A drawing; a photo; a young-ish woman, somewhat thin… nude. Why? What is going on here?
Simply put, a peacemaking process.
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.
This drawing practice, which has helped me make peace with my own body, was something that was developed slowly, over many years, through experimentation. Not just my experimentation, but that of others, too. Those others are now friends and together we’ve formed a drawing collective with the goal of honouring the body by seeing it differently. All of us have repeatedly photographed ourselves and others, and have discovered and rediscovered that looking at our bodies from new perspectives rather than from our usual critical viewpoint changes something… in fact, it changes everything!
It sounds easy… we photograph, we draw, and we invite others to draw with us, using the simplest of techniques. We start by simply copying or tracing images or photos to make the practice accessible to all; no art experience or talents are required! This photo shows a group of women drawing-tracing the body together as part of a women’s circle workshop. It was a wonderful day of personal sharing for all of us.
Behind the scenes, sometimes getting down to these practices involves facing up to a myriad of fears and resistance, questions and hesitations, that can make any part of the process an emotional challenge that must be overcome. Often it only becomes possible when the process is shared, and it’s important than everyone move at their own speed, attempting new practices as they’re ready, to discover as they go what most needs to be seen, to be brought to the light and to be expressed. Great strides are possible when the light of compassion is shined upon the things we judge the most.
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.”
We took at least a hundred photographs, then sat down together at my computer to go through them. We agreed that these images belonged to her, and would never be shared with anyone else, but she was okay with me making drawings based on some of them. We sorted through, and she left me about 30 images – those that did not clearly show her face – and the rest were copied onto a CD and erased from my camera’s memory card.
I finally drew this series 5 years later. I haven’t seen Anastasia since the photo shoot, but we’ve stayed in contact. I’m not sure where she’s at with her body image or her weight, but she has continued to work on herself and grow stronger. I know that life is not always easy for her, but she is tenacious. Drawing her was a wonderful process for me, mostly because I’d gained weight since I last saw her, and for the first time in my life I was able to identify with curvier women. I saw the beauty above and beyond the extra weight.
” You can be sexy and feel confident in your skin, no matter what size you are.” – Ashley Graham
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.
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.
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.
It takes a lot to go against the grain of a visual culture that provides an endless stream of idealized bodies and lifestyles. It can make it very hard to figure out exactly who we are and what our lives are really about. Finding our essence as a person often requires peeling back layers of false constructs, most of which are simply unrealistic ideas and images about what or who we want to be or think we are supposed to be.
My self-portrait process has definitely been a swim upstream, often choked with resistance. All of my drawings are produced from photographs, yet I didn’t want anyone to photograph me nude! I must admit that on the rare occasions I found the courage to ask a friend to photograph me, it was always a good experience, and I was grateful for the images to work from. But for many, many of my drawings, I used the timer on a tiny point-and-shoot digital camera and a little tripod or a stack of books to take the photos myself. For three years I committed to taking 3 photos a day, and it definitely broke down my resistance.
With time, and repetition, I learned to judge less. See more. Find the beauty in many of the photos. Draw the ones I hated the most, and rediscover that no matter what, my human body is still an amazing machine that allows me to experience life in so many ways.
Try it at home. Please try it. Look at yourself, photograph yourself, draw yourself, so that you, too, can discover that you are okay just the way you are. You are better than okay, you are beautiful, you are you… you are alive… and no matter how loudly your mind protests with all its petty complaints about what could be better, you are enough.
And if you need help learning this new way of seeing yourself, or know of someone else who desperately needs this kind of support, there is help to be had, hands to be held, guidance that can be offered along this path. Please, just ask. firstname.lastname@example.org