Where It All Began extend-a-painting
F. made this drawing during art therapy about her eating disorder. She chose this painting from an art magazine which she cut out, glued down and extended. To the dance practice room she added only more empty space. This simple “self portrait” (she identifies herself with the dancer) is an articulate summation of her eating disorder itself. ED hallmarks present include a body-conscious activity, a performing self, the watcher, body dismorphia, the accompanist and finally, a completely apt metaphor.
On the surface it appears that she has chosen a body-conscious activity, which, like gymnastics, figure skating and swimming calls attention to her young body. This in turn may create a set-up for an ED when the body reaches puberty and begins to blossom in a way that feels out of control. It is tempting to say this is society’s fault and that our superficial “look good” values have women obsessed with unrealistic and hard-to-achieve body images. (Intervention at this point – age 12 or so – can stall or stop the ED from taking root.) But this drawing, like eating disorders themselves, has other, more subtle layers. Dance is about performance, and the idea that we are here to entertain and delight others. This amounts to an external locus of control; she is always seeing herself and her life through other people’s eyes. In fact there is a “watcher” present in the doorway of the dance studio, ostensibly the person she originally performed for. All of the emphasis on others’ perception leads to a detached quality, a mind/body disconnect and co- dependence. The mirrors in the dance practice room speak to a phenomenon called “body dismorphia”. This is an inability to see the body accurately in a mirror. People who are too thin literally see themselves as still fat (and overweight people see themselves thinner than they really are.) When we look very carefully at this drawing we see an often overlooked but very important person playing the piano. This is the behind the scenes enabler, the accompanist. Who plays that role in the life of the patient?
Art therapy can bring these dynamics into the light. This plus grace loosens the grip of the E.D. story and gives the patient with an E.D. a chance to do it differently. The beautiful metaphor we see in this drawing is… women recovering from eating disorders can learn to dance body, mind and spirit to their own music as the star of their own life!