I began drawing nudes as a way to make sense of bodies.
Of my body.
This has never been comfortable. Every exploration of a figure, every rough sketch, every erasing of a line to correct an angle, every moment of satisfaction in getting a shadow right has felt a little like the awkward fumbling of a first kiss, but tinged with rebellion.
Often I have not understood what I’m doing. What kind of carnal knowledge would satisfy the questions which have lingered always for me?
I am studying. I am not lusting. I know this now. I am balancing equations and puzzling through the logical steps, solving for Y’s beyond my scope of understanding. Sometimes the process is marked by grief or by utter gravity. Occasionally I hit upon something transcendent. But I never know why or how. And just as easily I might hit upon the mundane.
At times, it feels to me as if bodies don’t matter nearly at all, or that they shouldn’t in the ways they get laden with the mis-meanings of American culture, everything in tension with the pornographic or with health, unlikely bed-fellows in the rhetorical scripting of our flesh into so-called attractive shapes. I step back, I dissociate I suppose, and the human body comes in my mind to have a uniformity but with uniqueness, the paradox of being one in a species perhaps. We all look alike. We do the same things, have the same parts, nothing new under the sun. Even sex is just sex. And yet we’re obsessed with further uniformity, on trajectories toward the mass-production of commodified bodies which are transactionable. Why does any of this matter? I think.
At other times, it feels to me as if bodies are the only thing that matter, are all that have ever mattered, matter so much that we in our finitude are incapable of grasping the profundity of what it means to be flesh. And then to bring two fleshes together into one? Mind blown. How could we possibly think anything other than this, and getting this right, is worth our energy? The conformity of the transactionable body strikes me as pornographic, as erasure, as a distillation down to particular parts at certain angles, devoid of glory. The whole thing is horrifying if not downright blasphemous. Why is anything they say is desirable actually desirable to us? It is those times that I am grasping for what it means to be this exact existence. To be human is to have a particular body.
And yet, I am situated in the context of countless meanings, and my very life depends upon my station within the meanings. To be myself is to have this one body which means things, communicates things, is somehow by mystery (maybe even by doom) a collection of data in a colonized tongue speaking on my behalf beyond me. I correct its grammar, I refute its arguments. I reach back listening for the native languages of my body.
Because what about when your socially constructed meaning is destroying your life, your ability to flourish?
I’m even “white” and privileged and cis-hetero presenting and still this happens to me, though limited in its scope by comparison. The statistics say that as a clinically obese woman, my salary will always tend to be lower. I will likely always fight to be taken seriously professionally. I’ll receive worse medical treatment than others. I may struggle to find an other to meaningfully partner with, if that’s a thing I want. Other bodies fight other fights. Your body fights other fights.
What does it mean to intentionally rebel against the blasphemy of a mannequinized pornographic existence and show up in the world as this one body you are?
This one body I am?
My hair is silvering. The wrinkles around my eyes have begun to set in. My body is my body as it has always been, with rolls and cellulite and stretch marks and fat deposits. With cravings and longings and hungers and thirsting. It takes up space.
And after 38 years of hustling either blatantly or with subtlety to have a body other than the one I have so that I can be loved, I’m weary of the war. I’ve stopped diet and exercise hustling in seasons, thinking I was embracing liberation, just to then get tired of the work of trying to convince, even myself. Fat Positive, Health At Any Size, Feminist, yadda yadda ya. Grateful for all of these ways of speaking, and also oh so tired.
Frankly, I’m so ready for a world where my body is read with charity, where my body’s meanings are interpreted in light of some crazy kind of reverence for the divine life in me, where I am embraced as I am, not just platonic belovedness but desired completely. And even then, don’t give me the heat of the moment. I want consuming fire.
We don’t live in that world. I want us to, but we’re not there.
And so I sketch. It’s not comfortable, but I work hard at the shadows, the angles, the ripenesses and vulnerabilities, my pencil aching into existence the world I want where women like me become art, rebellion, and protest. Where liberation for anyone comes not in spite of but because of particularity, where human flesh in all its forms is celebrated as the very locale of God with us.
It might embarrass anyone, the thought of me in a corner with reference photos, sketching out the nudes.
But I’m learning the way a square of paper becomes a door of hospitality. And in my lines and curves are the movements of embrace, all tinged with rebellion.