Anorexic girl… trapped

anorexic-girl-trapped11_wuafbaResistance is the key word for today. Lots of judgement and resistance. I drew the same picture twice. This one is called Anorexic girl…. trapped. This is not my favorite picture, but I can’t help but notice this picture really shows the emotion behind the image.

Her shoulders are tensed up around her ears… all that resistance in her mind is fighting the dreaded realization. She is trapped in the habit of minimizing and punishing or denying the need to nourish her body. Although this is a painful moment, it is the beginning of healing.

Our body reflects the mind’s control and when we see it (this is grace), we can come to realize that we are not this control. There is something else that is not the mind, that can witness this with detachment. Here is where the freedom lies. I can choose to be or do something else. The liberation here is exhilarating. The trick is to stay vigilant, so we do not become fooled again into accepting the mind’s control as status quo.

It’s quite interesting the resistance to anything the mind judges to be difficult or unacceptable, and honestly, it is because of this resistance that I have been unable to draw or write lately. Resistance to exposing myself, fear of technology, guilt because I should be doing something else – anything else – studying, cleaning, working on my relationships, etc.

Thank goodness we are so much more than just the mind that limits and judges. Thank God for the grace of seeing beyond our limitations and for teachers that guide us so well.

-Teresa

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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

In seeking truth and connection, I found drawing

lady-behind_wuafbaThis lady is a revelation.  She is amazing, not because of her appearance, but because of the state of mind I was in when I drew her.  In my mind, I often separate this part of my life (drawing the body) from the rest of my life, but today it was not possible.  My life and emotions and fears seemed very powerful.  I even dreamt about my problems, after doing much work to see beyond them.  I was really worried.  There must be an answer…. some clarity somewhere… something I must need to see and hear. I tried to write, to find some solace through words; actually, I  have been doing that since Friday (and for years before Friday).  My emotions have been forgotten often this weekend, but they reappear with vengance later.

So, I tried to draw and that was a microcosm of my life – couldn’t find the right thing to draw – couldn’t draw  the woman I wanted to draw, because I am severly lacking all I need to draw successfully.  I am not sure how  (divine intervention, grace, perhaps), I started to draw another woman in the same picture.  She became a focal point. Everything disappeared in the lines, the shadows, the erasing. No judgements, no fears, no lack of skill to stop me, no mind to stop me, I got lost in time and it was peaceful, finally.  I am not sure if there are answers to find or not, but certainly no opening is possible when trapped within the throes of the mind.

The light, the shadows, the steady flow of the line can overcome the constant chatter of the mind. Sometimes it takes divine intervention to let go of the bleak background the mind creates. If it is limiting you know it is the mind; if it is limitless you know it is the heart.

In the practice of drawing, a space opens. This much I know (and for me to admit to knowing something, it has to be strong).  I am grateful for this. I want to let you know, it  is still a struggle for me to accept this, but it is the truth. So in offering my experiences to you, I hope you can find the tools you need to open a space.  A space free from the mind.  I repeat –  I am not an artist but a seeker, and in seeking truth and connection, I found drawing.  I found a teacher of drawing, who could see beyond the judgements and criteria of drawing.  Someone who taught me so much more than drawing.  Yet all I learn is reflected in the practice of drawing.

– Teresa

Perseverance

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This morning, I felt like dancing! I made a few moves in front of the mirror, and in my hallway. It just felt good… I felt free!

I also drew for a little while… very little though… I very quickly become discouraged when I can’t make it look that way I want it to. And I am just learning, so you can imagine that my drawings seem childlike.

But unlike a child, I take it way too seriously! It takes me so much time to draw because I don’t want to make any mistake and then I have to start all over again! I watch myself getting frustrated and suddenly I realize how funny it is! It is by practicing, by trying again and again that we learn! How many times does a toddler fall on its bum while learning to walk?

I find it so hard to draw and to add colour once the lines are drawn! So often, I can’t remember how I filled the drawing the last time… but very slowly, I give it a timid try. Not only I am not satisfied, but I just find, again, that what I have done is lost…

But if I let it sit for a while, I realize it’s not so bad, I can erase, and try new lines or add new highlights. And when I dare to try, when I push the fears that paralyze me aside, then, oh! wow! my drawing comes to life! It slowly becomes a pleasure to see it grow, just like a baby.

Last night I was reading about an Indian saint, Mâ Anandamayi, and her writing on the importance of consistently maintaining a practice… whether it be drawing or otherwise; practices bring us to a place of peace.

No matter how hard it often is for me to draw, drawing is becoming more and more an essential part of my life, whether I like it or not. It brings me back to a peaceful state of mind, which is  so precious!

I know, it may seem strange, seeing as I  just described how I would sometimes like to through my drawings out a window… but it really is a wonderful gift!

Perseverance!

– Méli

Vulnerable Girl

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This picture was difficult for me to draw.  I drew it many times and I will probably draw it again.  As I drew this girl, all I could see was the way her eyes and face desperately asked for acceptance.  I could see her painful vulnerability and I wanted to just hug her, as if that would be enough to make her feel some self-acceptance.  When I painted her, the softness and beauty of her proportions and her vulnerablity really touched me.  She looks so anxious and nervous, as if her questionning whether or not she is acceptable is a life or death issue…

Maybe I’m exaggerating what I see in her but somehow I know just how strong this feeling is in her because I  have felt it in myself.  The body somehow knows it is perfect just as it is, I could feel that as I drew her.  It is not the body, but the mind that creates this relentless self-judgment in its search for perfection.  We align that perfection with what is socially accepted as beautiful – and even that changes from place to  place and from decade to decade.  The perfection is already there, we just need to open our eyes to see it.

Looking at these finished paintings, I just love her…I  am not sure if it is because she reminds me of my daughter or if it’s her expression.  She looks so vulnerable, I  just want to wrap my arms around her and tell her how beautiful she is. There is something about her. Her body is full of contrasts and painting them was so much fun, I completely forgot that I have no technique for painting… I just did it.  I  had fun finding the shadows and enhancing the light that is already there.  Thank God for fun and play and the moments of peace we find in play. Thank God for the  grace we receive when we play our way past the harshest inner critic.  I also love the fact that the light is always there already – the light on the body, the light of life, of the sun bring us up from our inner darkness.  We just need to keep our eyes focused on the light.

– Theresa

Drawing movement brings me Light

dessin-moi-5-wuafbaI’ve been hibernating for months now., I haven’t fed my blog,  written, danced, or even moved much (as in exercise)… but I’m still alive and I still need to draw dancing bodies, and also to dance myself. This need started gnawing at me again, waking me up and pulling me out of my lethargy. Unconsciously, I knew needed to dive back into this practice and slowly, I started to draw lines of a picture that I had  set aside of a ballerina in movement.

Every day, for weeks, I drew it, even if only for a few minutes. It brought my energy back, and I started to want to move again, to dance, to draw dancers… to enter into the dance of life! It’s amazing what an impact drawing dance has on my soul!

I feel an urgent need to find images of nude bodies dancing in order to carry on with this art-therapy journey. This powerful pull towards drawing dancing bodies allows me to feel at one with their movements, to release me from my fears that stop me from moving myself.

Because of my Multiple Sclerosis, walking or even moving have become challenging, and just going to a dance class can sometimes feel more like preparing for an expedition, but amazingly, drawing dancing bodies helps make it real… it takes on the colour, the  sound and the smell of a pleasure-filled trip to the beach, the feeling of a passionate desire to live, and to breathe! And it gives me the strength and the desire to move and to dance, as long as I can draw it I feel like I can do it!

I really want to draw dancing bodies with reduced mobility, or anyone else like me who has difficulty with movement, people  in contact with the fragility of their body (poor health, handicaps, etc.).

I keep thinking of Dave St. Pierre, a dancer who was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, and who has this amazing energy, and a profound need to constantly defy the limits, to laugh at statistics, and to keep overcoming the barriers in dance, and the limits of the body. He doesn’t care about political correctness… he dares to always go further, to innovate, to shake up public insecurities, to show light where some see only fire. He has my profound admiration for daring, for his constant electrifying energy dedicated to not just face up to fears, but to smash down the walls of our minds. And he does all this with a body weakened by Cystic Fibrosis, always knowing that he will probably die young (35 years is the average). Fortunately, he received a pulmonary transplantation and he continues to pursue his dance projects, often working on several at a time.

I am asking for your help. If you have images of people dancing, ideally nude in order to be able to really feel and experience the movement while drawing, please dare to send them! They will go no further as the goal is only to draw them, not to expose them in any way. It would be a huge support to this art-therapy process, this journey, to help those, like me, whose movements are limited, to nonetheless live with and embrace movement… to join the dance!

– Méli

Skinny girl looking in the mirror

draw-my-body-2What amazes me is observing the way I perceive this picture.

There are so many layers, but above all,  I see a fragile young girl, she is so childlike –  I can just imagine her bedroom filled with stuffed animals…

I didn’t draw the entire image – there was also a picture of a larger girl in a mirror and  this was not her real reflection, but rather her perception of  herself.   This difference between perception and reality touches me deeply because it’s something I have struggled with for so long, it was a problem for me since I was a child.

My perception of things seemed to be dangerous and disturbing as a child but particularly when I was around fourteen years old. I saw what she sees. Now things have become less focused on the body, and more on the inner and the outer challenges in my life, and the inner and outer versions of them, which are not always the same.

When I first looked at the picture I see all that, but as I draw and paint it another perception emerges – the incredible fragility of her connection to herself.

I can’t seem to do justice to the  protruding bones, to give them the white light and the presence they have in her image… her back bone is exposed and I wonder what really is holding her up? I marvel at the complexity of the  back bone structure; the  light entwined with delicate shadows, like lattice-work.

She is stripped to the bone. She wears her hurt in her body, and I feel like I love her, every tiny little vulnerable inch of her…

She wears her vulnerability, but she does not see it, like all of us. I wonder if she could see it, would she hate herself  for being so weak? Vulnerability appears to be and is judged as weakness to so many people, myself included…

At times, as I paint, I feel like I just want to hold her and fill her up with the compassion I feel as I touch her with my pencil or brush. I am not an artist, I struggle with my mind’s idea of technique, but my need to just express and try to recreate what I see becomes stronger than my fears of inadequacy.

They finally disappear in my need to express what touches me…..Thank God for that!

– Theresa

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

Photographing my “different” body

Meli_1_wuafba   I have multiple sclerosis (diagnosed over 12 years ago) and my mobility has been reduced over the past few years. I’ve gone from using crutches, to a walker, to a wheelchair to get around. The first few years following the diagnosis were very difficult, but pushed me to begin an inner process during which I was invited to experiment with photography and drawing. I was not someone who had ever even dared to draw before, nor could I imagine myself doing photography, especially not nude! Self-judgment is so strong! I always tried to hide from cameras, even when I was fully dressed. But bit by bit, I tried – I dared – hoping to at least breach a gap in the prison in which I lived; a prison built by years of self-criticism, of feeling lesser than others, of old psychological wounds…

So after hesitating for a long time, I took the plunge and did a first photo session, then another. I came to see that my body had been judged for so long by my own mind that SO wanted my body to be different, more attractive, slimmer…and it was a huge step forward, accepting to reveal it, not only to the camera lens, but also to the person behind the camera! Little by little, the gesture of undressing became less difficult and took on a sense of lightness, like a return to innocence, to the truth, to the very root of being human!

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My desire to participate in nude photography was based much more on this deep need to open up from within rather than any pleasure derived from posing nude. I felt, and still feel, a very strong need to see myself in a gentler way, and especially the most vulnerable aspects of me. I’m also learning this by photographing others, starting with the friend who photographed me! Being on the other side of the camera brought a whole other dimension.

It helped me to soften my usual perceptions, and to start seeing the body like a small child needing to be treated with care, and also allowed me to get in contact with the more vulnerable parts that are often ignored and hidden, both in myself and in the other. You must admit that vulnerability is not terribly fashionable in a world that worships strength and beauty, youth, performance and efficiency, not to mention our most sacred expectations of complete independence!

Meli_2_wuafbaIt’s amazing to be able to recognize and admire the beauty, the magnanimity, of a nude body, and to finally make peace, at least a little bit, with my own body, just the way it is. It feels good! And so much more so, because I am living in a body that is weakening, that suffers, responds differently to movements once taken for granted, and is becomes, for now and  maybe forever, more limited. It’s a real challenge.

Like others with physical limitations, I find it even more important to do this inner work to liberate the body from everything that keeps it imprisoned, and simply accept to reveal it, to honour it, to recognize its beauty and it’s greatness, which coexist at the very heart of the fragility that is so scary to us and to those around us.

Nude photography definitely contributes to this process of acceptance… and I’ve discovered that drawing is also an incredible practice that has changed my life! It has also become a better window through which to see the body, but also through which to see the whole world, and my life!

– MeliMeli_4_wuafba

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