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

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

with loving eyes

This post about body image was inspired by my discovery of a crazy musician who has his own special way of making people’s lives just a little bit better… Marc Vella is a travelling pianist, whose mission in life for the past 25 years, has been to travel around the world with a baby grand piano, park it in the wildest of places, play, and then encourage others with absolutely no musical training to play, too, simply by connecting to their hearts. His message is one of love, and the importance of looking at everyone and everything with loving eyes. What a wonderfully crazy thing to do! You can read more about him at http://www.pianistenomade.com/index.php?l=EN

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I think his message is exactly what we need most to learn, in every aspect of our lives. To look with loving eyes. This is, after all, simply an attitude applied from the inside-out… requiring only a change of perspective and resulting in the kind of non-judgemental acceptance that frees us from what separates us from ourselves and each other.

Apply this to body image issues and it’s a no-brainer, right? Maybe, maybe not, but changing our perspectives is a practice, it does not come in a pill. It struck me today that by choosing to take my own self-portraits to draw from,  (to avoid having someone else look at me through the camera lens) something could be missing. In many cases the photos taken by others seemed more gentle than mine, because the people closest to me who took the pictures (a few close girlfriends and my male partner) were ALREADY looking at me with love. So then the translation into a drawing was not so harsh, because I could already see the beauty in the photograph.

I suppose that starting out doing self-portrait photography on my own to helped to break down the pride, the resistance, the need to APPEAR perfect. I have always had a complex about my weight, even when I was stick-thin I thought I could somehow be better. This drawing was done almost 6 years after the photograph was taken by a female friend of mine. I thought, at the time, that I was huge (good example of body dimorphic or dysmorphic disorder), as I had gone from being too thin due to anorexic behaviours to having a little meat on my bones because of eating more compulsively. But because of the skewed way I saw myself, this extra weight, in my mind, made me unattractive. Since I didn’t get around to drawing this one until I was another 25 pounds heavier, in hindsight, I can see how ridiculously off my vision was. From my new viewpoint of today, suddenly the “offensive overweight” picture had become the “when I was thin and lovely” picture”.

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When I consider all the suffering going in the world, be it the devastation from natural disasters and wars in less developed countries, to apparently healthy, young people around me dying of cancer or the many people chained to addictions or living, hungry, on city streets, it embarrasses me to be plagued with such an apparently superfluous and fixable dis-ease as being obsessed with my looks, when in fact, I am healthy and beautiful!

I know now that none of us chooses to be anorexic, bulimic, or to suffer from compulsive or binge eating. All of these labels are the outer manifestation of deeper psychological suffering. And, if all this inner pain has pushed me to look at myself and all people with love rather than maintaining the separateness of the human condition that leads to loneliness and wars, perhaps it is not such a bad thing.

– Colette

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

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

Exposing our vulnerabilities to ourselves

CCseins_wuafbaI don’t want anyone to see my dark side or my weaknesses. I want to look my best, perform my best, be nice, please others… all the time. To a fault.

But it gets pretty painful working so hard to meet such unrealistic expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry. It’s so much better if we can learn to accept ourselves just the way we are.

Drawing myself has helped me to do that. While I’m drawing (and a detailed image like this one requires many hours of looking back and forth between the photograph and my translation of it), I start to see clearly both the beauty and the flaws, the strengths and the weaknesses.

As if only by exposing everything can I embrace who/what I am. Hiding from my faults does not help me appreciate my strengths… whether they be related to character or appearance… I am what I am!

Flowing from within this very simple process of drawing, these little moments of discovery arise… a kind of “so what”? attitude comes in, which is actually the letting go of the perfectionism that usually haunts me.

I soften and accept. I see, for once, without judging.

These breasts that were such a disappointment when I was unable to produce enough milk for my babies are no longer a liability. They’re a part of me, imperfect like everything else, and yet perfectly fine just the way they are. As I age and see other women, friends and family, faced with the challenges of cancer, I am humbled and I’ve learned to treasure these breasts I once despised.

Drawing has helped my be grateful for this body, my body.

– Colette

 

Modelling nude for artists as part of a self-acceptance process

Lilly_1Years ago  I started an informal figure drawing workshop to allow people to draw the human body, nude. Not from a strictly artistic approach… for drawing practice, of course, but also to practice the way we perceive the body in its many different forms. Unlike in art schools, where the models are screened, trained and paid, our models are volunteers, usually with no previous experience, and we rarely tell them how to pose. We let them find their own poses.

The not-paying of the models was something that happened by accident (lack of funds), but what we discovered was that when someone poses for free, the energy is different from if it was a paid job, because they’re giving us something very precious and vulnerable – their body, and their nudity. Some people may talk themselves into doing it for the money, but when it’s for other reasons, it’s different. We get models who are scared to death and others who are rather happy exhibitionists, but we don’t criticize or overly praise. We let them explore and find their own peace and right movement within their bodies as they pose.

Because many of our models are uncomfortable with their bodies and are challenging themselves to face up to a fear, some weeks, the model doesn’t show up. In that case, we just draw each other’s faces, hands or feet instead.

Lilly_2One week when I hadn’t managed to confirm a model, the regular artists were disappointed, so I offered to sit for them, but fully clothed. That was fine with them, but then I started feeling uncomfortable that I couldn’t practice what I preached, and with a mixture of reluctance and frustration, I took off my clothes and continued posing, nude. It was an important moment for me, too, to break through this barrier, and I was grateful for the presence of those whose pencils scribbled peacefully across their papers, not visibly more or less impressed by me than anyone else they’d seen; yet obviously grateful to have another human body to sketch instead of the endless folds of clothing.


The thing is, all human bodies are interesting! Some of the figure-drawing artists that come to our group have seen more nudes than a doctor, but their gaze remains one of impartial appreciation. I’m sure they have preferences, but the simple fact of being exposed to different bodies more often than most people makes them more accepting than those whose references are restricted to their spouse or the usual media images of the body.

I could feel the difference it made for me to face up to this fear, and the dozens of models that posed for us almost all shared similar experiences. Some told me they felt they stood taller after posing nude, walked lighter and smiled back at themselves in the mirror. And by the end of a session, there is a warmth and closeness with the artists too… if they can look at our naked bodies and not laugh or criticize (the way we do!), then we can all learn to be more accepting of ourselves too.

– Colette

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