Judith Shaw: Body of Work: The Art of Eating Disorder Recovery Header.

Project Description

The pieces in this series, "Body of Work," were

conceived and created during my recovery from anorexia.  A visual representation of my illness first took shape while in residential treatment in 2006.  Upon entering, each patient was asked to produce a written time-line of her life, highlighting significant dates and events that may have predisposed her to an eating disorder.  I resisted what seemed to me a pedantic assignment.  While I never sought help for my eating disorder before, I felt well beyond a clichéd approach to the profound work that I knew lay ahead.


In the early stages, I had no idea what to expect in treatment.  Nor could I ever have imagined needing it.  I had many doubts and questions.  What did recovery entail?  What would happen to me?  How big was I going to get?  Eating what?  Who were these people?  I didn’t know anyone.  They didn’t know me.  Did anyone know me?  Who was I besides my eating disorder?  There was too much pain, fear and loneliness.  I became too weak and too tired to contain it any longer.  My seams were bursting.  Edges were crumbling.  What might be exposed - to others and myself?


As treatment progressed and other patients presented their time-lines in therapy groups, I still had yet to do one.  Spontaneously, an idea came to me for how to track the development of my eating disorder.  I envisioned it was about what I looked like and what lay beneath the surface.  It took the form of a life-size paper tracing of my body.  Over time, the tracing evolved viscerally into a stand-up piece called Running on Empty.  It did  not contain dates and events, yet it revealed how anorexia had become embedded in every cell and every system of my body, dictating every action, every feeling and every thought.  My eating disorder and I were wholly fused.

Running on Empty.

Well into recovery, a therapist asked if I were to do another image of myself what it might look like then.  I knew it would be bigger and fuller.  More dimensional and with more substance.  My body had bigger dimensions and so did my life.  Everything about me was fuller.  I always felt boxy in my body and with 30 extra pounds even more so.  I didn’t like feeling and looking like an even bigger box.  This metaphor eventually became another medium for my art.  After moving through residential and outpatient treatment, I began working with boxes as a way to depict aspects of my illness and recovery.  The box offered a rich terrain for reflection.  Looking inside a box, I recalled emotions, relationships, stages and events from my life.  Thoughts and feelings that played out within my family of origin and later in my family through marriage.


While I had some awareness of the core issues underlying my anorexia, they repeatedly resurfaced throughout my therapeutic work.  At times the therapy would drive the art and I would leave a session with a vision for a new piece.  Other times, the art would inform the therapy and the creative process would result in greater personal insight.  When an issue was central to my therapeutic work, the same issue emerged in a sculpture.


The pieces became a valuable communication tool, providing a clearer understanding of my feelings and perceptions.  More precise than words, the sculptures have become a way to record my progress and keep me engaged in recovery.  I continue to be drawn to boxes and everyday containers.  I am lured by their limitless form and substance.  Each one an abundant vessel much like my body.

 © 2013 Judith Shaw

designed by Debra of cupcake in Saint Louis