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

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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

 

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

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

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

What pains us makes us grow…

Is photographing and drawing myself narcissistic? Self-Absorbed? Vain?

Or could it become a simple, accessible way to heal from self-rejection?

For me it is definitely the second statement. I do it because I have always judged and criticized myself harshly, and drawing self-portraits is the best process I’ve found to really change my self-perspective. Usually, when I look in a mirror, it’s to check/criticize/correct, and in my never-ending quest for perfection I can always find something to fix.

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I am 48 years old now and have been drawing myself for 12 years. I keep quitting and coming back to it, because in spite of my resistance, it helps. This image obsession has sucked so much vital energy from my life over the years that a part of me is really angry about it and has pushed me to act. Fortunately, there is a part of me that is able to see beyond the skewed vision of my mind and catch a glimpse of something else… an imperfect yet strong woman with a still-vulnerable little girl inside, a worthy and yes, a beautiful human being. AS ARE WE ALL…

It’s a double-edged sword in that it’s only because I want to be so outstandingly beautiful that I can possibly see myself as so pitifully ugly. And I’m not, even on the world’s terms, ugly. It’s craziness… but even crazier, our culture FEEDS this craziness!

I chose drawing because it was simple, accessible, free, and I had gentle, non-judgemental people around who encouraged me on this path even when I wanted to throw myself, them, or my drawings out the window. I am no longer shy to talk about this or show my work because I’ve had enough of falling back to the false visions and ingrained beliefs that are so harmful to my health and happiness.

We’ve agreed to only share drawings on this blog – to describe the process and invite others to try it – but I’m posting this photograph because it expresses in a single image just how much I’ve struggled with shame and fought for self-acceptance. And, because photography is  the foundation for our drawing practice.

Being old enough to remember life before digital cameras,  I must say they played a huge part in the development of this process because their accessibility lessened the cost as well as the performance aspect of photography.  My first digital camera allowed me simply to take many, many, pictures, period.

silhouetteCCWhen I began this self-image work, I took a minimum of three pictures of myself EVERY single day for nearly 3 years, and stored them in my computer. I didn’t even try to pose; most often I was balled up in shame, but over time I was able to experiment and slowly unfold my body. I eventually loosened up and even took some pictures of me dancing nude, which only I have ever seen because they were only taken for me to learn to love me.

To take self-portraits I use the timer, propping the camera up anywhere, and spontaneously throwing myself in front of the lens as the seconds tick down to the “click”. I don’t worry about lighting or backgrounds or positioning,  because taking the pictures is part of a process – it’s not about the results. In my mind, the pictures are only for drawing purposes anyways, so even if many of the photos are off-centred or unflattering, I keep them all, hoping to learn to accept myself from every angle.

But that is just the beginning – the most beautiful vision comes through when I take up a pencil and slowly transform the photographs into the simplest of drawings and later more detailed “artwork”.

Ultimately, we’re all “works of art”, just the way we are. Any other vision of ourselves is simply false.

 

– Colette

Self-Acceptance

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This picture is of me, which makes it more challenging to let go of the criticisms my mind propagates as I draw.

But with a deep breath and an open heart, I see one thing clearly:   I see the mind trying to accept – working so hard to mentally accept what the body has already long ago accepted – that I am perfect, already, exactly as I am.

I see softness and light.

I see great beauty within the design, human beings are so wonderfully made, we all are, both women and men.

We are made of love and light. I can see it distinctly when I draw and paint the body.

Drawing brings forth the basic design, the lines, the heartbeat and the body’s structure, then painting it fills it with light, the water, the gracefulness, the divine light of love.

How can I possibly hate something so beautiful?

There is a peace in this body. Usually, my criticisms and mind cover up  this peace, like the clouds in the sky.

Only through drawing and opening up can I see the truth behind the mind’s lies.

Practice, practice and more practice, help me open  my heart and see the truth. Having friends to draw with helps me too.

When the harsh judgemental clouds in my mind are so thick, I can’t find the light. I forget sometimes that like the sun, the light lives  within, it’s always there, and like the sun it shines on everyone equally. Rich or poor, black or white, good or bad. We are all lovable and loved, and this vision of myself as I’m drawing, painting my body, is real love.

 

– 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

DRAWING the IMAGE of MY BODY

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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