fat girl

Fat Girl; A True Story is the title of one of the most important books I’ve ever read, a memoir by writer Judith Moore. I think what struck me the most was her honesty and her daring to truly be herself in delivering her story of a heartbreakingly difficult childhood and a not so easy life as an adult who was overweight. I was immediately taken in by her introduction, where she is clear that this is not about a miracle cure she survived, it’s just about her life, as it is, or was, since she passed away in 2006. I’d like to quote a little of the introduction, just to give you a feeling for her refreshing authenticity:

“I am fat. I am not so fat that I can’t fasten the seat belt on the plane. But, fat I am. I wanted to write about what it was and is like for me, being fat. This will not be a book about how I had an eating disorder and how I conquered this disorder through therapies or group process or antidepressants or religion or twelve-step programs or a personal trainer or white-knuckling it or the love of a good man (or woman).

I am not a fat activist. This is not about the need for acceptance of fat people, although I would prefer that thinner people not find me disgusting… I will not write here about fat people I have known and I will not interview fat people… I will tell the story of my family and the food we ate. We were an unhappy family…

I mistrust real-life stories that conclude on a triumphant note. Rockettes will not arrive on the final page and kick up their high heels and show petticoats. This is a story about an unhappy fat girl who became a fat woman who was happy and unhappy… But I haven’t always been fat. I had days when I was almost thin.”

As you can see, she has a good sense of humour, but there were some stories that broke my heart, partly because I could identify with them, and partly because I couldn’t, but mostly because I wish this kind of suffering on absolutely NO ONE yet I know that literally millions of people know it.

bodyimagenatureI’m using her honest example as an introduction to continue to expose and reflect on my body image struggles, as I share this self-portrait (not too daring, but it’s a start) which shows me carrying an extra thirty pounds around my middle that I wish would magically disappear. Thirty pounds… big deal. It isn’t if you know what it is to be overweight by a hundred pounds more. But in my mind it is a big deal, and the effects on my self-esteem are not positive.

So let me remind myself, and any readers who may land here, that the point of this blog is to share a practice. Like Judith Moore’s book, which is a truthful exposure of her life and habits (which were not completely isolated or unique – others have similar experiences), we want this blog to be a series of honest reflections on our own body image issues, because we know them to not be experienced in a vacuum, yet for many, these issues are tightly guarded under wraps. Writing about them brings relief from the destructive shame that we carry, while the drawings bring about a change in perspective that is absolutely liberating. Not instantly or once and for all;  it does require a practice that slowly chips away at lifelong misperceptions fed by our culture.

While Judith Moore blatantly talks about “fat” and “fatness” I am less comfortable using negative language towards people and especially people’s bodies, but that is changing. Today, we’re questioning if those words are negative, or simply descriptive. There are fat, and short, and tall, and disabled acceptance movements, all asking to include everyone in body love… so we can redefine what weight all those words carry, neither positive or negative but neutral… nonjudgmental. I continue to wish for complete and total acceptance of everyone, exactly the way they are, freeing us all to be exactly who we are, no holds barred. Draw with us, you’ll see…!

– Colette

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Bounteous Bodies

Below, examples of model-drawings done using a simple tracing technique on a light source. The drawings or tracings were then painted, and words added to share how the artist/draw-er felt as she worked on these images.

 

I’m working on getting comfortable with my own curves. When I did these drawings, I just dove in without thinking about it and I really enjoyed tracing the abundant belly and the generous amounts of flesh. I felt real pleasure in drawing this “sister” and I also felt a great tenderness for this woman who accepted to model as well as towards her sensitive and innocent body.  

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I really like this self-affirming posture (above). She looks sure of herself. I wanted to show the energy she gave off using colours and with the bands of colour inside and outside of her body. This body’s curves give you the impression that it’s soft, welcoming, and tender even if it’s large and strong.

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The belly and the thighs of this model stood out for me immediately, which is why I could not help but make them stand out in my drawing. The more vulnerable attitude of this model is intensified by her curves and gives her a child-like appearance. Maybe that’s how she was feeling as she posed?


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In this image (above), the model shows strength and openness… even if we’re seeing her from the back.

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I enjoyed letting the watercolours bleed… the watermarks seem to gently underline the roundness of the body.

– Iris

Anastasia

Anastasia and I were roommates for only a few months, but a close friendship grew from sharing about our food and weight issues. We breached a huge taboo by admitting that we both turned compulsively to food when we felt overwhelmed by the stress in our lives, and that authenticity created an instant bond between us.

Anastasia_1_wuafbaShe felt like she was carrying a lot of extra weight then, and even though I was quite slim, I felt just as uncomfortable in my body as what she described, and I’d always felt that bad about myself, as long as I could remember. I told her how fighting for the cause of improving body image was helping me work on my own issues. I told her about photographing and drawing the nude body, including my own. She liked the idea of doing a photo shoot with me, but it didn’t happen right away. As I well knew from my own experiences, a lot of inner resistance came up in the meantime.

But the photo session did happen, about a year later. Anastasia had been through major life changes and had just about finished a course to become an esthetician. She told me about her studies, in particular how the practice periods required intimate contact with other students’ bodies, and how this made her a lot more relaxed about everything body-related, so she felt ready to be photographed nude.

She was challenging herself to do it in order to change the negative opinion she held towards her body.

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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 like that, but as soon as I disappeared behind the camera she made up her mind and removed the last pieces of clothing.

Anastasia_2_wuafbaWhat 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.Anastasia_3_wuafba

Anastasia_4_wuafbaWe took at least a hundred photographs, then sat down together at my computer to go through them. We agreed that these images belonged to her, and would never be shared with anyone else, but she was okay with me making drawings based on some of them. We sorted through, and she left me about 30 images – those that did not clearly show her face – and the rest were copied onto a key for her and erased from my camera’s memory card. 

Anastasia_5_wuafbaI didn’t get around to actually drawing this series until 5 years later. I haven’t seen Anastasia since the photo shoot, but we’ve maintained in contact. I’m not sure where she’s at with her body image or her weight, but she has continued to work on herself and grow stronger. I know that life is not always easy for her, but she is tenacious. Drawing her was a wonderful process for me, mostly because I’d gained weight since I last saw her, and for the first time in my life I was able to identify with curvier women, and in drawing her, I clearly saw the beauty above and beyond the extra weight.

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My drawing process is very simple; there is nothing original about it. I print the photograph on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, and then trace the contours onto a sheet of white paper using a light table. With the photograph next to my drawing, I then work on the shadows and highlights to bring it to life. I don’t invent anything new or try to improve what I see; it’s more like a translation of a photograph into an illustration to better see things as they truly are.

Anastasia_7_wuafbaFinding myself behind a camera with a nude model 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, I want to make sure they feel comfortable. I believe that by facing up to our fears and discomforts about our bodies, we can get past them, but sometimes it helps to meet up with our own judgments in front of a camera lens or another person (who is NOT there to judge!) that the shift can really take place. Most people only undress in front of their lovers or perhaps a family doctor, so it is different to purposefully do so in order to see oneself differently.

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For me, drawing the nude body, whether it’s mine or someone else’s; man or woman, of whatever age or 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 don’t become conscious of it and we don’t take care of it, we can 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 a large number of people insulting themselves in front of the mirror daily. Drawing the nude body is more like 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 the body.

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Thanks again, my dear friend Anastasia, for sharing your body for “the cause”. I am always deeply touched by these images and I trust that they will make their way out into the world to help other women on their body-acceptance path as well. xoxo Colette