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.

Dragon slaying in confinement

drawing of nude woman

Have lockdown, confinement and now, social and physical distancing brought out the best in you too, or just the worst? Watching the rising numbers of people falling ill, fearing for loved ones and living with the ongoing threat of contracting this virus has certainly shaken us all up, even if we have not yet been directly affected.

It’s pushing us to simplify, accept, embrace, and reject parts of ourselves that we perhaps weren’t even aware of. Whether it be the empty pain of solitude or the overwhelm of intense family interaction, it’s hard to escape like we used to.  Everything seems to be in our face.

We can kiss the dragon or run from it. But we can’t run from ourselves, because sometime we ARE the dragon. Peacemaking becomes vital, inevitable, urgent and consistently the only sane choice. We can only embrace the practice and accept the process. One daring move at a time.

This self-portrait is more disarming than most; I see myself at 50 and as an innocent 5 year-old in the same posture. I am older, I have learned so many things, and I want to continue to grow, but I never want to lose the curiosity and joy of a child. And to do that, I must continue to accept the insecurities, the discomforts and the fears that come up in order to access the spontaneous moments of sweetly, simply being me.

Virus or no virus.

Women using art to honour the body

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!

women drawing around a table using light tables

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.

https://www.facebook.com/womenusingartforbodyacceptance/

Contact us if you want to know more, start your own process with online accompaniment, or bring a workshop to your community! 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.

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

It was self-loathing that led me to self portraiture

Funny how pain and suffering are sometimes the only things that push us to move beyond the paralysis of our comfort zones. I certainly never set out to draw self portraits, and much less to to share them on the internet.

There is no quick fix to learning to love yourself when you have made a habit of hating yourself.  The negative self-talk some of us know too well is the mother or all partypoopers to any human psyche. And it self-perpetuates. But it’s never true! It’s a very deeply ingrained bad practice that needs to be replaced by a good practice, and drawing is a very strong positive mantra that is based in reality, not just on ideas.

self-loathing, body image, body hate, art therapy

Often when I draw, or guide groups to draw on the subject of body image, I invite people to write what pops in their minds as they work. Our minds are stimulated differently while concentrating on lines, curves, light and shadows. Drawing is contemplative, and gives us  time to make connections, or more clearly identify memories and beliefs that we would otherwise be unaware of. Putting those thoughts down on paper allows us to see them with a bit more distance , and then choose what we want to believe, or not.

While this image has French words, you don’t really need to understand them other than to know I was writing all the mean thoughts that came up in my mind about my body as I drew a photo I’d judged as ugly – wait, no  –  it was my body I was judging, the photo itself was just fine! I can make fun about this now because I don’t live in that self-loathing as constantly as I used to. Thanks to this practice, my head is more often above the waters of self-hate, and when those thoughts come up, it is easier for me to recognize that they are not true, and to push them away. But it took practice, practice, practice…

For self portraiture, the first part of the practice is to dare… and I mean really DARE! to photograph the vulnerability of your own body, or ask someone you trust to photograph you. I will share more about this process in my next article, because it has always been the hardest part for me. If that seems impossible for you to fathom now, you can start with photos of your face or of others’ bodies, perhaps those with a size and shape similar to yours.

Then, you trace. It’s a simple process, no performance, no stress, you’re just copying contours (better with a light box so you can see the lines of the photo clearly under the paper you’re tracing to). Then you can work with the photo nearby for reference and shade, color, or paint the silhouette of the face or body you have traced. If that’s too hard, we can supply silhouettes for you to draw; we have prepared many for our workshops. Then write what comes up.

Remember – it’s a practice – results do not matter. Wanting nice or good results is hard to avoid. Many of us, including me, seem to be hard-wired to think that art requires magical talents and is something you sell or hang on a wall. For some people, it is that, and that’s okay! But art is also transformative and therapeutic, because it teaches us to really see.

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…

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.

The beauty in vulnerability

People say I draw well, and of course I appreciate hearing that. I love to draw, and I have put in alot of hours doing it, and we get better at anything we repeat. But being good at drawing is not the point of this blog. It’s about the process.

It’s about slowing down, taking the time to really look at the human body, your own or someone else’s. It’s about feeling what you feel and contemplating what you see. The overall picture, the details, and all that’s unseen. So many functions keeping us alive are completely invisible!

Drawing the body is the complete opposite of looking at yourself in the mirror and believing the fourteen critical thoughts that pop up in the first three seconds.

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In this image I see many things. This time it’s not a self-portrait, it’s of a friend. I was taking the photos. I remember the room we were in, the mood, her discomfort yet absolute determination to face her fears and do this, our laughter, and the sense of accomplishment we both had when the camera was put away and she dressed.

I see strength in this body, and I see light. In that frozen moment, I see something pure and tender that is not trying to hide or cover itself up or embellish itself in any way. I see the humility, the trust and the courage required to be vulnerable and be seen. While drawing, I did not see my friend’s ego, her personal issues or her health struggles, I just saw her, very simply, and I felt love and compassion.

I know that if she were to see the actual photograph, she would probably wince, like I do when seeing images of myself, and she would probably find something wrong with her body. I hope that when I show her the drawings made from that photoshoot, she’ll see the simple beauty that I saw as I drew.

Write to us at madaboutmybody@gmail.com if you’d like to try this practice.  We can correspond to coach you on how to do an easy photoshoot, or supply silhouettes of bodies similar to yours that you can trace from and then draw, colour, or paint. Everyone can get something out of this process, even if you have never drawn in your life.