I was going through a rough period. I was very harsh on myself then, and I think the first drawing reflects that harshness.

But after putting in hours outlining and shading the first illustration, I was happily surprised to see how much softer the second drawing came out. Perhaps because I am not glaring at the camera like in the first one. It’s gentler; the gaze is more inwards and less confrontational. The first one seems to be challenging me looking back (at me!) with an attitude of “I’m ugly and I hate myself so what do you care?!?” whereas the second drawing reflects the mollifying effect of the artistic process.

In the second drawing I see myself with a rawness that is also very pure. It’s me at any age, at every age, me as a child, a woman, a mother. It’s me both weak and strong, both wonderful and worthy and ridiculously insecure.

It’s just me, and there is nobody else quite like me, so wouldn’t it be better if I learned to get along with myself?

In my face I see my children and I see my parents, and I also see the future vulnerability of old age, which I truly hope to reach, gently and peacefully. I see a life that deserves to be loved, just like every other human life.