As a child I saw my body as a vehicle; a soft, magical machine that allowed me to run, climb, build, and chase. I look back on photos of myself and see myself as a marvellous little being who clearly knew her worth and thought of herself as beautiful. I don't remember when I started to look at my body and see it as something that needed improvement. I don't remember when I started having a negative body image.
I sensed a change when I started going to school.
I have a distinct memory of being in the schoolyard, sitting in a circle with a group of my friends and comparing underwear. We would spend a few minutes listing the pros and cons of each other's choice of undergarment, and then pick a winner. Whoever had a little ribbon on the front of the underwear usually won the competition, which unfortunately was never me. Though this memory is quite endearing and a fun anecdote I like to tell, I also think this was a defining moment where I began comparing myself to other girls.
This comparison, of course, became more serious in my teenage years. In my first year of high school I began attending an international school. My self-consciousness hindered me from making any good friends for the first few months, but once I had made friends I would stand around and think to myself 'Why am I always the fat friend?' This belief seriously stunted my ability to fully give myself to my relationships, especially romantically. I was always comparing myself to other women. I couldn't handle the idea of having a boy touch or kiss me for the fear that he would think I was fat. To escape this circle of self-loathing I turned to art.
Art was always an escape mechanism for me.
As a teenager struggling with body image issues, I was always drawing what I thought was the IDEAL body. I would draw beautiful, thin girls with flowing hair and tight clothes. These fictional girls had a perfect boyfriend and were strong and successful and beautiful. They were everything I wanted to be. These drawings, though I enjoyed creating them, made me feel insignificant and ugly. They portrayed the ideal, and they portrayed everything I wasn't.
I think things started to change when I left the bubble of high school and started studying art at university. Not only was I able to explore art in ways I had never tried before, I was also able to explore my friendships, relationships and my body. For the first two years of my Fine Arts degree I explored abstraction, video art, and portraiture, but finally as I began my last year of my course I began drawing bodies again.
But this time was different.
Instead of drawing the 'IDEAL' body I was drawing REAL bodies. I was drawing bodies like my own... with body hair, rolls and bumps. I was drawing bodies that I could relate to. I was drawing bodies with imperfections, bodies with pain and despair as well as happiness and success.
I was drawing the body I see naked in the mirror every morning.
I drew these bodies obsessively. It was like I had to prove to myself: "THIS BODY IS BEAUTIFUL." Slowly but surely, these simple drawings of happy naked girls began to help me with my body image. ALL bodies can achieve great things. ALL bodies hold a mind that is capable of love and compassion and thought.
My drawings recently started to become popular on social media, as they resonated with a lot of other women who struggle with body image. This surge of popularity has also helped me realise that my work is not only important to my own struggle, but is important to others as well. It is an honour to have the opportunity to inspire women (and men and everything in between) to love, accept and enjoy their bodies!
I still struggle with body image, and still have moments of self-doubt and self-loathing. But I am confident that pushing towards self-love and body positivity is worth the time and effort.
I am learning to love my body, one drawing at a time.
With love, Frances
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today. Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email firstname.lastname@example.org with a summary of who you are and what you'd like to blog about