I recently had the pleasure of participating in the Body Joy Project with Charlotte Dean. It was an incredibly opening experience. The body joy project empowers women by showing their unique beauty through sharing their stories and showing their bodies to the world. Here is a piece of me for you to see and my conversation with Charlotte about the experience.
What has your relationship with your body been like over the years?
Like many women, I was sexually molested at a very young age. I was so young that I didn't understand what was really happening, I experienced shame without knowing what shame was. That marked my conscious and unconscious mind about how I felt, saw, and behaved in my body. The ripple effect of that experience has translated into many forms of behavior in relationship with myself and others – mainly men.
I have always been very critical of the shape of my body, comparing it with media imagery, with friends, even with Mom's body. I'm 44 now, and I still struggle with body love and acceptance.
How did it change as a teenager/ as an adult/ as a practitioner and teacher of yoga?
I used my body as tool to get boys to “like “me. Which means I was very promiscuous as a teenager. I knew I had a power over boys just by being a girl. It didn't really occur to me that someone might find me interesting in conversation or want to know me as a friend – I really didn't know myself at the time so I struggled to fit into my own skin. One thing I did know about my body is it had a sexual power. I made an effort to be different instead of fitting in.
As an adult my relationship with my body became one of self loathing shyness. When I started using drugs in college, I came out my shell – I wasn't shy anymore, I lost a bunch of weight, and felt comfort in numbing the pain of who I used to be, and of just being. I was less sexually active, and more into isolating so I could be high. This relationship with my body was destructive, dishonest and painful. Addiction became part of my daily life. Then I took a yoga class.
After the first class I was hooked. I felt strong, flexible and in control in my body. It was a brand new relationship with my physicality, one that would evolve with me for the rest of my life. When I'm on my mat, I see inside myself which is where my most pure beauty resides. I often move through poses with my eyes closed to focus inward on my breath. I don't see myself as wife/teacher/daughter/addict, I simply am flow, energy, and sensation.
Yoga has allowed me to forge a relationship of love and compassion with myself. When I'm practicing I don't care what I look like because I feel good. When I am guiding my students I speak from my heart, I make mistakes, I make fun of the seriousness of it all.
What are some of the things you do that bring you joy?
My joys are being outside in Nature, connecting with people who make me laugh, cooking meals with my husband Evan, teaching yoga and yoga retreats, cat time, long walks, letting go of shame, chocolate, daylight, anything handmade, bright colors.
What was it like for you being painted by me? How did it feel?
Being painted by you was amazing – first of all being around someone who is so excited about making a huge mess is so much fun. I feel like the Body Joy Project is something I need be part of, to see myself and other women in the light of love and acceptance. The best way for me to do that is to step outside my comfort zone and jump right into the process.
It felt sort of magical. At first I didn't even feel you touch me, I think I started doing yoga after the first 5 seconds and that was it. In the zone. As I began to see the paint pooling on the floor I began to feel the color cover me, become me. In my hair, between my toes. It was freeing and trusting. The more you painted, the more your energy intensified. I fed from that, like we were painting me.
What about after: To see your body painted? To see the photos? Did you feel like yourself? What was it like having your tattoos covered in paint?
By the end of the shoot I felt drained, exhausted, and changed. It's similar to how I feel after being tattooed. Transformed. That's part of my relationship with the marking of my body, to be transformed – to be unique – to be enough. Sometimes I see myself in a reflection or a photograph and think, “enough?”
At the end of the shoot I took a long hot shower. Watched all the paint colors on my body rinse down the drain, my skin emerged. I felt warm, clean, and transformed. Wrapped in my towel I walked out of the bathroom and said to the photographer, “can I see the pictures?” He turned the computer toward me as I stood there reviewing the experience from the end to the beginning. Some pictures show my pubic hair, the size difference of my breasts and the ever despised roll of fat on my belly that always reminds me how much I love bread. To those I felt sad, sad that I focused on these parts of my self as ugly. I thought the paint would cover them up, but they still showed themselves. These self criticizing conditions are slowly changing into wholeness and acceptance.
In other images I saw a whole new beauty in my curves, in the poses, in the paint. I saw myself as moving art, I saw Charlotte and Chloe's vision of form and shape and color as expression of pure joy. There is an anonymousness that envelopes you as the paint covers your skin. I liked that very much.
After it was over and I was home again, I felt a little more comfortable in my own skin, less confined to conditions about self love.