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On therapy: life modelling

The thing about life modelling and seeing the art that comes out of it is that it has been both really good for and not at all helpful for my (I don’t want to say identity) my self perception. It’s changed how much I need to know what I look like, but also made me even less sure of how I am perceived in the world. That was something I discussed a lot in therapy, a lot of my anxiety, socially, came from trying to control how I was perceived and the narrative that people would get from me when they meet or see me. A lot of it was tied to how I look and less to do with behaviour. It’s a lot about insecurity and growing up with people who had eating disorders and my own disordered eating, being hyper aware of how much space I took up as a woman when faced with the capitalist patriarchy. But during therapy we talked about how I actually can’t ever control that. Even the people who know me the best and who love me and who I am really safe with – I can’t ever actually control how I am perceived by them, let alone people I don't know, and… that’s okay. And using this tool – the circles of control – we sort of started analysing what I do and do not have control over and how that can manifest in actually being a lot calmer about things. I always thought that acknowledging I don’t have control over things would make me more anxious about it but, SHOCK, therapy tools actually work and it was quite a relief to see that "ohhh", no matter what I do and what boxes I tick or how vocal I am about something to do with myself, other peoples’ perception is so far beyond my control that there’s just no point. So that was really, really powerful during therapy and then life modelling happened.

It really drove that lesson home in terms of physical perception. My entire life I’ve not really been able to see myself… I don’t really know what size I am or what proportions I am or what my face looks like…. Because every time I look in a mirror it’s just stormy chaos I can’t really pinpoint things and my brain doesn’t hold that image very well or can't trust that what I'm seeing is real. One day I could feel like I look a certain way and the next it could be completely different and I don’t really recognise that person. So when I’m life modelling and when every artist in the room draws me completely differently... like in some I’m uber graceful and long and elegant and in others I’m very soft and plush and like a renaissance woman and in others I’m angular and some my face is completely different to how I think it is and in some it’s more like how I think it is but like how do I know which one is right?

So it’s sort of driven home this "can’t control perception" point, with a slap in the face. There’s just no single image that is me. And I love it. Well, I’m starting to. I find it amazing how differently people can see me. And I know that seeing someone some way and translating that onto paper is a completely different thing. Drawing what you see is a hard skill, but it doesn’t really matter. If this person is proud of their work, or even if they’re not, its an image of me, it doesn’t have to be photo-realistic for it to be me. And even then, photos are manipulable so it doesn’t really matter that I don’t have a sense of who I am in terms of my physicality. And it’s really made me drop all forms of self consciousness about my shapes and my angles. And I always come back to this point. No matter how I look. I am art. I am living breathing, walking around, experiencing sensations ART. So how people perceive me is sort of irrelevant. And that’s the BIGGEST breakthrough I've ever had with my mental health.

In a way, its helped me let go of this need to know what I look like and how I’m perceived by doing the opposite. By barraging me with so many views, so many different perspectives that it just became hopeless to try and pinpoint THE image. And I love that. I love how undefined it is. Because ultimately I think that’s what I want out of my appearance; is that it isn’t defined. So much of how I dress and the decision to cut my hair and the choices I make with my physical identity is mostly centered on not being static. I love that I can change it, how some days I can be really fem and on other days I can be more masc and I love that I can combine the two and I can just be this mess of what I love. Rather than trying to fit into the male gaze, or even the female gaze, I’m just trying to love what I put on my body. Which I think is very different to loving my body. That’s something I’m working on but like, loving what I put on my body rather than loving how it makes me look has been a really important thing for me to learn as I’m growing up.

I’ve still got plenty of work to do. I still struggle with internalised fat phobia and misogynistic expectations and I'll catch myself seeing what it's look like if my boobs were perkier or bigger, or if I was thinner. But I’m actually starting to catch myself rather than letting that turn into insecurity. Like I’m mid-motion of actually pushing my boobs up and think wait... why does it matter? Why do they need to be bigger? My insecure brain says “oh it’ll just fill the top out better or make the dress look better” but NO – what is better? BETTER according to whom? So I’m really starting to see the effects of thinking about this kind of thing. Turns out reading and listening and watching feminist content helps change your brain.

I’m so proud of that. I just realised I don’t often tell myself I’m proud of myself... I’m really proud of where my brain is going. I’m proud of the changes it’s making and proud of my instinct to fight against what feels wrong and I’m really proud that other people are seeing that in me. I’ve had a few people now say that they feel safe with me. And that’s the biggest compliment I’ve ever received because, I think, that’s at the core of what I want to be for people: a safe space. And that’s definitely fed a lot by my childhood. Being someones safe space, while also having the mental fortitude to cope with being someones safe space is THE goal. I’m so honoured and so proud to be that person for even just one other person.

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