That part of your body you hate is just a squiggly line :)

I’m taking a class to learn how to draw the body without using a photo for reference, and it’s a bit unnerving! I’m pushing beyond my comfort zone, which is good. I will take you along for the ride if you’re interested, but most of all I’d like to share the fascinating symbolic connections I’m discovering in the process.

scribbling sketches related to learning to draw the body for body acceptanceOne thing I’m learning is that every single thing we perceive in the universe is made up of lines and curves. That’s it. Simplistic perhaps, but true. Energy or action either moves outwards or inwards. And intentions generally move up or down, to the left or to the right. Hand-drawn circles are never perfect and erasers are the best second-chance tools ever!

What else? On paper, all bodies are made up of the same parts (of course in life there are exceptions), and they pretty much fit together the same way, no matter how well or how badly we draw them.

So… here’s my little “aha!” moment that happened while attempting to copy these little figures that the professor shared in his lesson. The “aha!” was about how small our really big concerns about our bodies actually are, when put into perspective. How unfounded, unimportant, unfathomably silly our angst about our cellulite, our pimples, our weight or our pointy elbows appears in the backdrop of this effort to reproduce the phenomenal complexity of a human being on paper.

I’m not minimizing anyone’s pain or suffering with their body image or their health or their weight; I totally understand the gravity of these concerns because I share them. But my struggle in making these little figures was an excellent reminder that our bodies are also, always, unfathomably awesome machines made up of many moving parts! And they function marvelously with little intervention on our part (think about the essential involuntary processes the brain commands like breathing and digestion).

So just maybe that thing we think is so wrong with us it not wrong at all, but just another aspect of one of the many manifestations of humanity in all its glory? Can you see how cute you are in my squiggly figures?

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) – V – final

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.”

— Nayyirah Waheed

Anastasia (series) – III

This photo session with Anastasia taught me how uniquely each person reacts in front of the camera. We made a date, and she arrived mentally prepared for just about anything, but when the time came to undress, she started to feel uncomfortable and wasn’t sure if she could go on. I reminded her that it was totally her call and I left the room to give her a few moments to herself. When I came back, she was sitting on the floor wearing a camisole and underwear and still unsure about what she wanted to do. Since we were in a room with a camera set up just for that purpose, I proposed to take a few photos of her anyways, just like that, but as soon as I disappeared behind the camera she made up her mind and removed the last pieces of clothing.

drawing of nude woman lounging

What happened next really surprised me. I didn’t tell her what to do or how to pose, I only suggested she try to feel her way into different positions according to how she was feeling. Once the ice was broken, she seemed incredibly comfortable in front of the camera, in fact, her poses were creative and natural, and clearly she was having fun playing the game of shifting positions to expose her body from different angles. I was quite touched by how easily she was able to move around while I took the pictures. She did not look like someone who was ashamed of her curves. What I was seeing was someone who lived fully in her body from the inside out.

Nude female body posing

“Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world.

Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form.

Risk being seen in all of your glory.”


― Jim Carrey

Bad about ourselves

In French there is an expression, mal dans ma peau, which translated literally means ‘’uncomfortable in my skin’’ or, according to Google translator, “bad about myself”. It’s an easy expression to remember for those who know how it feels to be not be at ease in your own skin; to live with relentless self-criticism, to constantly want to change things about your looks and about your body. For those who know what it’s like to not want to be you.

body image drawing practiceThis discomfort with our physical bodies ravages so many lives! If we seek an outside source to explain the problem, it is at least partially created by, and wholeheartedly encouraged by the beauty and fashion industries, but blaming them won’t change anything fast.

We have a better chance at changing ourselves from the inside out. Not changing our bodies, but the changing way we perceive our bodies. So how do we go about renewing the way we see ourselves?

Hold the plastic surgery, there are other options

It’s a long way home, as anyone with an eating disorder will tell you. It’s a long, slow process. Finding a supportive practice requires alot of outside help, but also a profound commitment to nurturing a new vision of ourselves from within. We have found drawing and photography to be incredibly helpful tools, but they must be practiced repeatedly, just like making healthy food choices on a regular basis, which we all know is a challenge in itself. We can’t reverse a lifetime of self-judgment in a minute; we need support and accompaniment to make lasting changes.

“To draw the body is to really look at what it is to be human, is to find the door to the heart and open it gently, allowing the light of love and truth into the darkest places. To draw yourself is to light a candle in the wind of fear, knowing that you can trust the process and finally let go of that harsh, judgmental, evaluating stare and simply see the beauty in being alive.” – Theresa

¨We’re all just walking each other home¨ ― Ram Dass

Speaking out, for ourselves, and for those who can’t 

One of the hardest aspects of any disorder; whether it be low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, addiction or troubled eating behaviours, is the desire to hide, to disappear, to isolate ourselves from the world and its ideals of beauty and success that we can’t seem to live up to. Learning to look at ourselves more gently, writing about our feelings and becoming more aware of the diversity of bodies that exist are positive ways to start breaking through the walls of silence that keep us trapped in self-loathing.

This invitation to practice photographing, drawing, and to writing about how you feel about your body is a call to arms to fight the body dissatisfaction that is so rampant in our society today, to speak up, out and against the perception that we must change and improve ourselves to become worthy or lovable; to become something we’re not. By denouncing these lies we hope to take our lives back and learn to enjoy ourselves and our bodies and to help those still suffering from negative perspectives.

“I truly believe that every tiny act of acceptance and recognition of what is most vulnerable within us helps the entire world to reconnect to this peaceful place within.” – Marie

The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.” ― Anaïs Nin

Would you like to draw with us and share this journey of learning to love your body?

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

 

Look at us, we’re all okay… just the way we are

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.

Self-portraiture for self-love

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. madaboutmybody@gmail.com

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…

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.