I should have posted sooner about the day we collaborated with our friend and artist, Chelsea Rose. I got so caught up in my radiation treatments and everything else and let it slip by. Today I want to re-visit it and share the experience with you. Chelsea is a painter and has been working on her “Goddess” series, which involves her painting on fully nude models and then photographing them, either in nature or in a studio setting. I had been tempted to volunteer to model for her for a while, but once again, let my fear of my body image get in the way. It’s been there for a lifetime and yes, I’m working on it, but these things take time.
Okay, I’m fat. I’ve always been chubby or plump or had baby fat or whatever else you want to call it. I’ve never been skinny. I’ve always had a belly and was always made to feel ashamed of it. When I look back at myself now, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Because I was made to feel bad about it, I hid and ate more and got bigger. I had a long-term relationship with someone where eating was how we bonded. That and watching tv. I ended up weighing over 300 pounds and felt horrible about myself. In my late 30’s I started realizing I had to change things. I stopped eating fast food, stopped drinking any kind of soda, and started doing more exercise. It was a start.
Because I had been on diets from childhood, I decided I would never again be “on a diet”. It was a lifestyle change and I was going to take things slowly. Weight did start to come off gradually. That was around 2006 and now my total weight loss is around 74 pounds. I did lose 13 pounds after my hysterectomy surgery and during chemo, but everything else came of gradually and I’ve easily kept it off. I know we are all looking for the quick fix, but it doesn’t work and doesn’t last unless you are willing to do the work on yourself and figure out why you are using food as a way of comforting yourself, instead of to feed your body. I was that person. I still am, but now I make sure I get enough nutrition to be as healthy as I can. I am in no way eating the way I wish I was, which would be lots of fresh veggies and plant-based protein. I feel amazing when I can eat that way, but I admit that I am lazy and the time it takes to prepare meals often gets in the way. I do my best and that is all we can ask of ourselves.
Moving on – I have spent a lot of time working on my body image issues. Meeting Sam was a big deal for me because she doesn’t have body issues and hangups like mine. Our relationship has been the key to me moving to the next level in facing my fears, getting out there to enjoy life, and learning to love myself more and more. She loves all of me. She passes no judgements and has never once made me feel awkward or like I “just need to do… and she will love me more.” It truly is an unconditional love. I know how rare that is and I am grateful for it every day. It has enabled me to do things I never would have done before and to face things from a more confident place of strength and happiness. I’m not “cured” and certainly am still self-conscious about my body, but, I am doing a better job of living my life and if I died tomorrow, my regrets would be few.
It is a BIG deal for me to place my trust in someone to 1. See me fully naked while they paint my body 2. Allow that person full control of the photographs that would be taken of my fully naked body and 3. Be okay with whatever she chooses to do with those images in the future. Once I was diagnosed with cancer and survived surgery, I decided it was time to ask Chelsea if she wanted a “bald, cancer lady” for a model. She immediately responded and our mutual excitement grew. Sam offered to be a part of the photo shoot, which was wonderful because Chelsea hadn’t worked with a couple yet. I was excited and nervous as we planned the weekend and location where we would spend the day doing this.
Chelsea often spends 3-4 hours painting just one person, in fine detail. You can see her work at www.chelsearosearts.com. We were dealing with two people and entering fall, so the sun was setting earlier. It was going to be a race against time. We picked Chelsea up and headed to the beach location we had decided on. She set up and we took off our clothes and she began painting – first Sam’s face and then mine and back and forth until we were both fully covered. It took around 4 hours to complete. Because of the time constraints, she used more bold lines and fewer details, but I think the emotion and feeling we wanted to capture is just as significant. We are a couple brought closer together through cancer and this was a great way to honor that. Chelsea did a great job with the photographs and having us relate to one another. Seeing the finished images blew my mind. She converts them to black and white and the effect is striking to say the least.
Yes, I am naked and I am learning to see these images in a way that helps me to look past my shape and the fact that I am aging and sagging. I am trying to embrace the fact that I have earned every wrinkle, stretch mark, and imperfection and that I have survived everything that life has thrown at me, so far. I can now joke about the fact that I have lost most of my weight in the lower part of my body, leaving me with what I call an “old man butt”. My hips and butt have disappeared, yet my stomach has lost nothing. Having naturally large breasts means they will sag. I am who I am and this is the package that it comes in. Learning to accept that in a society that shames everything about everyone until we have little girls talking about diets and criticizing their bodies, is hard. I am so much further down that path than I ever was before and that is something to celebrate. I am also honoring myself as a survivor and this body that keeps on ticking. I’ve been told I am a warrior. I don’t know about that, but looking at myself covered in Chelsea’s paint sure makes that seem more real to me. Thank you again Chelsea, for celebrating us in this way. It is a day I will never forget. ❤
All images copyright – Chelsea Rose Arts or Kelly Keigwin, 2014. These cannot be re-used for any reason without the written consent of the artists and models.