I never chose to have to live with painfully negative body image, low self-esteem and food difficulties that verge on an eating disorder. It was never a conscious decision; it was a reaction to some deeper, invisible wound that I cannot name. Whatever that wound is, it has yet to be healed by any amount of psychotherapy or relentless positive thinking. It’s a part of who I am, a deeply ingrained resistance to living… a subtle refusal to exist in this vessel that is my body, but I am here, alive and otherwise well, so what can I do?

I know I am not alone with this wound. More and more women and men are speaking out about their difficulties with loving, accepting and caring for themselves due to an unnatural obsession with their appearance. It’s easy to blame the pervasive media treatment of the body as a sexual marketing object, and while that does contribute significantly, I’m convinced it goes much deeper than that.

Whatever the cause, I can affirm that the suffering is very real, and people are actively seeking out new ways to find relief from the distressful self-thrashing that comes from living in constant dissatisfaction with ourselves and the way we look.

More than 12 years ago, I took up drawing the human body. Not because it was fashionable and certainly not because I was good at it, but because a trusted friend suggested it may help change my perspective. It did, and continues to do so. Not instantly, perhaps not for good, but as with any other practice, it evolved over time. Figure drawing workshops with nude models exposed me to a large number of bodies belonging to people of different ages, conditions and ethnic origins, which was probably a start towards being less critical of my body, but that wasn’t enough. What I most needed to draw was my own body.

For me the process has remained very simple: First of all I have to be willing to look at my body (not always a given!) and then to draw it. To draw from, I sometimes use photographs taken by others, but mostly photos I take alone using the timer on my digital camera because I rarely want others to see me nude. I went through periods when I photographed myself daily, for 3-4 years, and then easily through another 3-4 years when I didn’t photograph myself at all because I couldn’t bear to see myself so flawed and so vulnerable. When I started this, I liked drawing but I didn’t consider myself to be an artist. All I was doing was picking up a pencil and taking the time to transfer the body I saw in the photograph onto a fresh sheet of paper. At first I came up against a lot of self-judgment because I wanted attractive results, but soon enough I learned that it’s the process that counts. I think I started recognizing the importance of the process the day I stopped trying to achieve something. That’s when I started feeling what was going on inside me as I drew.

And what did I feel? Initially, I sometimes felt distress and repulsion while looking at the photograph, but not for long. As I focused on my drawing something else emerged; a peaceful tranquility, an acceptance that released all judgment. I began to see the person I was drawing with detachment: a woman, a thin woman, a fat woman, a sad woman, a happy woman. All of a sudden my body became more than a costume whose dimensions didn’t seem to fit me properly and took on a depth of being that I’d otherwise missed.

What happens? The best way to describe it is a change in perception. It’s about moving from attestation (a declaration of how things are) through observation to contemplation. It’s about turning judgment into acceptance and criticism into appreciation. There is something beautiful – on a thousand very different scales – about every one of us, and although we fail to see it while appraising ourselves in the mirror before facing the world, we can come to see it by drawing ourselves and others.

– Colette

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  1. This is a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.


  2. I am touched by your drawn image and wise words. I agree wholeheartedly with the problem (as I myself have experience similar issues), I also agree that drawing releases us from our judgments of ourselves and others. Thank you for opening this space up for people like us to share and learn about a healing process that has nothing to do with being an artist



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