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

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

How thin is thin enough?

How many apples?eve-pomme-1

How much tea?

How many calories can I not eat?

 

How many laxatives will I take?

How much will I allow this needy, greedy hunger?

(This child of pain and anguish)

 

I can stifle her cries with my lies about how much I eat and when

If I am forced to eat or if I am weak, I can regain this goddess of control, who rules and reigns in a prison of limits, boundaries and loneliness.

 

Each time I reach out to touch another and be fed by their love, I am disappointed.

Denial and deprivation, this is real.  These are my friends and family.  These “friends” I know and can trust.

How thin is thin enough?

 

Where does it end?

Who wins?

How do we stop?

How do we surrender to the pain?

How do we love it enough to learn from it and finally let go of it?

Where do we find the gentleness and acceptance we need?

 

Uh oh another need, so greedy, so needy

How thin is thin enough?

 

I’ve heard the best anorexic is a dead anorexic.

Why?  Because a skeleton is as thin as you can get.

How can we stop the voice of control long enough, to recognize the hollow ring of a death victory?

 

Where do we find the love, we feel we are denied, that we deny ourselves?

How do we stop the judgment, control and rejection?

How thin is thin enough?

 

I’ve heard you can never be too rich or too thin.

What do you believe?

 

– Theresa

Learning to love what’s different and special about me

I remember this photo session. I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin in those days. I was afraid to show myself, I felt trapped in my wounds, in my own way of seeing myself.

I was deeply convinced that I was really ugly. I was certain that people were being charitable if they looked at me when they spoke to me. I had developed all kinds of reflexes to hide my face, because I had this burning impression that I was so ugly. When I first saw the photographs that these paintings were made from shortly after the session, I cried, because they confirmed once again the ugliness of my face and of my body. To me, this ugliness was quite dramatic, because in my mind, how could you possibly love something that was ugly? And what I wanted the most, more than anything else, was to be loved.

I was also quite convinced, deep down, that my boyfriend could only see my imperfections and that he was just waiting for an opportunity to leave me and find himself someone better. Even so, if I looked at this logically, I could see that something was wrong, because I saw that many women around me were flawed according to the beauty ideals of the moment and were loved by their partners even if according to my judgement, they were too tall, too short, too thin or too fat.

No matter how much I rationalized, the wound of feeling unloved that I carried towards my appearance, my body and my face continually reappeared.

The first time I saw the photos, I saw a face that reflected foolishness, narrow-mindedness, a weakness of character, arrogance and many other flaws. Perhaps what I was finally discovering on the outside were the judgements I had unconsciously applied to myself for so long.

 

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During the photo session my cat appeared, as if to remind me that the tenderness and gentleness in the world were within reach, that I only had to open myself up to what is small and vulnerable like this small animal.  I started to feel better when I focused myattention elsewhere than on myself.

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In spite of so much discomfort, at the same time I really wanted to unveil myself in order to be free from the horribly destructive tension that I carried in the way I saw myself. But it was difficult as I had to fight my shame of showing my face and body as they really are. I started by allowing my bare back to show in order to get used to the nudity, the truth of the body. At least from the back I didn’t have to face the shame of showing my face! It was as if by uncovering my body, especially the front of my body, my belly, I was revealing my real face, my true nature… and a person I did not believe to be deserving of love. That person had to hide herself to protect her shame and her wounds.

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devoilement-4The sheet was like a screen. I hid behind it, but I also used it to slowly allow myself to be exposed. I kept my eyes closed the whole time, to stay concentrated on listening to a tiny little place of peace inside me. In spite of the devastating effects of my self-view, I could concentrate on a little space inside me where nothing moved, and which seemed to grow and grow as I started to move away from my inner paralysis. In this image, I am preparing to open up and allow the vulnerability of my stomach and my breasts to emerge.

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Finally I dared to take the plunge and let the entirety of my shame be exposed, my stomach and my face.

This last pose reminds me of something growing out of the earth.

The suffering that usually bullies my body and soul quieted down.

 

– Marie