Body Love and Art
Little assholes, I muttered to myself as I stomped to my car as best I could lugging a vacuum cleaner and my cleaning bucket. I had just finished cleaning service for a suite of offices. I was sweaty and grimy, my hair a tangled mess as if I had just wrestled an octopus. I was looking forward to getting home and hopping in the shower. I had a social event that evening that I'd been looking forward to all week. As a pro-cleaner a well as being a married woman with two teens, I was more than ready to clean myself up and go out for some grown-up time.
As I exited the old brick building on a busy street full of boutiques and eateries, a group of tweens was passing by. Just as I tumbled out the door hauling all of my cleaning equipment, the small herd of girls and boys came up on the door. I nearly ran into them. I did a full stop in my tracks that caused my curvy body to lurch forward. I nearly fell into the skinny arms of a pubescent boy who himself had come to a full quick stop to avoid crashing into me. We had managed to avert a physical collision, but as he looked me in the face with my hair a mess and my skin full of blemishes uncovered from drugstore concealer, he let out an audible,
His friends giggled as they resumed walking. I stood there feeling the brunt of his rudeness as well an unexpected surge of emotion. It was as if an inner avalanche had been triggered by the sound of his voice. A rush of humiliation tumbled upon me like a falling wave of snow and ice. I was 13-years old again. At odds with all of my world in that awkward phase of American development, and deeply at odds with my confusing body, especially as other 13-year olds, especially boys, said unkind words about my body on almost a daily basis. I coped by ignoring them, and also by ignoring myself. I had no loving connection with my body then or for the entirety of my life.
But ignored emotions do not vanish into thin air. They wait and lie within the caverns of the nervous system and memory banks of the body. There is no time limit, no expiration. In a variety of ways they will re-emerge even decades later and often in the most innocent of moments.
Like when a cleaning lady almost collides with a tween on a busy sidewalk.
I did not understand the tumultuous energy that was spinning inside of me. By the time I got home I was undone. I did not want to clean up, dress-up and go out. I wanted to hide.
It was easy to conceal my emotional crisis. I am Taurus, born year of the Dragon with Scorpio rising. Women like me are expert at appearing collected and grounded on the outside. We have deep reserves of emotional guardedness that allow us great ease to have a public face of calm while inwardly we rage as hard as a hurricane. My family had not a clue how distraught I was from encountering the rude little fucker.
Since I wasn't going out, I decided after dinner to schlump around in my jammies and make some collage art. I had begun a new hobby, of taking magazine clippings and attaching them onto cardboard into interesting collages of image and pattern. I found it relaxing.
It was this night that I discovered just how calming making art could be when in a state of distress. As I cut and glued little bits of paper into a kaleiedescope of collage art, the accusatory voice inside that barraged me how ugly I was began to fade. The old emotions that had been stirred from hiding, the frozen ones of my 13-year old frumpy self, began to warm up and flow away. I did not have an instant transformation on this particular Saturday night, but it was a marker in discovering the positive effect art making could have on me. I had stumbled upon a new way of Coping, a healthier way of dealing with difficult emotions:
I was not numbing them down. I was arting them out.
This was the earliest discovery for me of the healing and restorative nature of art making. It
was also one of the earliest moments for me as a mature woman to pay attention to what I was feeling in my body.
That was well over 13 years ago. Since then, I have become an unmarried woman, the kids have grown and gone, and I have evolved into a full-time artist. (Though I still have one pro cleaning job a week, but it is late at night... no chance of bumping into unruly kids though at this stage of life I would give them a good lecture about Be Nice Humans should that ever happen again!)
Besides making art I also teach art. I have heard many stories from my students, mostly mid-life women who are my fave as they are determined to be REAL AF... I have learned from these women that art heals them, too, that it gives them a space to express grief, mourn loss and release difficult emotions. One student told me that her art making had helped lift her from a stubborn depression. "My husband said to keep doing whatever I'm doing because he has seen the difference," she told me with tears in her eyes. I have seen many students use their art making to process their own stories as an act of reclamation.