“My Love Affair with Art”

I’ve hated my body for as long as I can remember. I’ve hated to accidentally glimpse at my reflection in the mirror after bath. I’ve hated my inner thighs rubbing against each other. I’ve hated putting my own hand on my belly. I’ve deeply despised pretty much everything that defines me as a woman.

My breasts started kind of growing when I was 13. And then they just stopped. I started feeling deeply uncomfortable in my skin around I was 15. That’s when my eating disorder awoke. The monster got unleashed and my life was never the same again. I’m still battling with it almost 20 years later. And everything started right around the time when my dad tried to kill himself for the first time. I began overeating excessively in an attempt to regulate my emotions. But I never could.

I deeply, deeply hated my body. And my face. I had pimples, which made looking people in the eyes absolutely horrible. Wearing tank tops and open-back dresses too.

I began ruthlessly dieting and punishing my body with draconian limitations. I had no fucking clue what I was doing. I didn’t know a calorie from carbs from a calorie from meat, fish, or eggs. I was decreasing my intake to 800 calories in total and lived on a diet of several liters of vegetable creamy soup and a pack of cigarettes a day.

I had no clue what to do at the gym and felt overwhelmingly intimidated by the visitors, the trainers, and the exercise gear. I got addicted to walking and would routinely walk for over 20,000 steps a day. I didn’t want to “get bulky and masculine,” so I didn’t touch any weights.

And I struggled and suffered. I didn’t know what to eat. I didn’t know how to exercise. And I was obsessed with hating every single dimension of my body. I liked that I’m tall – because that makes getting fatter less visible. Until it gets too bad. Which it has for me. Many, many times.

Over the last 15 years my weight has swung like a pendulum more times than I’m comfortable to admit. I was never obese. But my severe body dysmorphia (a psychological condition, where you do not perceive your body how it actually looks and your idea of what you look like is severely compromised and unrealistic) makes any extra weight I put on cause me gut wrenching and soul crushing pain and sense of self-hate.

So, when on May 1 2022 my boyfriend of 9 years broke up with me, I realized that my life as I’d known it for almost a decade was over. And I had a choice what to do with my life going forward. So, because I have the convenient excuse that I got diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder type 2 by two separate psychiatrists within the last 12 months, I decided to do something crazy. Something unthinkable. Something provocative. Something controversial. Something I will be criticized for. Also, something important. Something necessary. Something empowering. Something ballsy

I decided to have a photographer friend of mine shoot me as I use my own body as a canvas and draw doodles on myself with eye make-up. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and finally do something I should have fucking done a decade ago – commit to being a courageous, curious, and creative artist, who uses different canvases to explore the human condition and tell stories of turning pain into power. So, I did that.

I examined my own experience as a 33-year-old, unemployed, recently dumped, mentally ill woman and also as an abstract artist and mental health educator. I was experiencing and witnessing almost at the same time. It was the definition of a bipolar experience.

Whenever I focused on how my body looked in the shots and saw a glimpse of something unattractive in the mirror, I felt vulnerable, exposed, and ridiculous. I felt repulsive. I felt like a joke. I felt pathetic. Like someone who has no business pretending to deserve to be in a photoshoot like this. I felt nauseous. I wanted to cover under the blanket. And then the moment I stepped out of the shoes of the woman in her underwear and into the shoes of the badass bold and extravagant abstract artist, I fucking came to life. I became larger than everything and everyone. Nobody’s opinion of my body and my curves and my pimples mattered. Because in that moment I had a more important job to do. I was on a mission. I was a story teller. I was tasked to show what it’s like to have the experience of an insecure woman and capture this experience in my art. I don’t know who tasked me. Maybe inspiration. Maybe something else.

A couple of weeks after this photoshoot I’m chilling at my Vienna crib for the week (courtesy of Georgi Natchev from Digiburn) and making the final selection for “My Love Affair with Art” – my first deeply vulnerable collection. A collection which captures everything that I am. My courage, my curiosity, and my creativity. The choices I’ve made over the last year – in the kitchen and at the gym. My aesthetic nature. My vulnerability. My insecurities. All the little things I still hate about my body. All the little things I’d improve or remove. And yet, I’m looking at myself and I see a badass woman. I see a powerful woman. I see a timeless woman. I see a giant. Someone every woman is by nature. It’s our stupid fucking society that teaches us to feel that we’re not enough.

I wasn’t popular in high school. I wasn’t a nerd either. I was just excellent at blending in with the people I wanted to impress. Mostly, it was dudes.

I wanted to impress dudes because deep down I felt so unworthy of being liked and accepted for who I was that I desperately tried to satisfy some arbitrary external standards. And hoped that someone will eventually like me. That someone will eventually appreciate me for who I really am.

My appearance has been my biggest source of insecurity in life. I’ve been rejected by so many guys in such nasty ways that for ages I believed I was actually defective.
And then someone helped me fall in love with weights.

When the first coach I really clicked with (from BB-Team in Bulgaria) taught me to play with weights at the gym and I decided to trust him that I won’t get bulky, I realized that I can enjoy myself and get excited about exercising beyond what any external validation and admiration may give me. So, I fell in love at 30 and have never been since.

I lost the joy of exercising for close to 9 months during the scariest episode of depression I’ve had, when I wanted to kill myself multiple times over several months. And I missed the high I get from moving my body with intention.

I went back to the weights in the beginning of April and I came to life. It was less than two months before this photoshoot. And at the time I started exercising I had no clue that I’d even have this idea – mostly because I didn’t plan on having my boyfriend of the last almost 9 years break up with me (in all fairness – we’re still best friends and the decision was the best for both of us).

I celebrated my 33rd birthday by having my American coach in the Netherlands from Trifecta in Eindhoven lead a YAMA (yoga as martial arts) session for me and two more women in the backroom of a church. Yes, my gym is situated in the building of a former church. It’s awesome as fuck and absolutely gorgeous.

I still don’t think my body is perfect. I still can’t honestly say that I love it. I love parts of it. I love what it can do. But I still see all the imperfections. And they still make me feel less than. But this isn’t the point. The point is that “My Love Affair with Art” has helped me turn my pain from my body insecurities into a source of power. Art is an alchemical process. How the brain is able to rewire itself in this manner with the help of such activities is a process that can be very well explained by neuroscience. And still, it’s all also a little magical.

Putting this collection out there has been one of the scariest, most difficult, and most vulnerable things I’ve ever done in my life. I have no idea how it will be received. I have no idea how I will be treated. Frankly, I expect it to get quite uncomfortable for me. But it doesn’t matter. Because some things are more important than comfort. Like courage.

Now it’s your turn.

Go grab an eye liner or pencil and draw something on yourself. Draw it on your arm, on your leg, on your boob or your belly. Draw it just for fun. Without an agenda. Without a plan. Doodle how you’re feeling. Take a pic. Remember this moment. Try to feel like this more often. You and me both!

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