How I Learned to See Myself as a Work of Art

Body image is not something I have had trouble with for a long time and I would love to share my story of how I learned to be at peace with the way I look. I’ve successfully helped a few of my girlfriends to like their bodies a little more and to stop over scrutinising themselves, so my goal is to impart this onto the wider internet community.

When I was at art school the most valuable thing I learned was how to mediate your own terrible self criticism and censorship. So many times artists create a piece of art, whether drawing or painting, or even a piece of writing, only to destroy it before anyone sees it because they have convinced themselves it is atrocious. I call it tortured artist syndrome, and I know it is rife. It prevents many a budding artist from even trying. When the thing you create is not as perfect as it appeared in your mind’s eye it leads to dissatisfaction, disappointment and, too often, destruction of the creative endeavour entirely.

As a tentative and youthful art student I was reminded that ability to draw is a talent you are lucky to possess, honed and improved usually over many many years. Most people can barely draw at all, so when they look at the work of an artist it looks incredible to them. They cannot fathom having such skill. When we critically examine our own work, it is difficult to remain objective for we have been so closely and intimately involved in each millimetre of pencil laid down on our sketchbooks. Any flaws stand out as if they are drawn in red pen and triple highlighted. But that is only because we are so closely involved with what we have made. A casual observer sees the whole picture, and is so awed by the incredible end product of a skill so coveted and envied that they do not see the flaws. Even if you insist on pointing them out, they will not see them. They will see the whole image and judge it based on this, not on the sum of its parts.

I have learned that the same seems to be true when people, especially us girls, are scrutinising a picture of themselves. How many times have you taken a nice photo of your friend only for her to declare “Oh no, my nose looks hideous in that, delete it immediately”. How many girls stand in front of the mirror trying to select an outfit that hides the cellulite only they see? For all the selfies taken, what proportion end up rejected? Have you ever taken a nice group photo for every participant to swear that some tiny imperfection in their expression ruins the entire tableau? But the fact is, nobody zooms in on your imperfections except yourself.

When I look at my body, I use my artist’s eyes. I use the skills of objectivity I acquired and applied at art school when critiquing my own art work when I look in the mirror. I look at the picture as a whole when I take a selfie. I imagine it was a stranger looking upon the photo. They would not pick fault with the angle of my chin or a blemish on my cheek. People look at eyes and smiles and if you post a genuine happy, radiant photo I guarantee it will be better received than any stiff duck face selfie. If you post a full body shot of yourself in that sun-dress with your legs bare, the sun shining and your hair falling sun bleached around your shoulders then nobody but you will notice that you need to touch up your roots. I know this is true because I test it all the time. I regularly post selfies where I can see hairy armpits, double chins and spots. But I am smiling and happy, and nobody has ever commented. I told my friends that I had started doing this and they all had to confess that they had never noticed. You should try it sometime. it’s very liberating.

As for selfie face, there really no need. Girls always have a go to face when a camera is thrust before them. I just pull a happy and genuine smile. All your friends know what your face looks like girls, we aren’t fooling anyone with that stiff, lips parted, eyes smokin’, chin down, vacant expression. We only use our selfie faces when taking selfies, you would never use that in any other situation. That is not what you look like. Do you want to look back on a lifetime of stilted selfies or a collection of photos where you look happy and natural?

My favourite photos are always the ones where the object was unaware that their photo was being taken. The non posed, natural photos of someone occupied by happiness, deep in conversation, or lost in contemplation. When we are unaware that our photograph is being taken we don’t have the opportunity to project awkwardness or self consciousness, and thus we are more beautiful for it.

This is the basis through which I maintain my positive body image. I know that I am beautiful, for I look at myself through my artist’s eyes. My friend’s are equally beautiful in the diversity and disparity, and I wish they could see themselves through my eyes instead of through their own harsh criticism. I hope that this blog might give anyone who reads it pause for thought. I hope they will look at themselves differently because of it. We are all beautiful but too many people cannot see it in themselves.

By Victoria Haswell. Visit her blog Nurse Vendetta here.

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