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.

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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

For those who know how bad it gets

I am posting this in the “Self-love” category because self-love is what self-loathing screams for.  And self-love is possible, at first perhaps only fleetingly, but with time and nurturing, it grows. (…oh yes, and did I ever mention that drawing yourself can help? )

If you’ve suffered from an eating disorder, addictions, a handicap, illness – mental or physical – or any other major emotional challenge that makes you less than glowingly in adoration of yourself (to say the least!), then you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes it gets really bad. But it’s always better when it’s expressed. When kept inside, it rots and festers.

rough sketch of sad nude woman looking down      sketch of nude woman with writing about dissatisfaction with herself and her body

I found this drawing stashed away in a drawer, and just knew I had to share it, not because it’s awesome but because it’s so real. And I am glad to say that this vision of things is not my only reality anymore, there are many more good days than bad ones, but sometimes the bad ones come back to remind me to keep up the good work 🙂

Apologies for the fuzzy cell phone photos, but trust me, you don’t really want to read all the nasty things I was writing about myself… hopefully you’ll get the gist that it was an angry rant against my apparent lack of worth. Not your typical shiny Instagram-worthy content, and yet I post it hoping that someone else who hears these mad words in their mind will see with a little distance how hurtful we can be to ourselves at our worst. And that better days always come around if we can find a little compassion for ourselves and see deeper than the surface. Our bodies are our best friends… it’s our minds we must train to see ourselves more clearly.

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?

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?

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.