Art Therapy is becoming increasingly popular in the treatment of eating disorders. These particular services are gaining momentum as treatment facilities make this form of psychotherapy a mandatory component of programming, bringing to light the ways in which the creative arts can help someone understand the complex relationship between self and body throughout the recovery process.
Although art therapy has been around for many decades, it is still considered an alternative form of treatment that many people struggle to understand. The inherent therapeutic qualities that are associated with art making are experienced by many, but working alongside a trained art therapist enables clients to work through their recovery in a safe way, while diving into the root causes of the disorder itself, and the ways in which they manifest themselves in life and the body.
Last year my sister gave birth to a baby girl, and while I had always been passionate about eating disorders and body positivity, the birth of Alice prompted me to consider the type of society in which I would want her to grow; one that defines female beauty based solely on achieving a certain level of thinness, or one that deconstructs what it means to be truly “beautiful” by diversifying the discussion to include the whole person, not just the surface. I cannot imagine my niece growing up in a world that causes her to think of herself as anything less than beautiful, inside and out.
Now take a moment to really think about this… really, sit back and take a moment to answer the following question: At what point in a little girl’s life does she stop dancing in front of the mirror, only to start criticizing the reflection staring back at her?
The Fight Against Beauty Standards
‘The Mannequin Project’ took place at an alternative high school based in Toronto. It involved an eight-week art therapy group that focused on unrealistic beauty ideals that are so forcefully pushed upon young women and girls all over the world. The idea to use life-sized dolls was inspired by the recent introduction of the much-anticipated Curvy Barbie. The project involved five participants, all young women who have been affected, in some form or another, by shattered self-images.
Some participants opted to physically alter the mannequins by turning them into more realistic body shapes, or using a hammer to punch holes into body parts that are hyper-sexualized in the media; breasts, bum, and thighs. Others covered the mannequins in demeaning words and phrases they had heard throughout their adolescence- “fat pig,” “slut,” “lazy,” just to name a few. During the process, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these statements were outer expressions of inner-dialogue.
Flooding Media With Body Positive Content
As the group came to an end the girls spoke candidly about how they felt empowered by deconstructing and re-creating the mannequins. The time they spent making artwork together opened up space for honest discussion about some of the very real struggles they had gone through. They talked about their love/hate relationships they had with their own bodies, the fears they hold onto for their daughters and sisters, and how exciting it was to get their messages out into the local community.
As someone who has personally struggled with eating disorders and poor body-image, there is one thing I know for certain; Prevention of body image disturbance in young women and girls is essential, and can be achieved by flooding multi-media platforms with diverse, inclusive content as it relates to fashion, beauty and activism. REglam is an important pillar in the online community, and it is websites like these that will drive the message home- and, just like the girls with the mannequins, might just end up igniting a passion for the younger generation.
More about the Author: Jessica is a Body Image and Self-Esteem Coach based in Toronto, Ontario. She uses a personalized, hands-on approach to helping others find peace with food and fall in love with their bodies! If you’d like to learn more, click HERE! Instagram @jessicaflaman Facebook @jessicaflaman Twitter @jessicaflaman_ Photography by Jessica Flaman Last Photograph by Seika
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