I never considered myself an artist, yet I have always been a visual, intuitive thinker. Recently, my vivid, pictorial thoughts and feelings led to a passion for creating sculpture. It began when I finally admitted at age 53 that I was severely anorexic. Sculpture became a way to express the emotional and mental bondage of my illness. I had lived with anorexia for fifteen years and could no longer keep it up. My body and life were disintegrating. When I realized that I could not stop the destructive habits on my own, I sought help at a treatment center for eating disorders. As I progressed through the program, my artistry began to surface and inform. My artistic voice revealed itself. I am discovering how to use this voice to forge a new relationship with my body and reclaim my life.
Although I now see that I was predisposed to an eating disorder from a young age, it did not show up actively until my late thirties. It started as a desire to eat healthily and get in shape after having children. Gradually, my 'healthy' diet and exercise became more entrenched and obsessive. I could not go a day without exercise. Food became merely the fuel needed to maintain the excessive workouts. They increased in length and intensity, while I aimed to get by on less and less food. The spiral continued for years. I restricted what I ate, what I felt and how I lived. Over time, my body showed signs of starvation, but I chose to ignore them. As my body grew slimmer, trimmer and harder through diet and exercise, I reveled in the physical changes taking place. Everyone marveled at my discipline and willpower and I thrived on their admiration.
Judith with Wayne Wassing of R.I.S.D. 2013.
The steady weight loss provided a sense of accomplishment. It attracted attention and provided a feeling of strength and power. All visible on the outside, these physical changes masked ‘something’ that I was unaware existed on the inside. Restricting food and trying to make myself invisible was a way to numb myself. It helped avoid feeling the pain and fear of loneliness and concealed a deep-rooted sense of worthlessness. What was more damaging than the outward effects of starvation, were the decay of my starved spirit, mind and personality.
I was clueless about the complexity of eating disorders and had no idea what recovery entailed. Resistant at first, I eventually embraced the recovery course with the same tenacity once devoted to getting thin. Facing the obstacles of recovery head-on was much easier than battling the daily horrors of anorexia.
Sculpture has become a potent way to distill these challenges. It has been powerfully healing. My first piece was a life-size paper cut out of myself. Like a paper doll with disposable outfits, there was someone hiding behind the cardboard front. The process of making each piece has helped me discover who that person is and grow to like her.