One of my favorite authors is Anne Lamott and one of the many Anne Lamott words of wisdom that I live by was in her book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. I read the book about 20 years ago and I am paraphrasing so if some of the details aren’t exactly correct, feel free to let me know in the comment section. Here is what I remember.
Little Annie, a self-proclaimed procrastinator is up late at night writing a report on the birds of North America. The paper is due the next day and she is just getting started on what she had been expected to be working on for several weeks. She is distraught and asks her father how she is possibly going to get through this project? It’s so huge, it’s un-doable, it’s impossible! Her father reassuringly tells her,
“You will do it bird by bird.”
I love this. I find it calming, loving, and perhaps most importantly, I find it non-judgmental. The lesson to not procrastinate is already being processed by Annie because she is experiencing the repercussions of not having made the best choice about managing her time. Kudos to Dad Lamott for resisting the parental temptation to rub it in her face. Instead he chooses to advise her to take small steps, one at a time, until she reaches her destination. Quitting is not an option; managing the circumstance as best as she can is the prime directive.
I am not a procrastinator by nature. I am not certain how I learned this approach to life, but for me being on time for a meeting is arriving 15 minutes early; and meeting a deadline is having something finished a week before the due date. I don’t think this is a trait that is to be admired or makes me any more functional or superior to those who are more last minute types. Like Charlie Brown who sings emphatically about his book report in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.
I think it is a coping strategy that I adopted for managing my anxiety and my need to please other people. Arriving early for an appointment means no disappointment by keeping them waiting. Handing work in early removes any chance that the recipient will think that I am not reliable. So my affinity for the bird by bird philosophy is not associated with learning about time management, it is more akin to learning the lesson of how to assess and honor my own self-worth. In other words it is about choosing how many birds to write about. You see, if I had been told to write about the birds of North America I would have felt compelled to write about EVERY bird in North America. I would have worried about hurting a bird’s feelings if I left it out of the paper or omitting the one most important bird that the teacher really wanted me to include. My anxiety about not being perfect and unable to please everyone would have compelled me to over compensate. True, I may have gotten a good grade on the paper, but in reality it was no less stressful than Annie’s having waited until the last minute.
GET TO THE POINT DR. DEAH!
I am blogging about birds and Anne Lamott for two reasons.
1. If you read the final Issue of Dr. Deah’s Schmooze-Letter that came out on December 1, 2014, this theme may sound familiar. In the Therapeutic Tidbit of the month, I discussed the tendency some of us have, especially during the holiday season, to over-commit and conflate how much we are doing (e.g. saying YES TO EVERYTHING) with perfectionism and self-worth. Over the years I have learned that it is a time that calls for finding a balance of setting realistic standards of what is enough; and practicing self-care first in order to be there for others. Getting through the holidays becomes so much more manageable when we take things bird by bird and, if necessary, leave some birds off the list completely.
2. My second reason is to introduce you to the last “bird” in my blog series that I started in the summer of 2014. I had the good fortune of traveling to Holland and the UK last July and was inspired by the work of Fat/Size Activists in Europe (Gisela Enders, Fatima Parker, and Angela Meadows) and Dutch Artists who paint positive images of dikke dames. Today I would like to introduce you to Ada Breedveld. I asked Ada the same questions I asked Julia Woning, Susan Ruiter, and Lia Schapendonk, and here is what she had to say. (Thank you to Chiel Weverling for helping me translate Ms Breedveld’s answers from Dutch to English).
Dr. Deah: Thank you so much for taking the time and participating in this interview. When did you realize that art was important to you as a means of expression. Was there a specific aha moment; or was it a gradual process?
Ada Breedveld: All my life I’ve been drawing and painting, but about the age of 20 I read something about surrealism. I didn’t know the word so I went looking for the meaning and found that it gave me the room…mindspace…to paint whatever i could think of, even if it wasn’t accurate. It opened up a whole new world. In the beginning I expressed a lot of feelings through my art. Feelings that began as a shapeless goo inside me, but then took form and developed their shape.
DD: The art work you do is so beautiful, who were some artists who influenced your style?
AB: Artists that I admired at that time were Dali, Magritte, Delvaux, Max Ernst, etc. Also the Symbolists: Toorop, Khnopff, Klimt, Schielle.
DD: The shapes and sizes of the women you paint are big and beautiful and feel very positive. Has the subject of body acceptance or size acceptance been a part of your work intentionally? Why do you choose to do paintings of big curvy women? Do you have any opinions about how the media depicts women’s bodies?
AB: The women I paint stand for the female properties and values. Often woman are judged on their appearance and have to meet the ideal image: Young, slim, and too strong (muscular). Even if these are stereotypes, people are expected to meet them, also by the women themselves. The girl. She, the woman, fulfills a very important role in every society that may not be visible but is very important. That is why and how I want to show her, paint her and make her visible.
She is the utopia, the mother and the Madonna but also the fertile and the sensual being that comes from and generates her warmth and compassion. Her roundness and curves are synonyms for motherliness, warmth, security. She naturally knows, like no other, how to draw from the source of life. So my paintings are meant to communicate a plea to be who you are regardless of your appearance, color etc.
Her closed eyes are a reference to her inner self, being complete! I show her on the canvas, big and present so you can’t ignore her, and so you can be aware of her values, and those same values in and of yourself. Filling the canvas and proud!
DD: (Wow, THAT is a powerful response!) Do you think that Holland has a more accepting attitude towards diversity of body size for women than The United States?
AB: I really have no idea what the United States’ opinion is on this but I think that often the opinions are more extreme there.
DD: Where can people find out more about your work?
AB: Often I have exhibitions in The Netherlands and abroad. Information on that can be found on my website: www.adabreedveld.nl
I hope you have enjoyed learning about some of the inspiring work that is being done around the world in the areas of body image, size/fat acceptance, and redefining standards of beauty for women. For those of you who are in the shopping mode, click on the links I’ve provided on each of the artist’s names. They all have exquisite selections from paintings, to calendars and postcards if you are looking for some holiday gifts. In fact Nomi Dekel, owner of VoluptuArt and ASDAH member has several of Ada Breedveld’s works on her website. (By the way, I do not receive any financial compensation for spreading the word about these artists or for any sales made via my blog posts.) And please feel free to share other artists in the comment section! I would love to learn more about them, bird by bird.
Til next time,
P.S. Someone recently shared this video with me and because it is by a Dutch woman sending a body acceptance message I had to share! Elly Kellner – Decent – Deugdelijk (2014) English subs – Ellybellyrep
PPSS: The Calmanac turns one year old on December 13th! Thanks to all of you who have been a part of helping me spread the message of cultivating a positive body image bird by bird. I look forward to continuing the trend in 2015!! Remember, unlike a traditional almanac, The Calmanac is not tied in to any specific calendar year.
I love the show Law & Order…I’m old school though, I like the original more than the spin offs. But even the spin offs kept the Done Done sound effect. You know the one…the Done Done sound as scenes change? What is it about that Done Done sound that is so…resonant? It is recognizable by so many people. Odds are pretty good that if you say, “Done Done” to someone and use the same tonal quality that you hear on the show, he or she will get the association.
Recently there have been many folks on the Listserves that I am subscribed to sharing the unthinkable with each other. I will not mention their names at the risk of breaking any confidentiality codes; but these are brave, powerful, competent women, accomplishing massive amounts of tasks, admitting that they are, Goddess forbid, tired. Our To Do lists continually grow and occasionally they will be checked off to zero; but by morning (what happens during the night that adds things to the To Do list?) we arise to a whole new list of things that need to be Done Done. In previous posts I have kvetched about my FATigue and shared some of my own concerns regarding my tendency to over-commit to pro bono activities and you, my devoted readers, have been supportive every step of the way. But I don’t like to complain…venting and expressing feelings is one thing. I am a firm believer in EXPRESSION over REPRESSION; but griping without problem solving is just not my style, so THIS week I found a way to “turn my frown upside down!”
THIS week I found a whole new use for the idea of Done Done.
THIS week I experimented with a new tracking system and transformed my To Do List into my Done Done List.
I realized that by constantly focusing on what I haven’t done yet resulted in feelings of stress and anxiety. Even worse it tapped into an old belief system of not being or not doing enough. Does that sound familiar to anyone? The quest for perfection is behind so many of our struggles with body image and was often planted in our psyches during childhood. And sometimes those feelings can re-emerge despite the amount of therapy and mindfulness we have used (or use) to maintain a healthy sense of self. But noticing what I have gotten Done Done reinforces a healthier aspect of my self-esteem. The part of me that knows that I am working hard, doing my best, and am enough the way I am right now. It helps me remember that each day has been filled with accomplishments and self care. (Yes I even mark down when I have taken breaks, soaked in the tub, or watched an episode (or two) of Law & Order. Of course I still write things down that I need to remember on my palm pilot because I don’t want to forget an important deadline or appointment and my memory just isn’t what it used to be.
In looking back over the past week, I think the experiment was a success. It was helpful for me to focus on what I got Done Done and savor my accomplishments as opposed to my lack of enoughness. So stay tuned for Dr. Deah’s personalized Done Done note pads soon to be available on my website! (I can’t wait to write that one down on my Done Done list!
And keep your eyes open for upcoming posts about the wonderful artwork of Ada Breedveld and activism work of Fatima Parker and Angela Meadows. No need to put it on your To Do List though, you can just put it on your Done Done List after you have read your latest copy of Tasty Morsels.
Til Next Time,
Each year I take great pleasure in helping to spread the word about the National Organization for Women’s (NOW) Love Your Body Day campaign. (This year it is on October 14). Of course in “Dr. Deah’s Hollywood” every day is Love Your Body Day ! Women and men, girls and boys can live their lives in harmony with their bodies and appreciate them for all of the marvels they accomplish for us each and every day! In “Dr. Deah’s Hollywood” the norm is accepting that variety in our bodies is as magical as the variety we find in the natural shapes and sizes of other creations of Mother Earth. But sadly, that is not yet the reality for most people for a variety of reasons. One of NOW’s primary reason for the toxic body hate that infects so many of us is the media and the visual images they use that dictate not only the importance of physical beauty but a narrow definition for what is considered beautiful. This definition typically does not include people who are “too fat” with the criteria for “too fat” being an impossible standard to attain without engaging in dangerous and unhealthy lifestyle choices regarding food and exercise. And lest we think this is just an American obsession, we don’t have to look very far to find that this mandate of thinness has crossed the borders into other continents as well. But along with the oppression comes the rebellion and in my opinion there appears to be a wonderful trend of size acceptance activism also crossing into other parts of the world.
In my recent post, Oceans Aweigh, for the Fierce Freethinking Fatties website I wrote about the Fat Acceptance Movement in Europe and had the pleasure of introducing the readers to Gisela Enders, founder of the fat acceptance group Dicke e.V. in Germany. Gisela reminded me that although Europe is a single continent each country within Europe is a unique, separate entity and she couldn’t speak for all European organizations that are challenging the cultural pressure on women to be thin. And so, with that in mind I began a project to seek out and interview people throughout the world (starting with Europe) who are involved in promoting a diverse representation of body types as positive whether it be through their artistic expression or political activism. Needless to say what started off as a summer trip to Europe and a speck of curiosity has now snowballed into a treasure hunt for me as I find more and more people who are working at changing paradigms and helping people feel better about themselves. So over the course of the next few weeks, in honor of Love Your Body Day, I will be introducing you to some inspirational women doing wonderful work in the UK and in Holland. Today I would like you to meet Susan Ruiter, an artist in Holland.
Dr. Deah: Hello! I saw your wonderful work in the Galerie van Eijck over the summer. I am fortunate to be able to visit Holland in the summers for the North Sea Jazz Festival but the rest of the year I live in California and write a blog about body image and size and fat acceptance. I was wondering if I could do a short interview with you about your work for my blog? I look forward to hearing from you and hope you say YES! Thanks for your time!
Susan Ruiter: How nice that you come to Holland every year and enjoy it so much! Maybe next year you can visit my studio (near Rotterdam).
Dr. Deah: I appreciate your invitation and would love to! And thank you so much for taking the time and participating in this interview. If you don’t feel like answering all of the questions, I understand. Time is a precious commodity for all of us these days so please feel free to choose which of these questions you would like to answer or if you have something else you would like to say/share with us about your path as an artist please feel free to add it.
Q1: One of the hats I wear is as an Art Therapist. When did you realize that art was important to you as a means of expression. Was there a specific aha moment; or was it a gradual process?
A1: It was a gradual process. I was, from an early age, engaged with creating clothing and art. The style that I am making now was gradually formed. I have been painting these ladies now for 14 years.
Q2: The art work you do is so beautiful, who were some artists who influenced your style?
A2: Thank you! I am most inspired by the world famous artist Ferdinando Botero from Colombia. Only I use round shapes for the colorful ladies and my paintings are always cheerful.
Q3: The shapes and sizes of the women you paint are big and beautiful and feel very positive. Has the subject of body acceptance or size acceptance been a part of your work intentionally? Why do you choose to do paintings of big curvy women?
A3: Why curvy women? My whole life I love to draw and paint people. The preference for women is because they have beautiful curves. A lot of women have beautiful curves somewhere. I like to emphasize them, In a positive way. The women in my paintings are cheerful and positive in life. It is very important to be happy with yourself.
Q4: Do you have any opinions about how the media depicts women’s bodies?
A4: I think it would be good to show more, well-dressed, fuller women in the media.
Q4a: When you wrote that you think it is good for people to be happy with themselves and that the media should draw fuller well dressed women, Do you see yourself as defiant or radical because you are challenging the images that are usually shown of women?
Q5: Do you think that Holland has a more accepting attitude towards diversity of body size for women than The United States?
A5: I can not really give my opinion on that. I think that it is becoming more accepted in Holland. There is more attention for it, even in the clothing industry. There is a difference between beautiful shapes and obesity. It is very important to pay attention to your health.
Q6: There is some research that shows that sometimes an obese person can be healthier than a thin person. Have you heard of anything that supports that theory at all?
A6: Of course, heavier persons are not necessarily unhealthy and there are many unhealthy thin people. Think about smoking, alcohol, etc.. For all these risk groups, special attention is important. It is important that in every person, any size whatsoever, there is something beautiful and does not need to be distracted by the image that the media (often) displays. Self-confidence is one of the best things someone can have.
Q7: Where can people find out more about your work?
Q8: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A8: Almost all of my work consists of original paintings and are constructed with high quality acrylic paints and mediums on heavy linen. There are a few screen prints for sale. This makes my paintings quite scarce and is each painting unique. Three weeks ago I opened my own gallery with new studio space! To celebrate this new beginning I created a number of works that acknowledge Breast Cancer Awareness month, my Pink Ribbon Collection! These will be auctioned off through my website.
Thank you so much Susan. Your work is important and adds some much needed joy to the world! I look forward to visiting your new gallery this summer!
I hope you enjoyed my “chat” with Susan Ruiter. I find her paintings absolutely delightful, what do you think? In the upcoming weeks I will be sharing the works of several other Dutch artists and two activists from the UK!
If you know of anyone you would like to let us know about please share!!!
Til next time,
***OTHER NEWS!!! ON OCTOBER 25TH IN OAKLAND CALIFORNIA*** PLEASE JOIN US FOR THIS ONE DAY EVENT:
NEW TOOLS OLD OPPRESSION
I will be presenting along with: Sonya Renee Taylor, Performance Poet
- Keynote on Weight Stigma by Dr. Deb Burgard
- Diverse Experiences of Weight Stigma: A Panel moderated by Jessica Wilson
- Expressive Arts Activities led by Dr. Deah Schwartz
- Embodiment Explorations facilitated by Fall Ferguson
- A Fat Flash Mob Experience with Juicy D. Light
Location: James C. Irvine Foundation Conference Center, 353 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland, CA 94612 *Registration deadline: Monday, Oct. 20, 2014*