Author Archives: colette

me drawing me, you drawing you

I am an average-sized woman, and when I tell people I use self-portrait drawing to work on body image and shame issues, I have often felt like I was being looked at sideways like “What, why you? You’re fine… you’re pretty… what’s the problem?”  The problem is in my mind, but it affects the way I feel about myself, the way I act, and the opportunities I allow myself to embrace, or not, in life. This applies to everyone who is unhappy with their bodies – even in extreme cases of anorexia or obesity, the actual body itself is not the root of the problem, it’s the way we perceive or ignore the body that creates so much tension. The invisible suffering makes people feel very disabled. Many women, in particular, find themselves over- or under-weight at various periods in their lives… following pregnancies, when in deep emotional pain, and due to hormonal fluctuations brought on by aging, menopause and metabolism changes. For many people, difficult life experiences can lead to compulsive overeating or a loss of appetite, which have similar effects to yo-yo dieting and bingeing. If all these difficulties are rooted in false beliefs, negative thoughts, and unreal perceptions, no wonder so many outside interventions to make changes are unsuccessful!

shame-flipI have been practicing self portraiture for ten years, between ages 36 and 46, and I have drawings of me in small, medium and large sizes. But they’re all me. Obviously I prefer to show what I consider the better ones… but for those who share this form of suffering, I promise to share curvier images and the bone-thin drawings of myself too. Because I’m blogging about this does not mean I am free from ego and vanity. Of course I think the prettiest images were drawn when I was healthiest, happiest and medium-sized. But the clincher is:  I was more critical, unhappy, and disgusted with my body when I was younger and thinner than I am now, even though I’m getting older and carrying more weight. Drawing the body helps see the beauty in it, just like drawing a flower can be a celebration of beauty.

I invite you to try drawing yourself; your face, your silhouette or your entire body no matter what size or age you are, to experience the shift in perspective that happens when contemplating anything from a new angle. I’ve often been discouraged with my  drawings along the way, but if I stayed with the portraits long enough to let judgement about my drawing skills and my body fall away, I began to see something that was and is always there… the simple beauty of every human body just as it is!

You don’t have to be an artist to practice self-portraiture. I will offer as much guidance as I can through this site. You can write to me personally and send drawings, questions, anecdotes… anything you want to share on the subject of self-love or self-hate related to your body image: mybodyisloved@yahoo.ca. I will only post what you send with your permission, but it’s very possible that what you have to share can also really help someone else who is suffering.

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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), I wish this blog to be an honest reflection on my own body image issues because I know them to not be experienced in a vacuum either, yet for many, these issues are tightly guarded under wraps. Writing about them brings relief from the destructive shame that I 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 accepting of any negative language towards people and especially people’s bodies, so I don’t, and won’t use these words here. The way I see it, if I chose to adhere to concepts like “fat acceptance”, something is missing. It’s too exclusive… there would also have to be movements for “thin acceptance” and “tall acceptance” and “short acceptance”. My deepest desire is to know a complete and total acceptance of everyone, exactly the way they are, freeing us all to be exactly who we are, no holds barred.


with loving eyes

belle3831Marc Vella, whose mission in life has been, for the past 20 years, 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!

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, not a pill. It struck me today that by chosing 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 by starting out on my own it 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 stick-thin due to anexoric behaviours to having a little meat on my bones because of eating more compulsively. But this extra weight, in my mind, made me unattractive. Since I didn’t get around to drawing this one until I was 25 pounds heavier, in hindsight, I can see how ridiculously off my vision was. From my new viewpoint, suddenly the “offensive overweight” picture had become the “when I was thin and lovely” picture”.

When I look at all the suffering going in the world, be it the devastation from natural disasters and wars in the 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 a dis-ease as being obsessed with my looks, when in fact, I am healthy and beautiful!  Then again, if it pushes 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…


there was a little girl with a curl on her forehead

cutieMy Dad used to love to chant this nursery rhyme to me, that ended with “when she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid”!

But the shoe fit. I was that kind of kid, and I’ve since discovered that the crazy perfectionism that drives me is probably also what makes me horrid; it’s two sides of the same coin. But so what? We’re all dark and light, rainbow and shadow. And children are so beautiful, all of them, in their innocent  simplicity, no matter how much of a mess they can make, that’s how they learn. It’s when we turn into adults that we get complicated and confused and build complexes about our worthiness and our looks.

I often get stuck with my drawing practice, not too sure what to do next, and resisitant to repetition, so I decided to go back to the beginning by drawing myself as a child and by doing it the simplest way possible, just by looking back and forth between the photograph and my drawing until I felt it was finished. The proportions aren’t great, and the shading could be deepened, but so what, it felt good just to draw it. It brought me back to a perspective of acceptance, because I saw so much vulnerability and innocence in the child’s face that it opened my heart to find compassion for her/me. And, interestingly enough, as it lay on my desk next to a much more recent self-portrait, I could see that in spite of an almost 40-year span, it was the same person… the child is still there in the face of the adult.

It amazes me that I can be so cruel to myself sometimes. I would never do that to a child. But I guess I’m doing just that when I put myself down; the inner child is shrinking, cowering under the blind, cold control of the “rational” adult. Doing this drawing was a reminder of that… of the need to find in myself, and offer myself the gentle acceptance that a child needs, that all children and people need, to feel worthy and whole. Everyone deserves that, and in a perfect world, that kind of unconditionnality would be a given.


what pains us makes us grow…

selfyuck_sm

Is it Photoshopped? It IS! But only to hide some of the pictures on the wall behind my face. The rest is real, even the far-away look that says “YUCK” about showing myself to the camera, even alone in my room.

 Is is narcissism? Vanity? Or a simple, accessible way to heal from self-rejection?

I do it because I have always judged and criticized myself harshly, and self-portraiture is the best process I have found to really change my vision. When I look in the mirror, it’s to check – criticize – correct –  (and I can always find something to fix) in a never-ending quest for perfection.

I am 46 years old now and have been drawing myself for 10 years. I keep quitting and coming back to it, because in spite of my resistance, it works… it helps. This self-image-obsession has sucked so much vital energy from my life over the years that a part of me is really angry about it… but that anger just feeds the self-destructiveness of the mind.

Fortunately, the more constructive part of me that loves others easily is willing to look beyond the skewed vision of my mind to see something else… a perfectly imperfect yet strong woman with a still-vulnerable little girl inside, a worthy and yes, possibly even 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.

silhouetteI will mostly share drawings on this blog – to describe the process and invite others to try it – but I  posted the above photograph as a starting point because it expresses in one image how much I’ve struggled with shame and fought for self-acceptance. And, because photography was  the foundation for the 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 accessibilty lessened the cost as well as the performance aspect of photography.  My first digital camera allowed me simply to take many, many, pictures, period.

When I turned towards this work on self-image, for about three years I took a minimum of three pictures of myself EVERY single day 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 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 used the timer, propping the camera up anywhere, on just about anything, and throwing myself out in front of the lens spontaneously as the seconds ticked down to the “click”. I didn’t worry about lighting or backgrounds or positioning,  because the taking of the pictures was the process – it was not about the results. In my mind, the pictures were only for drawing purposes, so even if many of the photos were imperfect (not to mention unflattering), I kept them all, hoping to learn to accept myself from every angle. This process was a very private one for me, as I chose to be nude in the images, which probably accelerated the process by helping strip back the layers of shame to let something more real shine through.

But that was just the beginning – the most beautiful visions came through when I took up a pencil and slowly transformed the photographs into the simplest of drawings and later more detailed “artwork”. Because we’re all “works of art”… just the way we are, any other vision of ourselves is simply false.