We need to reframe our thoughts, not change our bodies

What does that mean… reframe our thoughts?

woman, nude, body image, self-portrait

Reframe this image – is she pregnant? Is she overweight? Is she in pain? Is she honoring her body just the way it is…?

I asked Google this question:  “Are eating disorders mental illnesses?” and this is highly representative of the responses I found:

Eating Disorders have been recognized by the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) since the 1980’s.  The current DSM, edition 5, now recognizes 8 categories of feeding and eating disorders. The tricky thing about eating disorders, is that they also are very medical in nature.

Many of the behaviors associated with each of the eating disorder diagnoses can have dangerous impacts on both physical and psychological well-being. As such, it is important that anyone living with an eating disorder receives care from a full team of multi-disciplinary professionals including a therapist, dietitian, medical doctor and/or a prescriber if necessary.

While I don’t disagree with any of this, my major beef (yes, this really pisses me off) is that less than one third of people suffering from eating disorders actually get treatment, whether it be for binge eating disorder, bulimia, anorexia, orthorexia and everything else in between. “Treatment teams” sound fabulous, but they are not available to everyone, and it is usually a question of money.

So, if we agree that we need to get healthier, mentally, to better accept and eventually love our bodies, just how do we do that without a “treatment team”?

Well, your treatment team might just be your mother, your neighbor, and your best friend. They absolutely count. The less we isolate around food issues and body dissatisfaction or shame, the better a chance we have at crawling out of the chasm of self-hate. I speak from personal experience with this, but also from a place of compassion for everyone  who suffers. Learning to be gentle with yourself can go a long, long way in helping you find some peace.

Reframing thoughts is basically a movement from judgement to compassion and could look something like this:

“OMG I’ve gained 15 pounds since the beginning of the pandemic and I don’t fit into my clothes any more. I don’t want anyone to see me like this. Everyone else is so fit, they’re all showing off their muscles on Instagram.

Reframed: “I’m not happy that I’ve put on weight because my clothes feel tighter and I’m not moving enough. Apparently I am not alone in this situation. Many people have found lockdown extremely difficult and I guess one of my ways of coping has been to comfort myself with food.”

The reframe is more truthful and objective. There is some drama in the first statement, as if we secretly love to hurt ourselves with blame and shame, just like we hurt ourselves by restricting food or overeating. I know it is much more complicated than that… but I am in the process of recognizing that the dramatic thinking has come back, and I am the only one that can correct these thoughts rather than feeding them and making them my truth.

If you were objective, how would you describe your body? And your relationship with it? If you were your mother, your neighbor, your best friend, what would you tell yourself?

Have you ever heard the expression “Be impeccable with your word“?

It’s one of four spiritual agreements of the Toltec people. Worth reading about if you have any judgements about yourself that need to be reframed or outright debunked, forever.

 

Who would you be?

“Who would you be without your self-judgements?”

Another favourite quote, this one by author Byron Katie. This simple question blows my mind wide open. It makes me want to stop judging myself right now, and forever. And it makes me wish I had done so a long, long time ago!

Who would we be without the self-judgements that feed our struggles, obsessions, addictions, disordered eating, negative  body image and self-loathing? We would be free! We deserve to be free. We all truly do, and it is only our own mind that holds the power over this freedom. We need to decide we are worthy and useful and lovable and valuable, and live like that is true, and it will become our truth. The path may be long, but in freeing ourselves we open doors for others.

self-portrait nude

This drawing is based on an image from a recent photoshoot with a friend (a socially distanced one!) where I was acting out my frustrations, mostly with myself, and this pose reminded me of that fed up, “fuck it” feeling I sometimes have before doing something unhelpful like overeating or self-isolating. I am getting much, much better at taking care of myself, but I can’t let it slide. I won’t let myself slide anymore…

I still find it much easier to take care of others than to take care of myself. And there is some sanity in that, since isolation seems to be the single worst symptom of the mental health fragility that so many are having to face while learning to live through a pandemic. When we’re encouraged to isolate, we have to get better at making connections, both inside and out.

How has it been for you?

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.

Hating my body until I choose to love it

…again, and again, and again.

It’s so easy to hate. Myself. It’s an ingrained habit, my baseline, my norm. Why? WTF???

What is there to hate? I am human, I am healthy, I am here in this world with a strong enough body that has served me immensely and was able to bring children into the world! I can see, hear, smell, taste, touch, sing and DANCE! So really, what’s there to hate? Yet I so easily fall back into the noisy criticisms about my looks, my weight, and my fears of what people think of me.

When I’ve really had enough, I get down on my knees and put my forehead on the floor  and stretch out my arms in the wonderful position that yoga calls “the child pose.”

Bodyinchildpose_raw

And I say a prayer and try hard to let go of all the ridiculous accusations coming from my mind that are making my life miserable. Sometimes drawing helps, sometimes it doesn’t. But I must admit, that most times, it does. Sometimes, I write on my drawings. I talk to myself through my writing, to change my ideas about my body. I affirm life and beauty and love. I don’t want to live in self hate-anymore. Enough.

Bodyinchildpose_writing

Really, what is there to hate… other than the painful disconnect between my thoughts about how things should be, about how I should be, and the reality beyond thought that can only be experienced by getting out there and living, rather than waiting until I’m good enough?

No matter what size, it’s my body

I have been photographing myself nude for almost two decades. Daily during some periods, while other times I stopped for several years but always started again, because even if I was hugely resistant towards it, I had to admit it helped improve my body image. It made me stop hiding from myself and really look at the body I have. Drawing the photos afterwards was a further act of acceptance, and often became a process of very peaceful contemplation.

This series was taken when I was at my heaviest; perhaps not obese, but not very comfortable in my own skin, and well above a weight that felt healthy for me. I was not happy with myself in general during that period of time, and I think my compulsive eating habits and lack of activity were simply being reflected in my body shape.

This is how the drawings look in process. I choose an image, maybe crop it or fix the contrast, then print and trace it, and finally, sketch in the highlights. These photos of the drawing in progress were just taken with my cell phone. Look how much softer it appears when the contrast is adjusted; the drawing looks more skin-colored, like I’m gently hidden in the shadows.

During this photoshoot (a close friend was behind the camera), I felt shame and disgust with my body. I was trying to kneel down in this image and was struggling to bend my legs and sit on them. It is not a natural position for bigger bodies to get into, and although there is nothing wrong with that, I was embarassed. Seeing these drawings later, I just see softness. I see lovely curves and a roundess that is full of life, like an abundance. The abundant body gives much to those it envelopes. The abundant body, to me, is a shared body, a beautiful body, a gentler, softer body that is inviting and available in a way that a firm body isn’t. That was me at one time in my life, and it was okay. I wish I had known so at the time. I was SO hard on myself.

Seeing ourselves nude is of course very revealing.

Being “stark naked” means being extremely vulnerable.

biggerbody1-c I think we all prefer to be strong and in control. Ideally, Instragram perfect. But we’re not just that, and we can’t always  be strong and in control. Accepting our vulnerabilities, our nakedness, our weaknesses and our doubts is the best way to recognizing our strengths, even if it means going against a society pushing us to perform and improve, no matter what. 

A bouquet of forest in my soul

The winter is long, and I feel sad and tired some days. Insomnia is my most intimate partner right now and I have difficulty embracing it. Morning brings light and hope, even if I feel rough. Drawing is my meditation, and settling in at my desk in the early hours to draw, even for a few minutes before leaving for work is as much an act of observance as is it a choice.

I trace my body in the forest, again, ten years ago, before I gained all that extra weight. Even if the shape of me then is pleasing to my eye now, I imagine faults in my character as I trace myself. The mean voice is never far away. There is always something wrong with me.

It’s the leaves that bring me peace, their subtle life force, the burst of a thousand different greens. The affirmation of the forest that growth and renewal are always possible. That what is firmly rooted in the earth will always allow something beautiful to spring forth.

Leaves. Beautiful, gentle, tender sprouts of simplicity… I trace another one, and another, and suddenly the tears well up and my breathing is laboured. I don’t cry easily, it scares me, overwhelms me, but I try to let it be, to let the emotion flow through me and let the tears fall, even if they’re ruining my eye make-up and I have to go to work soon.

I feel sad for all the difficulties in my life, in everyone’s lives. I feel the weight of the struggles in the world. I am touching my brokeness and the vulnerability I feel that makes me strive to be perfect, to show my worth to someone, anyone, everyone, to convince them, and eventually, hopefully myself, that I really do deserve to be loved. Convinced that I have to earn it. I am crying for all the pain I’ve felt and that I know so many other people feel when hating myself has been easier than finding what’s lovable in me. For all the years and opportunities lost in self-sabotage. For all the darkness I’ve fed rather than turning towards life for light.

Thank you forest, thank you leaves. Thank you my body for still being there with me no matter how nasty I have been to you. Today I will carry a bouquet of gratefulness and soft green leaves in my soul and remind myself that Spring always, always follows the Winter.