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Deutsche Version

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A LETTER TO THE BODY: INTERVIEW WITH ANNA (M)

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A few days ago, we introduced to you the Dear Body Project, where people write letters to their own bodies. And our Anna (M) also posted something for the project! She drew her own body and then shared it along with a poem and a little dear body letter on Instagram. A few weeks later, she even created a second drawing and posted it with another poem, maybe it will even become a little series. If you follow these links, you can see her contributions to the project:

HERE’S THE FIRST POSTING and HERE’S THE SECOND POSTING.

We love the project and we love Anna, so of course, we were interested in how it was for her to be a part of it and asked her some questions:

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Anja: How did you know about the project and why did you want to participate?

Anna (M): I learned about it because I’ve been following Ari Fitz on Social Media for a while. She had the idea and created the project.

I wanted to contribute something, because my relationship with my body has been problematic for basically my whole life, and I’ve kept dealing with it again and again through the years, and especially lately.

You take part in the project by just writing a letter to your body and then posting it on Instagram.

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Anna (T): So this isn’t the first time you’ve been dealing with your relationship to your body?

Anna (M): No. Actually, I’ve had a difficult relationship with my body as long as I can remember. In my family, it’s not very easy… many people in my family have struggled or still struggle with eating disorders. So I sort of grew up with these kinds of things.

And there were some other pretty difficult things I’ve experienced. Like, for example, physical and emotional violence. And they also led to me not really feeling connected with my body.

Then, as an adolescent, I payed more and more attention to how my body looks and what shape it has. I thought I was too fat, and wanted to lose weight. I compared myself a lot with my peers (I went to an all girls’ school), and the people on TV and in advertisements and everywhere. Because there are almost only thin people represented, you know, and especially for women that is a big part of the beauty ideal. And I always wanted to change my body so it would fit this ideal image. Because I thought I wasn’t beautiful otherwise.

In the past few years, I’ve been starting to follow a different direction. I’ve been dealing more and more with beauty ideals and what they actually are. And how it feels for me, to be in my body, which just looks different than this ideal. No matter what I do, it just does not look that way.

I’ve painted and drawn several self-portraits, and they were always about me dealing with my body and how it looks. And I’ve written some poems about this, too.

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Anja: Why did you choose the medium of drawing?

Anna (M): Well, I didn’t actually only choose the medium of drawing. Parts of my contributions to the project were also poems and short letters to my body. So, in addition to drawing, I’ve also chosen verbal language. That’s mainly because these are simply my ways of expressing myself, that work best for me. I paint and draw a lot, and have for quite a while, and I’ve even studied art. But I also like to write poems very much.

Here, both of it is important for me. The picture, because it is about the looks of my body. So, a medium that, well, shows how my body looks, works very well here. The words, that I additionally have, express some things that are going on inside me. My thoughts and my feelings concerning my body.

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Anna (T): How does it work, drawing oneself? Did you have a mirror or did you use photos? How long did it take?

Anna (M): I’ve used photos and a mirror as well. First, I put up my daylight lamp (I drew mostly in the evening or at night), so the light would fall on me from one side. That creates stronger shadows and light areas on my body. I also put up my big mirror in front of me. And then, I basically just started to draw. In-between, I often take photos, too. They help me especially with details. I have pretty bad eyes, and in order to see the details, I would have to get really close to the mirror. For that, I would have to leave my position, though, and I need to stay in it to be able to draw it, of course. And in a photo, I can just zoom in.

It was also difficult to draw my right hand, because it’s the one that holds the pencil the whole time. That’s why in the first image, it’s outside the picture (it’s mirrored, of course). It is visible in the second picture, though, and the photos helped me with that.

Usually, it takes several hours at once, and I often make some small edits a few days later.

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Anna (T): Did you create the drawings for the public rightaway or only for yourself first? And how much courage did it take to publish them?

Anna (M): Hm, well, I did think of the Dear Body Project when I created these drawings, and thought about posting them. But I made the final decision to really publish them after they were finished. By the way, I will probably also draw a third picture (and maybe even more).

It was a big step for me to draw myself naked. That alone cost quite some courage. The self-portraits I created so far were all in clothes. But the situations were pretty interesting, I’ve spent a lot of time with myself and my body, and had to look at it very closely in order to draw it. It did make me very nervous to actually publish the pictures then. Because I don’t just show my body. I also show a body that is often not accepted in society and therefore often gets treated badly. But that made it even more important to me.

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Anja: How did you feel when you did this? How did it effect you? Did it change your body sensation? Do you feel better with your body now?

Anna (M): While I was drawing, it was really weird. Especially the second one. Because I was sitting on my bed, relatively comfortable, and drew almost the whole night. And at some point, I even enjoyed being alone with myself like this, and spending time with my body. I also slowly started looking at my body in the mirror and finding it beautiful. And that gives me a completely new feeling. That I am good the way I am. That I am allowed to be here. That I like myself. I usually am very insecure and shy, and I realized that that has a lot to do with the fact that I always felt like everybody thought I was ugly, and that I, looking this way, shouldn’t actually show myself. And that kept me from showing more of my personality as well.

And now, in spite of this, I show myself, publicly, with these images. I show myself, very radically. I do the opposite of what I’ve been taught all my life: that I should hide.

And that is empowering for me. With this, for the first time, I’ve given my body the space that it never got from others nor from myself so far. And suddenly, I also have room for myself, to exist. I say with it: “I am here, as I am, and I am allowed to”.

That doesn’t mean that everybody has to show themselves naked in order to get a better relationship with their body. But it means, that you can, if you want to. And that you don’t have to hide, no matter how your body looks. Every body is different, we all have different shapes and colors, and all of them are beautiful. Not just the ideal that we know from movies, music videos and the fashion world.

I still have a long way to go, but these were some of the first steps, and they definitely helped me to feel better in my skin. For example, now I dare to wear dresses and go outside with naked legs (without leggings or tights). I probably haven’t done that in about 15 years.

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Anna (T): How are the drawings and the poems connected?

Anna (M): For the first posting, I picked a poem that I had written quite some time before. I dealt with my body in a similar way in the poem as in the drawings, so it just fit really well together. It’s about my feeling of not actually being inside of my body, which felt kind of estranged and empty. And sort of didn’t feel like a good place to live in. And the letter that is also part of the posting I think speaks for itself.

It was a little different with the second drawing and poem. There, I particularly dealt with a specific situation and both the drawing and the poem were created through that. Firstly, it is about all those many messages that you get from society and the media that take away your autonomy over your own body, especially when you’re a woman. The body is often treated like a thing to look at, to judge, to own and to use. If someone else dictates what shape my body may have, they also take my body away from me, in a way. Or how to dress it and how not to. Or what I eat, how I move, how I touch myself or who I let touch me. All these things are decisions that only I am actually allowed to make. If someone takes the power to make these decisions from me, they also take my body from me. And if you take my body from me, then you take what I live in. My room to live, my room to breathe, my room to be. And then I don’t really exist.

But most of all, when I created the second drawing and the poem, I thought about one person in particular who has taken advantage of me once. And of my body. That’s one part of all the things I‘ve already listed, but it was a more drastic experience. Therefore, the letters in the title are this person’s initials, and I speak directly to them in the poem.

When I drew the picture, I also thought about this person, among other things. I directly look into the viewer’s eyes, and I open up to a certain degree. But I also set clear boundaries, especially by the crossed hands in front of my vulva. Both in the drawing and in the poem, I reclaim my body as my own. It is mine, and I have authority over it. And nobody else.

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You can find more of Anna’s art on her website www.annamariadirrigl.de.

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