Body-Image Exercise Through Art

Developing healthy body image is a bit of a concoction… 1 part acceptance, 2 parts forgiveness, 10 parts self-compassion and so on.

To date, I have not met anyone who has never had periods of poor body image. I’m not saying they don’t exist, I just think it’s a human thing to experience at some point in life. And, unfortunately, for many, this experience is more than just a “period” in their life, versus what they have always known or experience day to day.

Often, we get caught up in what our body looks like… or perhaps, what it doesn't look like. The negative voices that dominate our thoughts telling us: I’m too bald, I’m not bald enough. I’m too short, I’m too tall. I’m too fat, skinny, wrinkly, pimply, and so on and so on. It’s exhausting. So, for today, I want to shift away from what our bodies look like and focus on what they do for us. Thanks to Eve Tesluk, a professional art therapist in Guelph, for introducing me to this exercise to do with my clients. 

Thanks to my colleague Megan Callon for supplying me with the drawn figure you will see below to demonstrate an exercise I often do with my clients. As always, please note this drawing is just one of the many different shapes, sizes and forms bodies come in and is not meant to represent an 'ideal' (remember, health at every size!!). Also, the individual described below is fictitious.

Here’s a picture of what you will need.

I get clients to think about what they like to do and how their body experiences these things. Through colours and symbols, I get them to draw/colour where on/in their bodies they experience these activities. By doing so, we are moving away from appearance, and more on its function.

This individual below, appreciates their feet as it allows them to skate, their fingernails as they often get painted funky colours and their hair that allows them to express themselves in various colours and lengths. They enjoy watching movies, smelling nature and feeling the warmth of the sun on their shoulders and body. They appreciate their fingers and toes that help give them balance as well as to wear rings.They appreciate their ears and the ability to listen to sounds, especially laughing or the deep quiet the night can bring. When they feel empowered, they see it in orange, both in their mind and their heart. They enjoy their tongue/mouth as it enables them to eat ice cream.

They acknowledge the struggle they have with their thighs and stomach, however know without the strength that comes from these areas, they would be unable to do so much of what they love. They symbolized this to remind them these areas are their powerhouse that gets them through their day. 

Often, the drawer will neglect symbolizing or colouring certain areas of their figure. More times than not, it is these areas that they need help with reframing or finding its purpose. Everyone will have a different reason for why they struggle with a particular area. Some feel betrayed by their body. Sometimes it’s finding the little things, like the fact skin helps contain our bits, blood and guts, protecting us from the world, that helps start developing a different narrative. It’s function doesn’t have to be mind blowing. It just has to be something that helps reframe how they think or see their body. Perhaps, it’s being thankful that one of their two ears can hear, or one of their two eyes doesn’t cause them pain.

And as always, developing a healthier or more tolerable relationship with one's body is a process. This exercise is just another way of exploring a different aspect of what are bodies can do, and in turn, part of who we are. Give it a try and talk it over with your therapist or trusted support.  As always, practice compassion and think outside the box society likes to put us in! And, if you liked processing thoughts, emotions and issues through art, check out Eve Tesluk in Guelph, ON, or another professional art therapists in your area. 

Thankful For Our Bodies

I remember being in grade five or so, sitting on the floor of our school's gymnasium during an assembly. I sat there, looking at my feet with such distain, disgust and shame. I hated my feet. I thought they were huge.  If I hadn't known they were my own feet, I would have thought they belonged to a  Sasquatch.  I didn't care that they enabled me to walk, run and skate around. I didn't care that they supported my body, allowing me to stand and balance. I didn't care that they had this amazing quality of being able to spread its toes like nothing you've ever seen, freaking people out. All I cared about was their size. Too big, not lady-like, etc. 

Skip ahead to my fourth year of University. I found myself sitting in the library of a University reading a textbook on the human development and growth across the lifespan. To my amazement, I read how feet grow prior to an onset of growth in height as the feet support/balance the body.  The size of my feet in grade 5 were simply a natural and normal part of my development. It was healthy, not bad or wrong. My body was just doing what it was created to do. I had the same feeling when I learnt about set-point theory (your body has a genetically predetermined weight range it will hover around when you are eating and exercising normally). I'm not saying acceptance of my set point was instantaneously, but it definitely helped to know my body knew what it was doing regarding my weight. 

I wish I could tell my younger self on that gymnasium floor why my feet were the size that they were. I wish I could tell her about set-point instead of B.M.I..  I wish I could tell her to be thankful for what her body was doing and to also accept its limitations.  Perhaps, she wouldn't have had the need to desperately manipulate it into something it was never meant to be. Moving forward, in the unknown amount of years ahead of me, I want to carry a healthier and more positive perspective towards my body.... both in the things I understand and the things I don't.

I had a conversation with the illustrator of wiTHIN (Emily McGratten) earlier this week. She told me about an interview she heard on the CBC about bodies and how we have a hard time accepting what it does, how it changes over time and how we get upset or feel shame about the things it does to keep us healthy.  For example, farting is an important part of our bodies functioning that is some what uncontrollable. In our society, it can be shameful or disrespectful to be caught passing gas. 

The main point of this post is not to focus on farting or feet. The larger point I want to make is the importance of learning about our bodies, how it functions (and to know the signs of when it is not functioning correctly) and to encourage us to be thankful for what our bodies do, as opposed to how it looks, smells or changes over time.  I want to encourage other to not take their bodies for granted, yet to embrace EVERY part of it... both inwardly and outwardly.