My art revolves around 3 main categories: body ideals, human equality, and sexual assault leading to healing.
I say the last one the way I do because I very much dislike art that is just … sad. I feel as a viewer I want to be given something that is either a call to action or some sort of closure that isn’t just “care about this line of work because it’s sad.” In my past I was sexually assaulted, though I didn’t ever face that’s what it was because, again, we think or we know that others had it worse or more violent. Manipulation doesn’t feel like assault because some part of us thinks it was our choice, although it wasn’t, not in the slightest. So when I say some of my work revolves around sexual assault in transformation to healing, it’s because I give my viewer a sense of hope. The world doesn’t stop after you’ve been sexually assaulted. The definition of who you are is not “victim,” and the experience in no way defines you or hinders your growth as an individual. It doesn’t stop there. My work ‘Undefined‘ is my biggest example of this. I was supposed to host an entire gallery to myself in Chicago for this line of work in July 2020, but Covid hit. I was offered to do it virtually, but it’s such a tangible line of work I didn’t want to jade it. I’ve created personal books with each piece filled with lines from people’s stories as well as polaroids of their comforted items that helped them through the pain. I have noises of places I interviewed people running in the background for each large image of hope displayed on the wall. It’s such a sensory piece that I didn’t want to just put it online without all of those deeply rooted connections and feelings available to the viewer.
The last two categories: human equality and sexual assault really became my direction of art around 2018. Why? That’s fairly obvious, but I will not get into politics in this specific blog-post. However, focusing on this bigger-than-me topics made me think that I also had overcome something that my work has been about since 2011, and thats body image/ideals. Due to this fact I thought I had overcome these demons, when I really did not. My last post that I wrote [living in a body that doesn’t represent it’s stereotyped disorder] I went over pretty in depth where I think my eating disorder came from and how I began to acknowledge it, but I didn’t really discuss what perpetuated it.
The representation of the perfect body
In graduate school I made this hour lecture specifically about a new theory I had been interested in and it was the altering of bodies in post production that perpetuated the body ideal, making it more unattainable as time went on. Although you can’t see my talking points- this is the link to that presentation. I discuss how photography has never been truthful [I tell this to my students all of the time]. From the beginning artists manipulated scenes [war scenes] to capture everything in an image, but since they moved the bodies to create an image, was it truthful? Or was that altering representation and altering the viewers minds? People layered images with old photographs and convinced the public they caught the ghosts of their loved ones who passed away. I mean, this manipulation has been since the beginning of photography. So there never has been truth in any of it – only a fraction. Similarly we have photoshop today. It can be just as untruthful – but we also have apps on our phones that can alter reality, and specific angles we can place our bodies in that also tell a different story. During this time I was fixated on this idea of why I was the way I was, but without really confronting that I had an eating disorder, I was missing out on another aspect of it.
Before and Afters
Yes, society represents people and bodies a specific way, yes, this alters our perception of what we think we should look like. I remember reading “The Beauty Myth” by Naomi Watts and being blown away by the diet and fitness industry and how much money they make by women being miserable. There is money in all of it. And you can read those numbers and think ‘yah, I’m not affected by their ads,’ but you are indirectly. Every ‘herbalife,’ ‘beachbody,’ or whatever pyramid scheme Becky posts on instagram is exactly how. Trickling down from these big corporations are these people who represent the idea they are selling.
Instagram is probably the most used platform I have seen for these pyramids and how they really thrive. Presented in a 4×4 box, a healthy happy woman shows who she was only 21 days ago and who she is now. She doesn’t know much about nutrition but because a sheet she followed got her down 20 pounds in 21 days she is now a coach ready to help YOU. If you see a few of these posts you may get motivated to try it. Shit, once you are in it, you may see the addiction. I did. I never did beach body or any of that, but I have worked with multiple amount of trainers. My body responded well to my 900-1200 calorie eating from 17-24. Actually from 23-24 I only ate raw in prep of my wedding and I really .. REALLY got addicted to these before and afters.
I remember absolutely LIVING for making comparisons from the images I took the week prior. Seeing the results kept me wanting to starve, work out excessively and post my changes all over to show people how much I was working on myself and how much I was dedicated to my ideals. This is where things get so incredibly sticky. Where is the line between dedication and disorder? How come we can’t see it when we are in it? I remember showing images kind of similar to this to my graduate professors when I was discussing the ideals perpetuated in the media and how it raises the ideals to be not only skinny but strong. Women’s goals have shifted to be something you have to work even harder for in the new era – just barely eating isn’t enough anymore – you have to be strong, muscular [but not TOO muscular], and to be honest gaining muscle and toning is hard hard work. My professors showed me a lot of images of people who were making work about anorexia and I didn’t know why. There was one image that has been stuck with me to this day, because it was so scientific, but so potent. I literally cannot find the image and didn’t write it down because at the time I felt it was irrelevant, and I’m bummed about it to this day. But it was a block of 100 images taken over the course of 100 days, same location, same backdrop, same pose – printed in black and white. Everyday it showed the artist withering away more and more – and it was a real fucked up take on before and afters, but it was so potent to see her literally disappearing.
The fitness industry does this really strange thing with discussing disorder and obsession and presenting it as ‘goals’ and ‘dedication.’ This is why it took me SO long to understand that maybe, sure, I was dedicated to the counting of calories, the working out, the motivation, but also as I worked out more and ate less and continued to gain weight I couldn’t figure out why I was failing. Our bodies do not respond to prolonged dieting. Our bodies need rest – something I haven’t given my body since the day I was put on this planet. Something I still haven’t given my body. I trained with so many male trainers who just told me to eat less, work out more, and so I did, until I just kept hitting new max weights and I would cry for hours not understanding what I was doing wrong. Women have so many hormones in our bodies and so many issues that may revolve around thyroid issues or hormonal issues, that I assumed that’s what it was [and to be fair for me it is], but because of this I moved away from male trainers and started to see only women. For about two years now I have been seeing a dietician to help me with my hormones, thyroid and weight. For one year I have been with a trainer that is a woman. Both have been giving me much more grace and encouragement to eat and understand that weightloss isn’t black and white, running or starving, eating just protein and water.
But due to this dissonance of thinking I was just ‘crushing my goals,’ I never saw my obsession with counting calories and me planning out every calorie in my head before and after I ate it, as a disorder, therefore never confronting my true issues, therefore not knowing what I was actually talking about in my fine art work. On top of that, It made me think I was / am the healthiest I could be because eating disorders meant people were malnourished and thin, and I surely wasn’t that – so there is no way I had one.
Once you hit the wall in confrontation you begin to review many conversations you had where people tried to tell you they were worried about you. For about 3 months my dietician has said to me ‘you’re still incredibly low on calories, and I am not sure why you are so low in this and this because you are vegan so I am going to send you these things to help regulate some of these vitamins.’ I even had a massive digestion infection that she literally told me was typically due to people who had been on bodybuilding or starvation diets for extended periods of time. None of that clicked for me, because I wasn’t stick thin. ‘Yeah but that’s not me,’ I have fat on me and I can’t lose it. Even when I would feel sick or get the flu my first thought was about weight loss and maybe what the illness could do for me – wishing I could get ill once a week if that meant I could cut more fat off my body. Get a good before and after. Hell I remember getting the flu and doing this and being somewhat proud of it? Yeah, that’s true too.
My husband never saw this disorder, and I know my friends probably got annoyed with me talking about food and my weight, but I’m not sure any of them actually saw it. Like I said, I mask it well. I eat around people, I drink, I socialize, but I punish myself the following days and weeks. When I finally wrote my last blog about the awakening of my eating habits I received many messages. Both of ‘thank you, it resonates with me,’ and ‘oh thank god i was worried about you.’ The last one, surprised me. I actually always thought I ate too much, and that’s also why I couldn’t be labeled as anorexic or orthorexic.
Anyways, the fitness industry is one that blurred the lines for me… and perpetuated this idea that I was doing what determined humans do and ‘bettering myself’. But in reality I was just harming myself… currently still am. Tomorrow is my first day of therapy with a doctor that specializes in OCD and ED’s, so.. it’s a step. I’ll most likely be journaling through this process.
Thanks for reading.