A rough draft of myself

The art of self-portraiture is a brave endeavour. Finding balance between making it look genuine without falling into complacency or self-denigration is not an easy task.

Publishing a work of art and making it visible to others’ eyes is always a courageous act, but even more so when it is a self-portrait. And when a self-portrait is nude, it can feel like the equivalent of undressing in public.

I want to acknowledge everyone who has dared to do so, artists and non-artists. In one way or another, they have contributed to the evolution of the way the human body is perceived.

To pay tribute to those who have dared, I will publish a series of articles to showcase self-portrait works that have particularly touched me.

painting nude womanTo begin, this painting by artist Chantal Joffe. I find it so easy to identify with this image! Looking at this self-portrait, it appears to me like a reflection, a mirror of my own feelings towards my body.

She has her head hanging down, which is exactly how I feel. There is too much discomfort and uncertainty in me to be able to lift my head and look straight forward with confidence.

My inner reality is cramped. I do not have the impression that I have much space in which to breathe.

The pale body seems to sway, adding a sense of instability. I recognize myself in the barely sketched features, as I’ve often felt like I’m only a rough draft of myself; an awkward outline that I have not yet managed to complete.

Nothing in this image seeks to please or seduce, and yet in the vulnerability of this nude self-portrait, there is an appeal for tenderness and caring, and a deep sense of humanity. Thank you, Chantal Joffe, for clearly expressing the emotions of so many women who are uncomfortable with their bodies!

Chantal Joffe undertook a year-long series of self-portraits of her face in 2018 which is well worth the visit. Sometimes sharing our face, in any state, is just as vulnerable as showing our bodies.

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.

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?

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.

Vulnerability reconnects us

Vulnerability is not weakness; it brings us closer to ourselves and to each other.

If you have not yet discovered the writings of Brené Brown, please do! The short description is that she is a university professor, author and mother, who has done years of research on shame. At first discovery, I thought: someone actually studies shame? She did and she does, and the discoveries she shares are ground-breaking. Google her name and you will find a list of her books, podcasts, lectures, and many quotes that resonate with many people.

One of my favourite Brené Brown quotes is: “Vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you“.

woman bent over crying

Early on, I learned to act like everything was cool and to make the best of things, even if I was falling apart. To never show weakness or fear; to just push on through with a smile. I’m getting better at being more authentic, which means I cannot always hide my distress anymore. It’s uncomfortable, but rather than sharing and trusting that it will pass, I tend to beat myself up and be angry with myself. Which ends up pushing people away, because ultimately I come off as snobby or rude when refusing to show my true state.

And yet, when I’m not feeling my best, that’s when I most need to feel close to people!

Years ago I ran into a friend of a friend, someone whose path I crossed often, but who I wasn’t really sure I liked. Every time I saw her, her demeanor was light and bubbly and happy and it put me off, I guess because it felt like a show. Her behaviour mirrored my own, and irritated me because I felt like I never got to see her true self.

This time, when I asked how she was doing, she admitted she was having a rough day, and went on to share concerns about things happening in her life. My heart immediately grew twenty times bigger in my chest and I just wanted to hug her! The mask had fallen, and she’d let me in by sharing her truth. A truth that I could relate to with empathy. I think of her and this meeting often when I’m feeling down and not wanting to admit it or show my darker side to anyone.

Observing, photographing and drawing the body, your own or a diversity of different human forms, is another way to access this vulnerability and compassion, and it makes us stronger and more caring towards ourselves and towards others. As it’s often been said before, “in our vulnerability lies our strength”. And in our vulnerability also lies the very gentleness of our souls.

Bonding over body image distress in confinement

Nobody needs to be reminded that we’re swimming through a pandemic since the onset of the coronavirus. As of mid-June in Canada, we are more focused on re-opening and getting out than we were two months ago, but our usual liberties and activities remain limited. The mental toll of “watching and waiting”, being without work, or doubled down working from home either alone, with kids or teenagers, or watching your business fall apart creates all kinds of anxieties, even if there are some positives. It’s safe to say that for everyone, life is challenging in new ways.

On the outside, first, the toilet paper drama, then, talk of the “quarantine-15”, an assumption that with people at home doing more cooking and baking, we’re going to gain weight. Studies say that isn’t really the case, but the fear is real. For people with disordered eating, severe food allergies and other health challenges, being at home around food all day is uncomfortable… only an abundance of self-love and self-care can protect us from these issues. Easy to say…

drawing, nude woman in distress

On the inside, the distress comes in many forms, often in waves. Some are living with grief for what or whom they’ve lost or may lose, for others, panic in the midst of illness or despair in the isolation of lockdown. We’re all having our down days, and all of this takes a toll on our bodies as well as our minds. We see you, we hear you, we feel you!!!

If you have the time and the energy to move more, exercise longer, build strength and resilience in your body, I’m convinced it helps. If that’s possible for you under the circumstances.

Being among those who find it REALLY difficult to self-motivate and excercise, I share your pain… the pain of not moving enough, slowing down and feeling disgruntled with yourself and your physique. That’s when the mind games begin, the daily sigh standing on the scale (even if the numbers aren’t moving!), the conviction of unattractiveness, the sinking realization that your clothes feel tighter. These disappointments can quickly lead to self-judgement and self-disgust.

You may also feel angry or despondent… like, why bother? Our lives have changed, and more now that ever, the only thing under our control is our thoughts, and that’s where the negativity and the “self-bashing” comes from.

As hard as we may try, we can’t fix ourselves, or learn to change our thoughts, completely on our own. In spite of social distancing, we have to reach out. Telling a friend about your fear of gaining weight or that you’re bingeing on sugar, drinking too much, or feeling desperate always helps. Together, we have to call out our minds and all the negative thoughts that pull us towards self-hate and self-destructive actions. Because the truth is we’re fine, in fact we’re awesome, just the way we are.

We need our bodies to carry us through this pandemic and the rest of our lives. Together, we can honour our bodies for their beauty and their strength.  How else can we better support each other in taking on this new perspective, not just for ourselves, but for everyone who suffers?

If walking and jogging and yoga and light meals aren’t happening, there are other ways… we can start with our thoughts. Call out the BS and feed the gentleness, but do it with a friend.

When your body can’t move because your mind has been too cruel, listen to Lizzo’s music, she’ll tell you where it’s at with unconditional body love, and dancing does wonders for body acceptance.

How are you feeling in your own skin lately?

 

Stand back and behold your beauty

It is true that when we’re too close to something we can’t see it clearly.

Standing back, even taking a break from seeing something, can help change perceptions. Imagine if there were no mirrors in your home, and you no longer checked your appearance on a daily basis… how would you see yourself if you only saw yourself on rare occasions? You might actually like what you see, much more than you usually do.

Photographing our bodies can be very helpful in changing perceptions, because is gives us that “stand back” view, and it also allows us to see angles of our physique that we can’t normally see at all. Without the help of photos, we really do not know what we look like from the back! This practice also gives us a sense of time; growth; transformation and the inevitable changes that come as we age.

Photographs made into drawings add another layer of detachment and appreciation to this process of self observation and self knowledge.

nude women sitting with loose belly flesh

Too many people focus solely on the aspects of their bodies that they find unacceptable. I wish I could cure us all of these misperceptions by somehow bringing us all back to the simple wonder of a human life living in a flesh costume. No matter how much we may dislike our thighs, our breasts, our cellulite or our arm flaps, it really is urgent to understand that our lives are precious fleeting moments and no matter how we look, we are so very fortunate just to be alive in a human body.

When you look at these intimate drawings, what do you see?

 

Why bother drawing the body?

There is a viewpoint “out there” that says if you are seen nude, you are somehow dishonored. Clearly, the women in our art collective disagree, but we know this perception exists, and we understand where the sense of shame comes from. Nobody wants their privacy invaded, their vulnerability paraded or their intimacy exposed.

Everyone wants to be able to share their intimacy on their own terms. Or not at all. But if we’re not exposed to our own bodies, our own vulnerabilities, how can we accept ourselves, every aspect of ourselves, exactly the way we are?

We draw the human body, often including our own bodies, in order to LOVE what is UNLOVED.

Our goal is to offer tender, loving, eyes upon all aspects of life, including those we are less comfortable with. Drawing is a slow, contemplative process that allows us to see things differently, as opposed to the instant judgment that comes up when we see an image we instantly, unthinkingly like, or dislike. It helps us to see what’s really there, with less judgement and more curiosity and acceptance. To peel back the labels and see what’s underneath.

We invite others to draw in order to participate in this change in perception; to move beyond the exclusion we usually practice with our easy judgments in order to see things the way they are, with love.

Simply write to us to find out how to get started on this process, we are happy to accompany you: madaboutmybody@gmail.com

 

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.