Building Better Body Image With Art Therapy

With the start of this blog I will be making an image a day. The art is not necessarily a representational depiction. It is an abstract. Each image is a visual representation of being present in my body, sitting with my emotions, validating what is true for that moment. Each post will include an image from that day.

I have been working with people struggling with eating disorders for the past few years – adolescents both male and female, women, and most recently men. There is a universal phenomenon that happens when people are addressing clinical issues of body image. When the individuals can give expression to their experience, they are better at conceptualizing and articulating their situation. Through the use of art therapy, one can push through ideological struggles. Image making can allow us to carve out and represent a self-identity which challenges the dominant representations we see and thus allow us to reclaim a more authentic self. My daily practice of art making allows me to become mindful of my emotional state. It is through this awareness I become more present in my body. It is my hope that with this blog I may open discussion about how art therapy can improve people’s perception of themselves. I encourage others to attempt this daily practice and talk about their experience.

My body is my home. I realize it is only temporary. What’s inside is what really matters. I wax and wane with my desire to want to take care of it when I am experiencing bad body image thoughts, but I do have to live there! If it’s messy or malfunctioning it doesn’t support me. A “home” that is operating proficiently increases my desire to want to know myself, and is a place where I feel comfortable. I want my home – my body – to be a happy and healthy environment. A home for me is not necessarily a building but a place that holds my belongings, my being, where memories can be stored and new memories collected, where my individuality is recognized and my achievements are celebrated and displayed. Through art making I am better at visualizing what a “home” looks like to me. How do I know it? When I have had a true sense of self, composed of care, respect, acceptance, and love, then there follows a sense of comfort in my body and I want to be present there. This comes out in the art.

Messages in the media about appearance have a huge influence over us. Blogs and forums allow us to share information about health, but that’s not always “healthy.” One should be accountable for the message, even if it is editorial. People with body dysmorphia often are looking for justification for their body image experience. Eckhart Tolle writes about body image and eating disorders in his book A New Earth.

You can then unconsciously cling to the illness [eating disorder] because it has become the most important part of who you perceive yourself to be. It has become another thought form with which the ego can identify. Once the ego has found an identity, it does not want to let go. Amazingly but not infrequently, the ego in search of a stronger identity can and does create illnesses in order to strengthen itself through them.

Popular culture encourages men to think that being a man and being strong are synonymous. It discourages men from talking about their feelings, and this is where the battle begins. Women are barraged with sociocultural constructs of feminine beauty in almost all forms of popular media. Such standards of beauty are almost completely unattainable for most women. Body image becomes a battleground. It is a place of injury, both physically and emotionally. Both men and women are constantly at battle with their body image and the unrealistic construct of “ideal” body. The true battle is about being content in your “home”.