Monday, February 28, 2011

Thinspiration, an anorexia website

In doing research for my book, I found a couple of websites which have fascinating information on them.  One, "The Pro Ana Lifestyle: Thinspiration" is apparently a support blog for people who are in favor of being anorexic and who want support for losing more weight and becoming thinner.  I don't have enough information to know if it's written tongue in cheek or is actually serious.  The lists are disturbing to read.  They do seem to capture the spirit of our times in horrific ways.

The author has several lists on the site.  Here's one of them which lists why she doesn't eat:
  • Because I can
  • Because I'm the hunger artist
  • Because I want to
  • Because if I can accomplish this, I can do anything!
  • Because of all the people in my life who die of jealousy when they see the way I look
  • Because it makes me feel brand new every day!
  • Because I just won't quit
  • Because I have wanted to be this way forever
  • Because I don't have any time to waste on food
  • Because I can do anything I put my mind to
  • Because I have the willpower
  • Because it's my life
  • Because it's my choice
  • Because of my next birthday
  • Because it's me. And though I don't advise it to anyone else; I'm too thin, and I don't eat enough, and that's me, and I love it!
Here's another:

70 reasons NOT to eat!

  1. Ana [short for anorexia] sounds so much better than FATSO
  2. You'll be perfect
  3. You'll be FAT if you eat today!
  4. Starving is control, we like control!
  5. You'll look prettier
  6. Guys want you!
  7. You don't NEED food
  8. Starving is an excellent example of will power
  9. People will see your beautiful bones
  10. People will remember you as the beautiful girl
  11. Only thin people are graceful
  12. You'll be able to run faster
  13. You'll have both inner&outer beauty
  14. People who eat are selfish and unrealistic
  15. FAT people can't fit everywhere
  16. If you eat you'll look like those disgusting, fat, trash hookers
  17. FAT people are so huge, yet people look away as if they don't exist
  18. Bones are clean and pure
  19. FAT is dirty, hangs on you as a parasite
  20. Thin people look good in ALL clothes
  21. Fat people die earlier
  22. Ballerina or beanbag?
  23. Starving Anorexic girl, or Ugly mingling FAT girl?
  24. A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips
  25. People will congratulate you on how much you've lost
  26. You'll use less soap in the shower, and save money
  27. People won't think 'what a fat cow' when they see you
  28. Skinny people get better jobs
  29. Fat people don't get leads in plays
  30. Starving works, diets don't!
  31. Food makes you fat
  32. Fatso's can't be loved
  33. People LOVE Ana's!
  34. You'll feel more energetic
  35. You'll save money on grocery bills
  36. Think as Anorexia as your secret wapen
  37. When your fat, it's like your invisible
  38. You'll look perfect on the outside
  39. You'll feel more confident and happy
  40. Thin is in
  41. Nothing tastes as good as thin feels
  42. You'll be free without the fat
  43. Everybody else will be envious
  44. Perfect body = perfect soul
  45. Have you ever seen anyone not noticing a thin girl?
  46. You'll be able to wear mini skirts, without blurry legs
  47. Friends will envy your body, and admire you
  48. Do you want to be the fattest person in town?
  49. Do you want to be Morbid Obese?
  50. You'll fit in all pretty clothes!
  51. Models are Anorexic too!
  52. You die beautiful
  53. Fat is a lazy person, Ana is control!
  54. You'll look good on pictures!
  55. You don't deserve food!
  56. You'll be able to be proud wearing a bikini!
  57. Fat people are ugly!
  58. Calories make you fat, food contains calories
  59. You'll save time by not eating
  60. The word FAT will only be used in a sarcastic way
  61. Fatso's are sooo disgusting!
  62. Fatso's are lonely because people don't want to look at them
  63. Is food more important than happiness?
  64. Food is mean and sneaky, every bite makes you FAT, UGLY, BLOATED, and UNHAPPY!
  65. You'll look like your favorite model!
  66. Fat drags you down
  67. Cell-U-Lite? Or perfection?
  68. People will be able to lift you up
  69. You'll be pure, holy and clean!
  70. Do you want your skin to look like it's going to burst because of all the fat? 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, by Courtney E. Martin

The last couple of weeks I've been reading an outstanding book called Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body, by Courtney E. Martin.  It is an indictment of our culture today and how young women are caught in a vise of trying to please and to be perfect.  These young women give the impression of having their act together.  They excel in school, sports, and extra-curriculars, but at the same time they detest themselves for not being completely perfect, and they often take out that hatred on their bodies.  It isn't just an upper middle class white girl problem either.  Martin's research has shown her that unfortunately this issue is gender-wide, bridging economic and racial lines like few other problems.  And in fact, she is also seeing a huge rise in eating disorders in young men who are also starting to feel pressure to have perfect bodies - six-pack abs, calves the right size, pecs that are muscular as can be.

Here are some of the statistics Martin quotes and address in her book:
* Ten million Americans suffer from eating disorders.
* Seventy million people worldwide suffer from eating disorders.
* More than half of American women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five would prefer to be run over by a truck or die young than be fat.
* More than two-thirds would rather be mean or stupid.
* Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychological disease.
Her take on the problem is that young women today were raised to believe they can be anything - unlike their mothers or grandmothers who were on the front lines of feminism and had to fight to break through the glass ceiling.  Apparently, according to Martin, this affirmation has been devastating to these young women.  She says, "In those affirmations, assurances, and assertions was a concealed pressure, an unintended message: You are special.  You are worth something.  But you need to be perfect to live up to that specialness."

Wow.  What a Catch-22.  I certainly want my daughter to feel like there are no doors closed to her, that she can, in fact, do whatever she wants to do, but I would hate it if at the same time I was somehow giving her the message that she had to be perfect  in order to be able to do that "anything" she set out to do.  What a painful bind.

Does this ring true to you in your experience?  Have you experienced this?  Or has your daughter? 

The world Courtney Martin describes is powerfully dysfunctional, with nary a woman able to have an intimate relationship with herself or with someone else because she's so worried that she looks too horrible to be worth loving.  And the men, too, are focused on but one thing - the woman's body and getting a piece of it.

Martin does ask young men what they look for in a woman - many respond from their hormonal place - big tits, tight ass (please excuse the crudeness of those descriptions - they're from the book) - but if they allow themselves to get under than shallow response, they usually are looking for a woman who likes herself, is confident, has a good sense of humor.  Martin posits that women would actually have an easier time finding a partner if they would take classes at the local comedy improv club than if they went to the gym every day for hours on end.  Authenticity and self-acceptance are the keys to filling in the inner void and finding love.

I was not caught up in the popularity thing in high school.  I didn't fit into that environment, and I knew it, so I didn't even try to play the game.  It wasn't about my body size - I just didn't have a clue how to play catty or do the girl compliment thing.  I wasn't really aware it was going on until my sister got into middle school.  I would hear her on the phone with her friends gossiping about another friend, saying what a &^*(_(*(& she was, then calling another person and gossiping about the person she'd just been talking to.  There was always drama in their circle, always someone mad at someone else.  It didn't make sense to me.  My friends and I sat around talking about religion or boys or the book we'd just read.  We liked each other and let each other know it.  We hung out together, had a nice time, but there wasn't social drama to speak of.  It was a different way of being, I realize now.

So this "mean girl" thing is unfamiliar to me.  I don't know how it works. But I certainly feel for the girls who are in it and do feel compelled to play by its rules.  It looks like it takes so much energy away from other things. 

Jessica's Daily Affirmations

One of my former students sent me a video this morning she thought I would like, and I'm passing it on because it may resonate with you too.  It's of a 3-year-old girl standing on the sink at her house saying, loudly, affirmations like, "I like my mom.  I like my sister.  I like my aunts."  Completely unselfconscious, open, in love with herself, just like we all could be!


Saturday, February 26, 2011

thanks for your stories!

Thank you to all of you wonderful, bold women who've already answered the questions I put on my blog last time.  I've gotten some wonderful honest interesting responses and am excited about including them in my book.

If you haven't responded yet, you have until March 15th, and I'd be thrilled to get answers from you or anyone you think might be interested.  The more, the merrier!

Thank you for sharing your stories with other women.  Together we can help revise the way people perceive their bodies - for the better!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Survey questions: A chance to tell your own story about how you feel about your body...

Dear Powerful, uber-cool Women,
 (sorry guys, the book's about women)

I'm working on a book about Women's Body Image.  The arch of it is about shifting Judgment into Acceptance.  That includes how we judge ourselves and others, and how others judge themselves and us.  It also includes how we release our judgments of others and especially how we come to love and accept ourselves just as we are.

The book will include my own personal journey from judgment to acceptance of my body, my paintings, some facts and figures, and, very importantly, personal stories from my models and other women who struggle daily with the very same issues.

I am at the stage right now where I am gathering stories from others.  If you are interested in sharing your stories, please send them to me at  If you would like to answer anonymously, you can comment through the blog and share as "anonymous".  These questions are quite personal, so please check in with yourself to see if you're OK sharing this information with me or not.  If you respond, I will assume you're OK with my using your stories in my book and perhaps on this blog.  Please only share if you're comfortable with that agreement.  Please let me know if you would like me to use your first name or a pseudonym if I use your story.

I'm exceedingly grateful to you for sharing whatever you'd like to.  Your story may be just the thing a woman in Nebraska needs to hear to help her get insight into the feelings she's having about being pregnant, or the young girl in California who's thinking about getting a tattoo but can't quite decide, or the aging matron in Florida who hates the wrinkles and flab gathering everywhere on her body and needs a different point of view to help her see her own beauty.

We, as women, are incredibly powerful.  It is time we share the outstanding stories of our lives so we can empower others, so we can love ourselves, so we can end self-hatred.  Thank you for sharing your stories.  They matter.

Here are some questions you may want to consider or which may provoke some memories.  Feel free to address any of them which are pertinent to you, or please ignore them completely and tell me whatever you'd like to!

How do you feel about your body? 

Were there any experiences you had growing up which influenced how you see yourself?

Did your mother say anything to you which affected how you feel about your body?
Did your father say anything to you which affected how you feel about your body?

How did your mother feel about her body?  Did that affect how you feel about yours?

What sort of familiy legacy do you have around body image?  (i.e. all the women in your family are overweight; at family gatherings, there are piles of fattening food but no one eats it - they just stand around and talk about how they need to lose weight;  your sisters are all anorexic; etc.)

When you meet another woman for the first time, what do you notice first?  Do her looks affect whether you choose to become friends with her (consciously or not)?

Do you judge yourself or your looks harshly?  

Can you be gentle with yourself and how you look?  How did you come to that place of self-acceptance?

Are their any activities you do which you notice help you feel great about your body?  (for example: dance, exercise, have sex, go for a walk, talk to friends, eat healthily, sleep well)

Conversely, are there any activities you do which you notice cause you to feel bad about your body? 

Have you ever dieted?  If so, what made you decide to?  Was it successful?

Does your ethnic heritage have an impact on how you perceive yourself/your looks/your body?

If you have a tattoo - what does it mean to you?  What made you decide to get it?  How does it affect how you see yourself?

If you have chosen to get piercings, what do they mean to you?  What made you decide to get them?  How do they affect how you see yourself?
Have you modified your body in any other ways?  Would you consider doing so?  Why or why not?  (i.e. plastic surgery, breast reduction, mole removal, shave your head, lightening your skin, tanning booth)

Have you ever worried about your weight?  Have you ever dieted?  If so, what made you decide to?  Was it successful?

If you've had a child, how did giving birth affect how you feel about your body?

If you nursed a baby, how did/does that affect how you see yourself?

If you have daughters, what sort of dreams do you have for your girls as they grow up?

Do you think your sexual orientation (heterosexual/homosexual/transgender, etc.) affects how you feel about your body?  If so, in what ways?

Have you ever experienced abuse (physical, sexual, emotional)?  If so, do you think it affected how you feel about your body?  If so, how?  How did you cope with the abuse?  What have you done to heal?

Have you had any major illnesses or surgeries which have affected how you see yourself or how you feel about your body?
How do you feel about any scars you may have?

If you are overweight, how does that affect your body image?  your self esteem?  

      Are you comfortable with your weight?

      How do you think others perceive you?

If you are underweight, how does that affect your body image?  your self esteem?

      Are you comfortable with your weight?

      How do you think others perceive you?

Have you ever had an eating disorder?  How did that affect your body image?  your self esteem?
      Did you get help for it?

      Do you feel like you have an accurate picture of yourself now?

      How have you learned to eat healthily?

      What do you think may have triggered you to stop eating/start throwing up/ begin overexercising?

How old are you?

What are your feelings about aging?  How is your perception of your body shifting as you age?

What concerns do you have about aging?

Does aging affect how you perceive your body?  Does it make your more judgmental or more accepting of yourself?

If you have reached the point in your life where you are accepting of your body and your self, how did you get there?
Did any of the following help you learn to accept your body or your Self?  If so, how?  Spirituality, support of others, making art, other forms self expression, dance, exercise.

How have your feelings about your body manifested in your sexuality?  (for example: Have you acted out because you hated your body?  Have you chosen not to have sex because you fear having anyone see you?  Have you had lots of sex because you felt free and comfortable in your body and wanted to share your freedom with others?  Were you educated with abstinence only sex education so chose to wait until marriage?)

Have you had moments of transcendent joy in your body which shut out any negative messages you otherwise experience? 

Are there times when you are fully present in your body and loving what it does?  What are you doing at those moments? 

Are there other stories about your feelings about your body you'd like to share?

May I use your name?  Or is there a pseudonym you'd like me to use?  

May I contact you if I have further questions?  How should I get in touch?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Direct Orgiastic Art vs not-quite-on-the-spot Art

Sometimes when I look at other artists' work, I find it complex, multi-faceted, layered, and sometimes a bit dense and difficult to understand.  Shakespeare's poetry is like that for me.  Virginia Woolf and TS Eliot are like that.  Jackson Pollack and Picasso can be like that.  When I take the time to look and read carefully and have a skillful guide to help me, I learn much from deciphering their meaning and usually feel rewarded for my efforts.  Sometimes, though, I am not interested in working so hard for the payoff.

I love to slip into the soulfulness of VanGogh's colors and brushstrokes.  I don't think there's very much there to understand intellectually.  I find looking at his paintings to be an emotional experience.  I have stood transfixed in front of his canvases, drinking in the heady rush of colors, the wild orgiastic headlong splashes of energy, the emotions vibrating off the air around me.

Standing surrounded by Monet's Waterlilies, larger than life size, I stutter across the surface of his canvas as his brush did, steep in the murky pond water, feel graceful with the lilies and pads.

In front of Mark Rothko's powerful color studies, I am aware of the intellectual machinations he went through to produce them, the artistic suffering he experienced, the self doubt and torture and his ultimate suicide, but it is the Spirit in the paintings which moves me.  I feel the vibrations of the paint; the subtle gradations between colors activate neurons in my brain which didn't have awareness before then.  It's not an exaggeration to say that I feel God's presence in his paintings.

These experiences remain with me more powerfully than all the intellectually complex paintings ever could. 

I spent the last twenty-three years tutoring students in all their academic subjects.  That often involved helping them decipher complicated authors and artists.  Or helping them understand the logic and beauty of Geometry or Algebra.  Or understanding the structure underneath foreign languages so they could learn the patterns more easily.  In other words, it was my job to simplify and find patterns in information so that my students could understand it and learn it with ease and joy.

I think this and my natural inclinations have influenced the type of art I make.  It tends to be simple and straightforward.  I paint women's bodies.  Not multi-layered tracts about women's bodies.  Not words and graphs and charts laid overtop the flesh.  Not slashes and dashes and marks above and below the paint.  Not collaged references to others' works.  No, I paint very simple renderings of authentic women.  I want to honor each individual and to give the viewer the experience of seeing that woman's body clearly, naked, without interference so that they can drink in the beauty of her flesh, her form, her face.

I am overwhelmed by watching the News on TV these days - I can't absorb everything that is presented - the broadcaster's story along with the headlines running under the spoken words, along with the box in the upper right which is showing yet another story.  My brain revolts and simply does not want to have to work so hard to get the information.  Give me simple and straightforward, and let me process it how I will.

I was talking to Valley Haggard about this today.  She was saying that someone had once told her that her writing is very straightforward and direct and honest.  She doesn't hide what she's trying to say.  She lays it out there very clearly.  She used to feel a bit inadequate when she thought about that description, as if obscure and obtuse were somehow better.  Now, however, she owns that description and feels good about it.  I went through a similar journey in thinking about my own art.  I came up with the following analogy when talking to Valley about it:  (It's graphic and sexual, so please don't read it if you think you might be disturbed by it)

Complicated, layered, obscurely referential art to me is like very frustrating sex - lots of titillation, lots of leading towards orgasm, but never quite getting there.  Straightforward art (like her writing), to me, is like great sex - I know she's going to hit the spot.  I'm going to have a great orgasm, and I might even have several.  It's direct, clear, and right on the spot.

My husband describes my art as populist - of the people.  I winced the first time I heard that, but now I embrace it - I am trying to reach "the people" - the more, the better!  I don't need my message to be veiled in obscure references which only well-educated people can understand.  I want to help people love their bodies and to appreciate the beauty in everyone.  That's pretty darn simple.  I would much rather someone have an emotional experience in front of my work than an intellectual one.

I think people love Van Gogh's work because it's emotionally powerful.  It is full of soul.  He allowed his emotions to spill out onto his canvas.  Valley does this in her writing.  She is naked in what she writes.  I am naked in what I write and in what I paint.

A reader expressed concern that I might be laying myself out there too bare.  That led me to ask the question that I asked before I chose to show my nude self portrait, "So what?  So what if someone sees me naked?"  Shifted slightly for the written word, "So what if someone knows my inner thoughts?  Reads about my intimate feelings?  Knows how I feel about my body?"  I don't know what harm that can cause.  It's not as if they can hurt me by making fun of me.  I'm already an open book.  Derision only works if a person is ashamed of something and the attacker senses that and goes for that jugular.  If I have come to terms with my feelings and thoughts, then what harm can be done in sharing them?  Cruel and unkind people may try to hurt me, but hopefully I would have enough consciousness to recognize whose issues those are.  Not mine.

I think the world becomes a better place when people share openly and fully.  I learn so much from reading other's works which come from the heart.  It helps me understand myself better when others share their journeys and struggles with me.  I get insights I might not have had without their sharing.  I hope that readers of this blog occasionally experience a flash of insight or self-understanding when they read about my journey.  I know I learn from each of you who choose to share with me.

Thank you.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Artists and Writers and Valley Haggard

Yesterday was the culmination of over a year's worth of work collaborating with Valley Haggard to create an exhibit for Randolph Macon College's Flippo Gallery.

From 3-5 yesterday Valley and I, along with the other pairs of collaborators (Amie Oliver and Harry Kollatz, and Joshua Poteet and Roberto Ventura, and Dash Shaw (who wasn't able to be there)) exhibited our work to the public who were kind enough to make the trek to Ashland for the afternoon.  One of the highlights of the afternoon was the reading by the various writers involved in the project.

Joshua Poteet did a wonderful job reading his poem which he and Roberto Ventura had illustrated.  Hearing it read brought it close to my heart and helped me understand it more.  Their artwork was an aesthetically beautiful response to Randolph Macon's setting next to the railroad tracks, to the poem Joshua had written about the space between the tracks and the rest of the world, and to the tragic murder of a homeless person which happened in that space. Beautifully finished plywood with the poem and article etched into it, Joshua's light boxes serving as punctuation, and lines on the wall delineating the progression made an overall beautiful impression of order and disorder blending together, as does that space between the tracks.

Harry gave a very dramatic reading of snippets from his journal over the course of several years which Amie had illustrated with gorgeous black and white drawings of herself and Harry, coffee cups, flowers, and Harry's hat. Overlaid on her drawings were scrawls of Harry's handwriting from his journals.  The drawings were displayed beautifully on rails on the wall, their B&W tones exquisite against the neutral gray of the gallery walls.

Dash Shaw's graphic novels greet the visitor upon entering the gallery.  A computer monitor was set up to allow people to watch his short film.  Original pages from his novels were displayed in a grid on the wall, and the actually books themselves were also available for visitors to peruse.

Valley's and my work is on the far wall as one enters the space, bold and red paintings along with stark black and white words against the neutral gray walls.  Three oil paintings of Valley, a pastel drawing, and three series of three photos are the visual offerings.  2-3 line poems along with Valley's article from Belle are the written ones.

 This is the painting from our first session.   It's called Valley in the Chair. 

This drawing was also from the first session.  It's called Valley's Folds.  It's an almost abstract exploration of her scar and the folds of her torso.

From our second session together, after Valley had had some amazing revelations about her relationship with her body.  Valley Coming out of the Chair.

The final painting in the series, a portrait of her in her flashy red bathing suit.

Standing in front of Valley's Folds, her personal favorite of the paintings, Valley gave a reading about her experience of our collaboration.  It was so beautiful, so powerful, so completely intimate, there was utter silence as she read, a reverential hush when she finished, lingering applause as she returned to the crowd and hugged her best friend with relief.  Here is what she read:

Last January I was invited to a vision board making party at the apartment of a good friend. I had just spent the morning having a past life regression in Mechanicsville. But after entering a state of deep relaxation instead of visiting a past life, I had visited an archetype. I was Guinevere in King Arthur’s Court and I was sobbing in front of a mirror. Beauty is dangerous, beauty is betrayal, beauty is a crime, Guinevere/Me moaned through her sobs. The words, and the thoughts behind them, were so powerful that I spoke them out loud.

This a belief worth examining, my past-life regression practitioner observed. And so I did. As a young woman in my early twenties traveling across America by bus, train and ship, my mother had felt compelled to write me a letter. “Valley, your body is not a thank you note,” she had said, because I was still in the habit of offering it as a substitute for everything else I felt I intrinsically lacked.

In my mind, being beautiful was the equivalent of being a slut. I wanted to be beautiful, but beauty was, I believed, a weapon women used against other people, particularly themselves. This belief left me confused, divided and shut down about my own body and physical nature for many years.

At the vision board party, while flipping through old magazines I thought about what it was I truly wanted for the year ahead. Yes, money, fame and fortune. But as I cut out a stunning photograph of a nude statue and then pasted the words “WE LOVE YOU” over her breasts, I looked up at Susan Singer. I remembered the first time I’d seen her paintings and the electric current they’d sent through me. She had managed to render the rolls and folds of the female body in a bold, exquisite way that was completely unapologetic. Her paintings had woken something in me that now sat up at attention.

Across the coffee table scattered with glue sticks and magazines, I asked Susan if she would be willing to collaborate with me for the Artists and Writers show at the Flippo Gallery the following year. In other words, I asked if she would allow me to be her model, first photographing and then painting me naked. This was a scary prospect for me, but one that I instinctively knew I needed to try. She, it turns out, had just pasted the words/images “Gallery Show” on her vision board. She said yes.

We have spent the last year making this happen.

The experience of being naked is not unlike the first time you show someone a raw and vulnerable first draft of a novel. As a writer I have a tendency to edit myself down until there is almost nothing left. I whittle and cut and delete and fret over my words like a woman first making up her face and then changing 18 times before leaving the house. I worry that what comes out on its own- without being heavily clothed, made-up or edited, is unacceptable. The plastic surgery I have committed on my own writing has left some of it more mangled than those sad brides competing for the opportunity to be disfigured on the reality TV show, Bridalplasty.

However, being painted naked has made whittling myself down to nothing more difficult. My body carries the blue print of the life I have lived. In the last decade I have had six surgeries between my neck and my thighs. I have had six miscarriages and one beautiful child. I have probably lost and gained 300 pounds. Six months after getting married, I developed Cushings Disease, an adrenal disorder which gave me moon face and a buffalo hump. My body is short a uterus, a gall bladder, one rib and an adrenal gland. I have been sliced open and stitched back together, but some of my deepest scars are invisible. Allowing myself to be seen, to be studied, to be photographed and painted by Susan has been the catalyst for healing many of them.

Obviously this exhibition was heavily edited. There are not 389 nude pictures of me on the wall. But it does represent a year long process within which I’ve struggled to uncover both my body and my writing, finding what lies beneath the surface of not only my clothes, but the words I use to represent myself in the world. In the beginning I felt fragile, exposed and like I might die. But when I didn’t die, and in fact felt accepted, celebrated and nourished in Susan’s presence, something powerful happened.

I believe that what Susan Singer is doing with her art is a gift not just to the women she paints, but to the world. I feel like her work is revolutionary- not because she is inventing something new but because she is showing us in a new way what is already there.

And beauty, I’m learning, isn’t about having flawless skin, thighs that don’t touch, perfectly aligned features or the right person next to you in bed.

For me, it’s about allowing my imperfections, insecurities and battle scars to co-exist with the parts of myself that I already liked in a way that is vulnerable, authentic and open.

And now in a completely different way, my body is a thank you note. One that I am giving to myself.

To close, I would like to thank Katie Shaw for having the vision to bring all of this together, and my husband for his unflagging patience the last ten years as I’ve struggled to learn the things he has always known intuitively.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fierce Young Thing!

I love this image by Rho Mann, a dear friend of a friend of mine.  The girl looks how I feel these days - not thinking about how I look - just feeling fierce and ready to do battle with anyone who stands in my way, but also very friendly and smiley to my friends.  I love her dragon tail sticking out from under her shift. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Art on Trial

My husband just sent me a link about a trial concerned a piece of art with a nude it in.  It was displayed in a court building and apparently so offended someone that she demanded to have it taken down.  The artist took the city to court for having taken it down.  You can read more at  Fascinating!

Some people really do get provoked by the naked body.  It makes me wonder what they have under their clothes...

Friday, February 18, 2011

A new model who loves her body

Last week I photographed a woman whom I saw onstage playing violin at Khalima's Raqs Illuminaire (a belly dance extravaganza).  She had a wonderful stage presence, playing her violin passionately between dance numbers.  I was happy when she asked to model for me because I was curious to get to know her better.

Here's what she wrote about her experience modeling for me:
I came into the studio feeling confident and relaxed. I am not shy with my body. I felt very comfortable being naked and being photographed. But I started to notice that I was chatty and that I had a little difficulty feeling free with my facial expressions. I realized that despite my calm I still have some pockets of shame, but not around the weight. Around being vulnerable emotionally with someone. It's OK for my body to be seen but what about the inner stuff?
And yet I made a conscious effort to stay present in the moment. I posed with the violin and in those moments was able to open the door a little to the emotions. You took lots of pictures of and asked lots of questions about my massive surgical scar, which put me in touch with both the agony of that experience as well as the deep well of strength I gained from it.
 And then you asked about the tattoo on the back of my neck, the memorial for a loved one who committed suicide. At that time I was posing looking into the mirror, and I cried. The photos capturing that moment of grief along with the tattoo are precious to me. I'm so grateful for that moment of literally naked and raw emotion.
Afterward, looking over all the photos and chatting with you I felt connected, and loving toward my body even while looking at it in photos - uncovered, unhidden, rolls and floppy bits and all. What a wonderful evening - to collaborate with you is to be visually explored from all angles, appreciated, documented, captured in art. I'm humbled and grateful and excited to see the finished product, whichever direction you take.
Later she sent me a brief addendum:
I wanted to look powerful, larger than life - and you captured this gorgeous image lying on the floor beneath me standing there, and I look gargantuan. I love that photo. It's full of power of stature and weakness of flesh. It resonates with who I feel I am - an overcomer.
I can't wait to begin painting images of this fabulous woman!  It's gonna be fun!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I'm painting what other people see as ugly and am making it so beautiful they can't stop looking.

Sometimes people have feelings when they see my artwork.  That can lead me to feel like I've done soemthing wrong because I've made them uncomfortable.  What I have to realize is that I haven't necessarily done anything wrong - they are having feelings.  I can't change their feelings or cause them to have them or not to have them - that's on them.  I am but a vehicle for the words and images which come through me.  I am not even the origin of them.

In my co-counseling session* just now, I got attuned to the following:

I'm painting what other people see as ugly and am making it so beautiful they can't stop looking at it.

I realized that when I was younger I believed that my feelings were too ugly to be allowed.  I held them in and didn't even feel them until I'd done four or five years of therapy and learned to feel again.  I was thirty years old before I allowed myself the then very frightening experience of letting my anger surface.

One of my former partners was so uncomfortable with my feelings and his own feelings that he would do whatever he needed to in order to keep me from having mine or provoking his, including being harsh and sometimes cruel to me.

Gradually I learned that it's OK to have my feelings.  They are completely valid and OK. They're even safe.  It's so much better for me to have my feelings than to try to suppress them.  When I shove them down, I overeat, or I get rigid and controlling, or I get very angry, or I shut down to those around me who love me and want the best for me.  I need to keep the flow going and to be wide open, both with my "good" feelings and the ones which are harder to be with.  It is such a joy to be uninhibited and honest.  It feels like the Universe is my partner in goodness erupting all over the place.

When I was in session with my co-counseling* partner, I thought about how I really feel about my heavy models.  Their bodies are not the aesthetic I was raised to believe is beautiful.  I saw Mom as beautiful - she dresses well, her face is beautiful - yet Dad kept telling her she needed to lose weight.  It was so confusing to me.  I wanted her to be beautiful - she was beautiful - I wanted her to feel beautiful.  I wanted Dad to tell her she was beautiful.

As I paint these overweight women, I am trying to learn what my mother looks like.  I don't know.  I have never seen her body naked before.  She wouldn't undress in front of us except in the most secretive, veiled fashion.  When she was in the hospital lately, the nurse was helping her dress, and I asked Mom if she wanted me to leave the room so I wouldn't disturb her modesty.  I turned away as she took off her pajamas and put on her shirt.  But before I turned away I saw some of her belly flesh and just the side of her right breast.  I tried to burn the image into my brain.  I felt such a yearning to know how she really looks.  I can still see the image strongly enough to paint it as if from a photograph.

I want to take my mother in my arms and hold her and rock her and tell her how beautiful she truly is.  I want her to feel my compassion and sorrow and I want her to heal the deep broken places within her.

My co-counselor asked me if I want to heal the wounds of the world with my work.  I think she wanted me to recognize the futility of that, but I am aligned with the desire.  Yes, I want to heal the world, and especially  my mother and other women I  know who hate their bodies so deeply.

I looked at the picture I've begun of Heather - my goddess painting, and I imagine myself gently applying the paint over her rounded sagging belly.  I imagine her belly as my feelings - something others have told me are so ugly and reprehensible and uncomfortable - and I want to caress them oh so gently.  I want to make them so beautiful that people get lost in the gorgeous details, the subtle nuances.  I want people to revel in the utter authenticity and sensitivity they are privy to seeing.  So beautiful that they get lost in the experience and can't even begin to zoom out and see that this is something they had previously abhorred - feelings being expressed fully, belly protruding, fat rolling, stretch marks.  Up close, allowed to exist, they are nothing short of miraculous and exquisite.

As I paint the women whose bodies others judge, I will honor them with the loving attention they deserve.  In so doing, I will heal the deep wounds in my psyche where I believed I was too wrong, too intense, too sensitive, too strong, too "feeling" to exist.  My sensitivity and intensity are my greatest strengths in the work I am doing.  They allow me to feel acutely the nubs of canvas under my fingers and the beauty of the women I am painting.

For the first time in my life today, I am feeling exquisitely gentle towards myself and towards all I have felt and will feel, recognizing fully and completely what a gift my sensitivity is to me and to all those in my life.  Not a curse.  Not something to be hacked off with a butcher's knife or a cruel man's tongue lashing.   Rather, something to be honored and revered and trusted and held as the sacred blessing it is.

Blessed be.

*Reevaluation Co-counseling is a healing modality I practice with a friend.  To learn more about it, see the following:  It has been a very powerful tool for me in my search to get to know myself better and to love myself more.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Another Art on Trial

My husband found a link to a website with information about a nude painting not being allowed to exist in public.  It was a mural in Pilot Point, TX.  The owner of the store was told to get rid of the picture because it was harmful to children who would see it.  The owner chose to cover the model's breasts with Caution Tape and hang a sign saying it was censored instead.  The trial has not yet been decided.

Interestingly, Caution Tape was my coverage of choice as well when a couple of my models decided after I'd finished the painting that they didn't want their faces to show after all.  I thought it was a very elegant solution and actually improved the painting's message as well.  The title of this piece is Mother and Daughter Jocks Bound by Caution.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The truth as I see it. The truths my models bring to me.

I take these photographs.  I paint these paintings.  I learn about these women - the skinny ones, the fat ones, the fit ones, the sluggish ones, the old, the young...  Each of them is so perfect, so unique.  Each shares part of her story with me, and I feel such compassion, such empathy, such a strong desire to portray them as beautifully as I possibly can because that is the truth as I see it.

They tell me about themselves as children, about their operations, about their abortions, about their partners and their children, about their eating disorders, their abuse, their happy childhoods, their healthy upbringings.  They share with me how they feel about their bodies whether they use words or not.

I ask each woman try to find a word to describe how she wants to feel and appear in the photographs.  Here are some of their answers:

powerful, like a Goddess, strong, beautiful, graceful, prayerful, meditative, centered, calm, energetic

Some women are defiant - they will show their bodies if they damn well please.
Some pose because they know they need to/want to in order to march through their fear to the other side.

Some want to feel beautiful and think I can help.  Sometimes I can.  Sometimes I can't.  I try.

Some have had eating disorders or other issues about their bodies.
They might be shy about posing nude for me, a virtual stranger. They might believe they look too fat or too skinny or too tall or too muscular or too ...  whatever their loved ones have sadly led them to believe was true.

Some are defiant yet scared.
Some pose then know it is the right thing to ask me never to paint them.  They want to not be seen by all.  Yet they wanted/needed to pose.

Some are simply comfortable with who they are.  They revel in the feel of the air on their skin.  They love feeling the warmth of the lights on their skin.  They dance.  They move.  They close their eyes and feel the grace they were born with.  They love the feel of their muscles and skin and hair.

Some have hated their bodies in the past but done so much work that they are in a different place now and want to celebrate it.

Some have me photograph their scars and tell me the heroic stories that accompany such fascinating beauty.

Some are awkward at first and move stiffly until they realize they are safe and seen with compassion.  Their reserve melts.  A magical moment occurs and they allow themselves to be.  To just simply be.  Be in their own skin, naked, and seen by another.

Some weep with joy at the freedom.

Some blame me for the shock.

Some are wounded because they needed to say no to modeling but didn't.
Some move through the myriad feelings and come out different.

Some are healed.

All tell me stories I am honored to hear.  All share a most precious gift - vulnerability and trust.
It is one of my deepest wishes that I honor that trust and give these women the gift of being seen with love and honored for the beauty that shines from within.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Preparing to go out for dinner - should I care how I look? Can I NOT care?

Last night Larkin Garbee, co-owner of James River Tile and Stone Art here in Richmond, hosted a five course Valentine's Weekend Dinner to celebrate the exhibition of my paintings which she is holding at her establishment through March 13.  It couldn't have been more wonderful.  She and her staff did a fantastic job displaying the artwork.  The dinner was delicious.  Each course was paired with a different wine.  Then at the end of the evening there was a raffle.  Four people won the centerpiece from the table, a beautiful candleholder carved out of rugged walnut.  Then the last person won a $1000 commission from me.  I'm very excited about the woman who won - she and her husband have two small children (10 months and 3 years, I think she said), and she'd like to have a picture the kids can feel comfortable with as they grow older.  They're very comfortable with nudity now, and the mom is hoping they'll continue to be so as they get older.  Seeing an image of their mom throughout their lives would only, I would think, increase the dailiness and normalcy of it.  I love her thoughts on it and look forward to painting her!

The Preparations : }
I had to laugh at myself as I was getting ready for the dinner.  I felt very excited about it because I would get to meet a lot of people who are interested in my work, and I didn't have a clue how it would be.  Around 5:00 I pried myself away from the work we were doing stretching a canvas because I knew I would need some time to get ready.  It seemed important to look nice.

Therein lies the irony, right?!  Here I am espousing that women are gorgeous simply because they exist, and I start to get all worried about how I look:

* I need a haircut - my very excellent haircut of 3 months ago is no longer so chic and tidy.
* I hadn't shaved my legs in a month or more - winter takes away that incentive - I was thinking I'd wait til shorts weather, but I figured I'd need to wear stockings, and you never know who'll look/care/notice/judge.
* I considered that I might put on makeup - which for me, at the most, consists of lipstick - which Chris hates because he doesn't like getting it on him - it feels so unnatural to kiss my coated lips too.
* I planned to wear my snazzy red dress which makes me feel brilliantly gorgeous along with a fabulous peacock shawl which a dear friend of mine gave me.  I put on the dress - no problem - then flung the shawl around me.  I tried it this way and that, pulled it over my shoulders and held it in one hand.  Put half of it over my shoulder with the other half hanging down.  Tried it on like I meant it.  Chris looked at me and laughed (in a friendly manner) and told me I am just not the type of woman who can wear a shawl like that - I don't have the right panache.  I don't stride and strut quite right.  I love it when women wear shawls well, but I think he may be right.  I myself am not quite able to pull it off.  So that left me needing to stay warm in a sleeveless dress in mid-February.  I rummaged through my closet with increasing concern that I wouldn't find a thing.  I tried on silk overblouses, but my artist's eye just wouldn't let me wear pink with red or orange with red, and the purple one wasn't the right style.  All the while I was aware of time ticking away.  Finally I chose a mustard colored loose jacket I wore for my opening at October and hoped no one would know it was a tried and true outfit.

All the while, I was thinking about the utter absurdity of worrying about how I look when that's my whole message!

Chris, too, was working hard to look just right.  He wanted to know what color shirt he should wear.  Maroon.  And pants?  Grey.  "Should I really wear grey khakis?  Are they fancy enough?  Should I wear these?"  I replied, "Sounds like you don't think you should wear the grey khakis."  Finally he came to terms with wearing the grey khakis.  Then I noticed that the back pocket was almost worn through, so he had to change them anyway.  Back to the drawing board.

We laughed at our efforts and how different they are from how we normally dress - my standard dress these days is painting pants, a turtleneck, and a sweatshirt.  Some days I'll put on something else if I'm going out first, but usually I'll even go to the store or to teach or to meetings dressed like that.  My social engagements are fairly limited these days to places where being dressed like an artist works.

Chris finally decided on nice slacks, a maroon shirt, maroon and grey tie, black shoes, and a sports coat that almost matched.  I wore my red dress, panty hose, a mustard colored loose jacket, and red shoes with no heels (nothing will get me to wear heels - I had plantar fasciatis (sp?) a few years ago, and heels hurt my foot within moments of putting them on.)

Chris watched me put on the panty hose - it may have been the first time he'd seen me do so.  He asked if all women go through this.  I told him I guess I put them on like anyone else does - gather up the leg all the way to the toe, slip them over the toe then pull them up to the knee.  Do the same on the other foot. Then stand up and grimace broadly while trying to get them up to the waist without creating a run.  Shimmy and squirm and pull and grunt while trying to get each leg even.  Reach inside them to pull up underpants.  Pull up each leg separately to get them up to crotch level so you don't experience a wedgy the entire evening.  Pull up on each leg gently yet firmly so there are no sags or bags without causing a run.  Hope you don't have to pee until you get home again and can get out of the things.

Chris asked why women don't wear stockings like they used to.  I explained about garter belts but then remembered that I used to wear thigh highs when I had to wear anything, and they were a much more comfortable solution, unless they'd lost their elastic and tended to fall down around my ankles while I was carrying a kid from the car to the store or wherever.

Should I care more how I look?
I don't know - I guess I have to recognize that I am simply not equipped to be a fashionista.  I just don't have it in me to care about the right color panty hose for the season or the right shade of lipstick.  Actually, I felt very fashionable (in a sneaky kind of way) over Christmas when my nieces sneered at the idea of wearing lipstick and said no one did that anymore - gross!  Perhaps I'm actually leading fashion trends instead of just being oblivious to and disdainful of them!

Seriously, though, I never have followed fashion trends.  My mother always looks terrific.  She's a snazzy dresser, matching her ensemble and jewelry and other accessories beautifully.  She has a real flair for looking terrific.  But I have never heard her mutter about how she looks or whether something she's wearing is in fashion or whatever.  She dresses without fuss, as far as I know, and looks good.  I don't think she's ever bought a Vogue magazine or anything like that.  So I grew up not really knowing that women worry about how they dress (thank goodness!).  At my high school,  we wore uniforms, so at the time I might have become aware of dress, I didn't.  I'm thankful for that.  My high school was full of very wealthy people who, I'm sure, had wardrobes far more extensive than mine and who probably didn't shop at Sears and JC Penny.  If I had been aware of their wardrobes and had felt a need to compete with them, I think I would have felt quite inadequate.  That could have been painful.  Instead, I put on my black watch kilt, regulation white oxford shirt, blue cardigan, blue knee socks, blue shoes, and camel's hair coat and went out the door to have a great time learning! 

I pay attention to what I wear when I go out, and I like to look nice, but I am blessed with a husband who thinks I am the most beautiful woman on earth no matter what I wear, but he especially likes it when I'm in jeans and a T-shirt, so I don't worry about dressing for him.  The times I get most concerned about how I look are when I'm going out with other women.  I think that's true for most women - we assume our women friends will notice what we're wearing and how we look and may even comment on it.

I think actually, that most of our anxiety about how we look comes from worry about the judgments of other women.  How sad.

How about if we stop talking about looks altogether?
I have an acquaintance who recently had a baby.  She has asked people to NOT comment on how the baby looks - don't tell her she's pretty or cute or any of those other endearments which come so naturally.  I was put off by that at first because I felt stymied - that's what came flowing out of my mouth naturally.  What else was I supposed to say?  But she has really helped me become aware of just how ingrained it is in our society, or at least in me, to comment on a baby's looks - and, of course, it doesn't stop with infants.

What if we stopped commenting on how people look?  What would happen if we began, instead, to comment on their brilliant thoughts?  or their wonderful ideas?  or their courageous actions? or their feelings?  or sensitive thoughts?  I wonder if we would focus on those positives how long it would take to shift things from an outer to an inner focus?

If you're up for it, try it for a few days, and let me know how it feels!  I'm very curious to see what's possible if we give up our worries about our physical selves and focus on our interiors instead...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Getting personal - my own story

Yesterday I blogged about Body Dysmorphic Disorder.  Today I'll get personal and tell a bit about my own journey...

A few years ago, for several months I followed the "ideal" meal plan, balancing all the food groups and only eating certain amounts.  I was also exercising 4-5 times/week.  I loved how strong I felt and enjoyed the more toned look of my body.  I also appreciated the endorphins flowing through my body helping me have plenty of energy.  I had wanted to lose 10 pounds to get back to my pre-marriage weight, but only lost 4 and felt discouraged.  I realize I gained muscle which weighs more than fat.  Etc., etc., etc.  Blah, blah, blah.  Yes, I got into that cycle.

But the reason I got into it was because I was waking up virtually every morning disgusted with myself for how my body looked.  I would have negative thoughts frequently throughout the day.  I finally decided that I was wasting a lot more time feeling bad about myself than it would take to exercise and get the above-mentioned perks.

I have lost the muscles and tone over the couple of years since I gradually stopped exercising. I'd like to get back into it just because it feels good.  I haven't made time to do it again yet.  I don't want to obsess about it or about food.  I want to eat healthily.  I want to eat well.  I want to eat delicious food, and I don't want to deny myself, because that makes me crazy and petulant and pissy and reactive.

I have not yet found a balance and I do not yet love my body unconditionally.  I can act like I do - I will fake it til I make it - but I have days when I get frustrated and put myself down about my body.
Around Christmas I took a series of photographs of myself, my belly, breasts, and face primarily.  I drew a couple of images from it then, then two days ago I drew another.  It is very difficult for me to look at.  I chose colors that are harsh and ugly together because I was working with my feelings.  I got caught up in the process of creating and forgot what I was painting (as is usually the case), but when I was done and stood back to look at it, and as I look at it now, it's painful.  I don't like what I see.  I've always had the lower pooch - always.  But the top one is new.  That's the last 8 pounds.  Eight pounds of fat.

I don't know what to do about it.  I hear echoes of my father's voice, "Hold your stomach in or you'll look terrible."  I hear his voice another time, "Women always get fat after they have children.  You will too."  Am I fulfilling his prophecy?  It's very uncomfortable to me.

I weigh 140 lbs and am 5'6".  I am in the normal range for weight.  Yet I weigh more than I ever have.  I think I've always been in the very low normal range, if not a bit underweight, so having this bulge above my belly is new and uncomfortable.  I have probably never had an accurate vision of my body.  I probably had a very mild form of BDD vis-a-vis my stomach.  I certainly have not perceived it accurately.  My siblings taunted me with "Fatty, fatty, two by four, can't get through the bathroom door" when I was eight and I've, at least since then, believed that was an accurate moniker for me.  When I was newly divorced, I couldn't figure out how to take care of my three young children, make enough money to support us, maintain the house AND feed myself.  From strain and worry, I got down to 108 pounds.  I'll always be grateful to my friend who looked at me, put her fingers around my skeletal wrist, and said, "Honey, you need to gain some weight.  This has gone far enough."  I'd had no idea I'd even lost weight.

It's such an odd, odd thing, this body image stuff.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Yesterday I did some online research on a disorder I had heard about called Body Dysmorphic Disorder.  The Mayo Clinic website defines it as follows:

Body dysmorphic disorder is a type of chronic mental illness in which you can't stop thinking about a flaw with your appearance — a flaw that is either minor or imagined. But to you, your appearance seems so shameful that you don't want to be seen by anyone. Body dysmorphic disorder has sometimes been called "imagined ugliness."
When you have body dysmorphic disorder, you intensely obsess over your appearance and body image, often for many hours a day. You may seek out numerous cosmetic procedures to try to "fix" your perceived flaws, but never will be satisfied. Body dysmorphic disorder is also known as dysmorphophobia, the fear of having a deformity.
Treatment of body dysmorphic disorder may include medication and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Wikipedia states that...
the disorder is linked to significantly diminished quality of life and can be co-morbid with major depressive disorder and social phobia, also known as chronic social anxiety. With a completed-suicide rate more than double that of major depression (three to four times that of manic depression) and a suicidal ideation rate of around 80%, extreme cases of BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder) linked with dissociation can be considered a risk factor for suicide; however, many cases of BDD are treated with medication and counseling.[7]

They state further that a person's issue can be mis-diagnosed as depression when it's actually BDD which is causing the problem.  The sufferer tends to spend excessive time thinking about a perceived flaw, looking in a mirror to examine it thoroughly, and otherwise obsessing about a flaw which usually doesn't even exist.

I feel badly for such a person because their quality of life is so impaired. 

In a similar vein, I've just started reading a book called Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body (Hardcover)by Courtney E. Martin.  She is a young woman writing about her generation's horrific tendency to focus on their bodies and their imperfections.  She states that so many of these young women appear to have it all - excellent grades, amazing achievements, great jobs, perfect boyfriends - they are perfect on paper - yet they spend hours daily thinking about what they have eaten/want to eat/shouldn't eat, etc., etc.  Martin figures conservatively that such people spend over 100 minutes each day with thoughts such as "I wonder if I should get a frozen yogurt.  Oh, no, I haven't earned it.  No, that would be so bad.  No, I won't do it.  Yes, I'm going to.  I didn't have breakfast so I deserve it, and besides it doesn't have all that many calories.  What the hell!"  Then of course there's the price they pay in guilt and self-disgust and vomiting it up.  She paints a picture of imbalance and horrible self-denial.

It seems to me that our society is significantly out of balance with food and eating and body image and very little idea of how to think about it normally.  I haven't read a book about that yet - what normal eating would look like.  Of course I've read nutrition books about the ideal meal plan (where one is supposed to weigh and/or measure ones portions precisely as well as record them so one can't fool oneself about what one has really eaten) but I'm not sure that counts as "healthy".  Does anybody out there have an answer to that one?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Loving our bodies unconditionally. Finally.

I am furiously determined and full of righteous anger today, so if that doesn't interest you, then sign out!

I have been confronted this weekend with the judgments of a woman who has no comprehension of the work I do.  She has asked to be taken off my mailing lists.  Of course I have no problem with that - anyone has the right to get the mail they want and to not get what they don't want.  I have no desire to confront people with images of my work - wait, that's not true.  Today I actually want to confront every person in the world with the images of my work. 

I want them to confront their own uptight, rigid, fear-ridden judgments about bodies.  I want them to look at the bodies I've painted, to really see them.  So what if some of the women have tiny breasts?  Or huge pendulous ones.  Or big hips.  Or no waists.  Or saggy butts.  Or 36-24-36 hourglass figures.  Or scars.  Or warts.  Or whatever the fuck they have.  It actually isn't about our bodies, people.

It is about who we are on the inside that counts.  And if we as a society or as an individual are spending all our time focused on the outside package - breasts, hips, thighs, faces, clothes, haircut, shoes, lipstick - whatever - then we are missing the most important thing there is in this world - the gorgeousness of our souls.  We are each of us spectacularly fabulous human beings.  Even the badly damaged ones.  Yes, those of us who are damaged are amazing and deserving of love as well.

And it pisses me off that some people don't get that.  I hate it that they have the gall to judge someone based on their appearance and don't even take the moment to let go of that knee jerk reaction.

Lately I have photographed women who are overweight, who have piercings and tattoos, whom I might have walked past with trepidation in the past because their choices were unfamiliar and uncomfortable to me.  But let me tell you, those women are enriching my life immensely.  I am finding a depth of soul in them that I LOVE.  They are deep, rich, soulful women with an enormous capacity for love, self love included.  Heavy though they might be, they have come to terms with their bodies.  They love them.  Yes, they love their breasts and their bellies and their hips and their thighs.  All the parts that would make some people walk past them and sneer.  What a loss to those frightened people to miss the soulfulness.  Do your own work, people.  It's your stuff if you can't see their humanity. 

A dear friend shared her belief with  me that we are all part of God's artwork.  The old gnarled tree in the forest doesn't deserve our distain just because it isn't bright and young and perky and flexible and springy.  We don't usually detest a tree.  We respect its age.  We look at the crags and splits and wounds and admire the patterns that have been created by the years of being alive.

Why can't we do that with people?  Why do we judge people's appearances?  Why do we ignore elderly men and women?  Are we really so frightened of our own mortality?  Of our own ugliness?

I encourage you to not give in to those fears.  I encourage you to sit with them, to become aware of them, to journal about them, to let yourself feel them fully.  Only then will you be able to see others with compassion.  Only then will you be able to face yourself with compassion.

Imagine standing in front of the mirror and caressing your body.  Tell yourself with utter love and compassion how deeply you love yourself.  Allow yourself to feel all the pain you've taken on about your appearance - the comments you've overheard from others, the insistence others have thrown at you that you be or look different than you do.  Look at your own flesh while you do that.  Know that you are precious.  A child of God.  Deserving of unconditional love.  Your body is the vehicle for your soul here on Earth in this lifetime.  How can you NOT treasure and bless it?  It is allowing you to be here right here, right now, walking or crawling or sitting or standing or lying on this planet right now, today, in this very instant.  You are experiencing the amazing gift RIGHT NOW of being with yourself in all your glory and your pain and your suffering.  Perhaps you can feel a glimmer of hope, the thread of hope that you, yes, YOU, are deserving of love.  That you are a worthy person.  That you deserve to be loved.  Nothing but love.