true colours

A couple of years ago, I decided to start an art project that changed my life entirely. I feel that all struggles can be conquered if we put them out in front of us. For me, I use art. It's how I've come to heal and understand myself. This project is incredibly special to me, and it makes me feel beyond vulnerable to share it, because I chose to use my body as a medium. The great thing about vulnerability is that when you face it, it transforms into strength. I would like to think this could somehow help others understand their personal struggles with their bodies, like I learned about my own. Regardless of the outcome, I really want to share this experience. So here I am, coming out from hiding.

For years, I'd struggled with confidence and body image. From how I valued my body, to how I reacted to the world around me. I could tell that I was hiding from something. It was difficult to face at first, but that's the reason why I set up personal challenges to begin with. To change. I wanted to see my body as something more than I allowed myself to see. A piece of art, maybe even something engaging, something beautiful. It's amazing, that due to our experiences, we can really struggle to see our beauty at all.

I feel so many women could take something from this project, because we rarely see ourselves as anything remotely positive. We can point out our flaws and imperfections, and yet, so many of us have so much to be proud of. I find this lacking gratitude toward ourselves to be sad and unnecessary, and yet I did the same. I still struggle. To get to the bottom of it, I decided to take my feelings and flip them on me, by showing myself what was hiding on the inside. Going back to the very beginning, I see how far I've come since then. (Deep breaths.) Here we go.

I threw on a layer of paint as a sort of barrier of protection. I find it funny that I actually felt terribly uncomfortable to be completely naked, even in the privacy of my own home. As my first photo illustrates (above), I was super nervous... maybe even a bit terrified. Still, I knew what my intentions were, and chose to continue to explore the light, and what angles I needed, in order to create the image I was looking for. I didn't go in with a specific plan, but I was hoping to make something visually inspiring that could alter my view of myself. Finding that took some time. 

I enjoy that the first colour I started with, was white. White is a colour of innocence, purity, new beginnings. As I look back at the first image, it really does touch a soft spot in my heart. This was a time when I had no idea how to view myself as anything more than what I was allowing myself to see. The more I ventured into the light (literally), the more I started to see how easy it was to alter my perspective. No one was telling me I wasn't enough, no one had said I was unworthy, ugly, or whatever I was trying to carry on my shoulders for no reason. It's when I realized that my own negative views were my own choice. The only one standing in my way was myself. 

And then, I finally stepped into the light. Eventually, I found an image where I caught myself by surprise, thinking, "oh wow, that's me?!" It felt a little wrong to feel so positively at first, but yet, being proud of ourselves is something we all need to practice. Think of how lucky we are to be alive, never mind what we have in front of us at this very moment. I started to think of the fact that my body isn't going to look the way it does forever. I suddenly imagined my older self, looking back at this image and thinking, "yeah, girl!" Meanwhile, we so often have the tendency to avoid the moment, dodge the compliments, and compare what we don't have, over what we do. It's amazing how many women I've met, who have looked at old photos of themselves and said things like, "if only I looked like that again," or "I used to be so thin." Think they felt that way about themselves when they were in the moment? Highly unlikely. Let your older self look in on you, and suddenly, you become much more than you allow your current self to see and believe in.

There seems to be a really big issue with confidence, and how it is so often mislabelled as selfishness or arrogance. Discovering my own confidence, during the process of this project, was both surprising and yet so necessary for me to see for myself. It made me realize that for a very long time, I was doing what I thought others expected of me. Like I kept myself at a certain level, so that no one would feel at all threatened by my actual capabilities. It starts on the playground, when kids are cruel. We call people names, we pick them apart; all due to our own insecurities. As adults, I still see this happening. We need to grow up! Rather than lash out at the world around you, ask what you need from yourself. When I realized my confidence, I was a little less guarded. I was free from my own negative perceptions of who I am, and what makes me a valuable person. It was a nice lesson, to be reminded that no one is out to get you. If they are, you can stand tall and be set to defend yourself. Just know, that when those defences aren't needed, we can almost aggressively keep people at bay, when we really want to let them in and share our best selves, together. 

But the truth is, I've been so prone to hiding. For over half of my lifetime I've struggled with a protective shell that comes from unfortunate experiences like abuse, abandonment, harassment, neglect, and ridicule. Those aren't easy layers to ignore, especially when our minds will work against us, to protect what has been hurt before. When people scoff and say things like, "let it go" I ask them to consider a little something called human psychology and conditioning. We don't just let go of what we know of the world when we experience certain things. It's when I get to explaining it a little differently for others to understand.

Ever meet someone who owns a rescue dog? There's something about them that is so incredibly nurturing, understanding, and patient; to see that they're urging an innocent creature out from hiding. When rescue dogs explore the new world, they do so with caution; as they've been hurt in such a way that can sometimes be paralyzing to their experiences. I say the same thing goes for people, and we need to offer that very same love and encouragement. We respond through what we know, and if you have been hurt in a way that has caused any form of trauma ... It's going to take a long time to shed that protective layer entirely and trust the world around you.

Sometimes, it never really goes away entirely, because our bodies react to the protective responses our minds create for us. Some people pack on weight, others -like I did- hide behind bulky clothing as a sort of protective shell. I realize that this is a continuing struggle for me, as I sometimes catch myself tucking away, especially from men, even when I trust them or begin to love them in my relationships. While my body might say I'm okay, my mind might not; or vice versa. With assurance, communication, respect, and patience, you can come out from hiding. Don't use your pain and experience as a shield of protection, wear it as your armour.

I'm going to say that being a woman is not an easy job. In society, there's a really funny pressure that comes with our appearances, and how being beautiful is more important than being seen as professional, or anything remotely serious. I used to devalue being a woman because I thought there was nothing good about us, except our bodies. I grew up with some pretty terrible examples to support that, so much that I had absolutely no respect for my own gender. I was just a walking body, and a man was there to do something with it. Sounds pretty harsh, but that's what I believed for a very long time. Fortunately, I've been lucky to have been proven wrong in my relationships, and the people who currently surround me and see my value. The downfall is that not all of the world agrees just yet. That's a really disappointing fact. Our world needs to grow up. It's why we need women to raise their voices about this stuff, and empower others to follow. It's why I'm here with this message.

(More deep breaths) And so, here is the image that changed my life (above.) The one I'm actually most proud of, and yet, the one I'm the most nervous to share. It's a bit... racy? Or is it? This image gave me some new words, that I didn't even consider to use when describing myself. I see it as something beautiful, strong, feminine, powerful, dare I say ... sexy(?) Me!? This image makes me see myself as so much more than I ever allowed myself to acknowledge. I look good. I felt good! I didn't know I was capable of such a feminine image.. because I'd been hiding from my own body for so long. The creeps, the pervs, the ones who make us -as women- never want to show our skin to the world, out of the fears of being put in a really terrible position of vulnerability. This image makes me feel kind of sad about how often I've hidden from expressing myself with this sort of confidence. I am blushing so hard and almost hiding my face about sharing this with the world so openly. There's nothing to be ashamed of, and yet my hands shake as I type this out. This is me, a woman, a walking, talking, Venus. I think all women need to discover their inner goddess and see it for themselves. We are far from weak. When I want to think of my brightest moment, my greatest achievement in self understanding and power, it's this image. It's my armour. 

I decided that this project will continue for a really long time, as I feel confidence takes practice in order to fully understand and embrace it. It's cool to go back to this series, which I started back in 2015, and to see that I've maintained some of the important lessons that I took from it. Like anything in this life of ours, in this complicated world, filled with experiences that shape us for the rest of our living years; we're going to have to practice how to stay on top of our game. It's why I believe that any form of weakness or personal struggle can be challenged to become something far more than a discovered strength. These are the healing powers that come with art and creation.
It's what I'm here for.

I realize that this is just the tip of the ice berg, and yet, so much more than I ever imagined to share with the world. I still have hundreds of photos of this project tucked away for myself to review, and continue to add to as I get to know myself. My message(s) may be a little lengthy and complex, but in simplest terms, I believe you have more to offer this world than you likely allow yourself to see. I've sat with this project for 2 long years, pacing, questioning, wondering if it was even worth it to share so openly. Maybe it's totally inappropriate, or too revealing, or absolutely absurd. Those opinions are yours, and we are entitled to believe all that we want; without having to fight for what is right. I'm just here to offer a voice, to share where I've learned something valuable about my strength and purpose. I hope I can touch even just one person, to take maybe a little piece of motivation from this, to understand that you got this. You are a beautiful, brave, incredible, a work of art. Show your true colours, and let them shine. You don't have to hide. The world needs you, right now.

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