Working on my mid term paper for my art history class, Women and the Arts in Italy, I found myself looking through the photos on my computer of paintings in various museums. I accidentally hit a key on my keyboard, and my computer jumped all the way back to pictures from my senior year of high school. Oddly enough, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about that time in my life. The series of paintings I’m currently working on, casually being called “The Tummy Project,” for the time being, was actually brought about as a celebration of sorts of how I’ve changed and grown in the last three years, since my senior year.
The Tummy Project started the first week of this semester with me painting a picture of my tummy from when I had an eating disorder during senior year. I chose to paint the picture because I ran across it on my iPad one night, and was struck by how I no longer envied that stomach. The last week of February this year will be my three year anniversary since entering treatment in 2014. Though I entered treatment in February of 2014, it wasn’t until a year later in January of 2015 that I truly became invested in moving forward. Despite not always fighting for my own recovery, prior even to entering treatment in 2014, I always wanted my peers around me to view their bodies with positivity and love. In dance after school and in the AP art studio, the fall of my senior year was when I really started exploring this artistically. As I sought out peers to model for me, I found myself drawn (hehe no pun intended) to those with insecurities surrounding their bodies. I hoped that by painting or drawing them, they may begin to see themselves in a different light, as uniquely beautiful people. Since I began working figuratively that year, I have continued working with models who shared their insecurities and difficulties with me. Some of my work has stemmed by photographing someone the way they wanted to be, and other times, I made specific requests, but as my relationship to each person has grown, they’ve taken more risks in telling their own stories, both to me and others, in an effort to inspire continued recovery and growing positivity.
After painting my tummy a month ago, I realized that if I painted that old, skinnier tummy of mine, then I need to also paint the tummy I have today. With this, I decided to start painting other tummies as well. I reached out to some friends who I knew needed to appreciate their tummies a little more, and I put it out on social media as well. Since posting on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat that I was in need of tummies to paint, I have been sent over twenty images from people I see regularly, to people I haven’t talked to in years. People of varying body shapes have sent me photos, and I feel so blessed. I am thankful that so many people trust me with their bodies, and I am thrilled by how many people I wouldn’t have expected to participate who chose to put themselves out there. As I continue to paint stomachs, the project is taking a turn in the direction of becoming an installation in the future.
As I see these images of women at varying stages of life, I’m noticing how similar and different each stomach is. Each tummy has its own shape, favorite foods, and bad memories, but they also all house the same organs and serve the same purposes. Everyone’s belly-button is just ever so slightly different, reminding me how we all began the same way, but how we’re all unique. The more tummies I paint, the more I notice the similarities of each brush stroke and how beautiful each shape is— how similar we all are, despite all being so different.
This coming week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and a week to celebrate your body. For me, I get to celebrate recovery and how I’ve grown. There were so many times that I never believed recovery was possible, or even wanted it, but with people all around me, fighting their own fights, and encouraging others in their own pursuits of happiness, I’m blessed to be where I am today. I’m blessed to no longer envy an unhealthy body. I’m blessed to know that recovery is possible, and that relapses are not the end of the world, but a part of growth. I am blessed to be a part of other people’s stories, and to be able to encourage others as they learn about loving themselves. I hope that those who read this and those who don’t, feel blessed and appreciate their bodies an extra little bit this week. If anything, thank your tummy for digesting the nutrients you give it, thank your heart for beating, and your lungs for filling with air. Thank your legs for carrying you through the good times and the bad, and thank your arms for their ability to hug and bring nourishment to your body.
If you’re interested in sending me your stomach, you can message me on any social media we have in common, or through my blog’s contact page. I am currently only painting women’s stomachs, but if that changes, I’ll announce it. If you or anyone you know is struggling with body image or unhealthy methods of controlling their lives, take a look at the National Eating Disorders Association web page, http://nedawareness.org