Thursday, July 2, 2009

I Collect Bodies in My Basement

Don't worry, I'm not going all Jeffrey Dahmer on you. Just read on.

During two of the very few non-rainy hours in June, I actually took my kids to the pool. It felt like honest-to-goodness summer, and I loved it. So did they. Of course, I did not don a bathing suit, nor venture into the water. It turns out I prefer private mortification to public humiliation. And lately my body has felt more like a prison than a temple. (Note: This is not good.)

Then (when my nose wasn't buried in my book, and I pretended to be watching my kids) I started looking with my artist's eyes. And I remembered one of the things I love about the beach (okay, and in Utah, public pools.) Bodies. Wonderful, fleshy, Rubens-esque bodies of every shape, size and color. (Okay, not color, because it's Utah. V e r y l i m i t e d c o l o r.)

Usually I pack along my sketchbook, and I start collecting bodies. One of my favorite art teachers, Carl Purcell, taught us that in order to incorporate people in his paintings, he is constantly collecting figures in his sketchbooks. Body shapes in motion. Gestures. Figures of all ages and sizes.

And so I heft my sketchbook onto my lap and I draw — quickly, rhythmically, sometimes without even looking at my paper. And I start to capture all this beauty, these bodies. People walking, people standing up in the pool, hips cocked to one side, talking to fellow parents. People stooping over big, unwieldy beach bags. Children, sliding and splashing. Toddlers, wrapped in bright-colored towels, trying not to shiver. I try to capture it all. And I find that — to an artist — the imperfect ones are infinitely more interesting. Honestly, the rolls and folds create beautiful forms. I find that a pregnant woman's belly looks so much like a toddler's, and contemplate the symbolic mirroring. I study proportions, and find that none is wrong. They are all just fascinating to me.




















I also find myself in awe of the heroic individuals who courageously parade their rotund corpulence with little inhibition. They are merely in suits enjoying the water and the sunshine right along with everyone else. As they should.

I wish I could develop more of an artist's eye as I regard my own imperfect body. I wish I didn't bemoan the fact that it takes me the whole summer to turn from blue to white. I wish I could rejoice in my own ripples and curves rather than lamenting the loss of the perfect hardbody I had when I was 20. And I wonder if I spent just a little more time in my basement art studio, poring over the beautiful bodies in my sketchbooks, perhaps I could escape this notion of a prison once and for all and celebrate my body for the temple it is...not for how it's shaped, but for the divinity it houses.

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P.S. For some great photos of Mr. Cool's t.v. commercial shoot, earlier this week, look here.

20 comments:

Luisa Perkins said...

Body dysmorphic disorder is pandemic among women (probably among men as well). I am working hard to rid myself of this false tradition of my mother.

I love the idea of trying to see with the eyes of an artist--might bring me a few steps closer to seeing with the eyes of the Artist.

Melanie J said...

What an apt metaphor. I've been so frustrated because I am the warden and prisoner in my own body image scenario and what frustrates me most is that I can't seem to find the self-love to treat my body right. I don't have an issue with my body when I'm treating it right and it's still not "perfect." But when I'm not treating it right AND it's folding and rolling? Then I get the double whammy of feeling undisciplined and feeling fat and then I get angry at myself. I don't know why it's so hard to back away from the French fries.

The Mom said...

I used to feel the same way. It is so hard to parade around in my rotund glory when there are so many slim and fit girls nearby. But my theory now is...as long as there is one person there that looks worse than I do in a swimming suit, I am okay. And there always is! Now, this may seem shallow, but it has helped me get into a suit and into the pool and playing with my kids!

Mrs4444 said...

Well, if you ever need a model of imperfection, you know who to call....I'm a masterpiece! haha

Kimberly said...

What a beautiful insight. It strikes a very deep chord for me.

Kazzy said...

Cool ideas, my friend. You know, I used to look at those "heroic" figures you mentioned and get kind of embarrassed for them (I am talking the VERY heroic people here), but I am with you now. They are having fun, enjoying themselves.

I wish I could feel more comfortable in my bodiness. Ugh. I will try and take some of your advice. Thanks!

Sandy M. said...

Well, when you call them 'ripples and curves'.. they sound better :) You had a perfect hardbody when you were 20..! :)
I love the rotund bodies of chubby, unselfconscious toddlers. I love the completely uninhibited way they stand and move. And the way they say 'I'm pretty!' and sweetly and trustingly smile into your eyes, their eyes full of the happy knowledge that it's true.

(I've enjoyed all the comments. I especially like the 'model of imperfection.. masterpiece' ! :)

Debbie said...

The difference between us is that you are an artist - drawing and writing - and I am a clown. You, my dear, have the gift!
Love your sketches and this post. Wouldn't it be great if we could accept the way we are? But, nothing in our culture encourages us to do that. Every little thing, including our own fragile egos, works against us.

val of the south said...

I love:
*the title of the post!
*your sketches - amazing
*kazzy's comment about "very heroic"
*how you always make me think and look at things from a different perspective.

And thanks for the book recommendations - I just bought The Guernsey...for my Idaho adventure reading - Thanks!

Marivic_Little GrumpyAngel said...

I wish there were more people in my world who have artist's eyes like yours. Wouldn't I be a thing of beauty then? :-) This is a very insightful post. I'm usually one of those who look at uninhibited people and ask, "Don't they look in the mirror? Jeesh!" But after I read this post I'm thinking I need to change my attitude. Thanks for the nudge to a good place.

Eowyn said...

I think that if I can be healthy--then my body will do what it wants.

This was another beautiful post!

L.T. Elliot said...

This is one of my favorites of your posts. Not only because it is filled with tolerance and an eye for beauty but because it helps me see the jaundiced eye I turn on myself. There is much I can do to improve my body but how hard to I work on loving who I am first?

Heidi Ashworth said...

Beautiful, insightful, yes, yes, yes! But I esp. love the blue to white comment. People just can't appreciate a blue body until they've seen one--love it!

heather said...

Wow! You're really good! And great message too. ;)

Brillig said...

Omagosh. I love the title of this post, then I love the little "asides" that you put in (like, "note: this is not a good thing"). Found myself laughing heartily over "very limited color." Then I suddenly wished that I were a little more like the interesting subjects you draw at the pool...

I love it when you make me laugh and you inspire me, all at the same time.

Heather of the EO said...

I love picturing you sketching by the pool. And I love your thoughts here of course. I need to work on this too. Oh, how I hide my body and make fun of it. Not good.

DeNae said...

In 20 minutes, I'll have a music theory student here, with his dad. Dad has muscular dystrophy, his body twisted and malformed from years of battling this devastating disease. He can walk, but only with help from his 18 year old son.

I wonder what he would have to say about our feeling "imprisoned" in our bodies. Thanks, Charrette, for giving me something to think about.

Have a great vacay!

Pam at beyondjustmom said...

Beautiful post. I find myself admiring people at the pool of all shapes and sizes who enjoy what they're doing without looking self-conscious. I admire the least "model-like" ones the most. If only we could see ourselves that way!
Off to try to see the world with artists' eyes. . .

Gunfighter said...

This is a wonderful post, my friend.

I have always believed that the human form is as near to perfect as possible, as we are created, in our diversity, in His image.

Besides, those 20 year old hardbodies are never 50 year old hardbodies without doing some spectaularly bad things to themselves.

Embrace you for you.

That said, I love the sketches, and I wish that I had half (alright, a quarter) of your talent.

Jessica said...

Your sketches are beautiful!! I love how artists are able to see the beauty in all shapes and sizes . . . it must be our left brain that limits beauty to one idea of what a woman's body should be . . . the right brain (and more accurate!) sees the beauty in every "temple"- the pregnant woman and the toddler- just as your sketches so poignantly capture. (Now if only I could see myself with my right brain!)