It is difficult to write about something that is so raw within me, to form it all into coherent sentences even though I think about these things all the time. Nothing is linear in my mind but more like a maze; the cloud of my existence which only I see. I sometimes wonder if I am the only one keeping such an entity to myself. Then I see the stupidity and irrelevance of such a question. Of course I am not. But I nevertheless think that this cloud, this entity that I keep to myself as much out of necessity as out of my incapability to communicate separates me from other people.
I refuse to be photographed. Only a few selected family members and friends have been allowed to take a picture of me which I rarely want to see myself. When asked why, and I often do, I give them no other reply than simply ‘I just don’t like it’. From a very early age when I looked at photographs of myself I remember thinking that I looked like a little pig. I was always embarrassed when the school photographs came back. My father sometimes made fun of me. It cannot only be my perception and the odd humour of my father’s because people often ask me when they have enquired why I don’t want to be photographed and I have given them my answer that ‘is it because of the way it looks?’
But a while ago I started taking nude photographs of myself on black and white film. Should I still be in Art School I would get into the firing line for doing something so personal and also ambiguous. I still fear it, the firing line, although I graduated years ago. They abhorred self-expression and were not shy to call it a petit bourgeois past time, ‘bourgeois’ being the highest form of insult in those circles. I hear those comments and questions, all that was said in between the lines and it makes me choke. The knot tightens in my stomach. But when I open my eyes there is no one there ready to shoot down the premise of my work, only the sound of bullets echoing in my head.
I went on a diet when I was 12 years old, after a purchase of a shirt that did not look the same on me as it did in an ad that had compelled me to buy it. Looking at the mirror with the shirt on I thought I looked shapeless and not like a woman. My initial target was to lose 3 kilos which I did without any extreme measures but I spiralled to into anorexia because of a fear that I would gain those kilos back. What followed was a standard story of a girl with an eating disorder.
My parents did not notice but my school friends and the youth leaders of my father’s church did as well as a few visitors. They tried to talk to me but I denied everything. I was impossible. I got defensive and was simply awful to them sometimes. I knew I was anorexic, I knew that what I was doing was harmful but the increasing symptoms of my eating disorder only gave me satisfaction.
Then at one night at youth group meeting I clearly felt that if I continued like this I would end up in a bad way. I was angry. I didn’t want to give up, I didn’t want to gain weight but I somehow still made the choice to give in. I walked up to the youth leaders and told them (what they already knew) that I have anorexia and that I needed help. They came with me to tell my father. My father’s response to me was ‘Who told you that you have anorexia?’ ‘No, this is serious.’ said one of the youth leaders to him.
My father didn’t do anything after this confession. It was my school friend who took me to see the school nurse who referred me to an eating disorder clinic. My father was present in the first meeting with the overseeing doctor after which I began to see the clinic nurse once a week. Getting to the appointment was quite a hassle. It was at 3pm on Tuesdays. I had to leave school earlier, take the bus home from where my father would have come to pick me up to take me to the clinic. He would then pick me up from there after an hour or so and drive me home. After a couple of months my parents were invited to a family therapy session with me. There my father said that he is going to discontinue my therapy. When questioned by the doctor he said that it disrupts his work day too much to have to drive me there and back in the middle of the day and that they, my mother and my father, are capable of treating my illness at home. I remember my mother saying a few words of alarm to my father about this decision (it seemed to have been a surprise to her) and the doctor said that she is very disappointed in him but he just snorted.
A few of years after this a couple guys of the youth group made a video about the church as their school project and filmed me among other people. They showed the video in the church service. The film did not show me in a favourable light and the guys had chosen to highlight this. I was zoomed on and there was a lot of footage of me. I cannot remember any other time when I would have been so ashamed of myself. The guys knew that they were making fun of me and possibly also that I did not share their joke because they came to me afterwards and said ‘Oh come on Carita, don’t get upset.’
I don’t like looking back at my teenage years. I suffered from suffocating self-disgust and yo-yo dieting. My whole life revolved around trying to lose weight. I did not live but quite consciously saved living for that day when I would ‘be beautiful’ as I wrote in my diary then. I lived in a daydream world which was fuelled women’s magazines. I compared myself to those models and actresses, greedily wished that I was like them but obviously never attained those perfect body measurements, that feeling of blissful well-being that I so craved. My first year in London was still marked by this struggle until nothing short of a miracle cured me from the constant and compulsive calculation of calories in my mind. From that point on I started to recover which was, again, nothing short of a miracle too.
However after looking at some photographs of myself with pangs of embarrassment one time I made a decision that I would stay out of the frame. I would not be photographed. In those images I had looked shapeless: bony, meaty and fleshy. I smiled in some of them which revealed my wonky teeth and ungraceful grin. I saw that my cheeks were abnormally wide and my eyes were small; my head and face overall looked very strange and awkward. The reason why it shook me so much was that I had felt quite confident that morning when the photo was taken. I had liked my outfit. I thought that I had looked nice and I had had a good day. Then the truth was told in those photographs. I have tried talking sense to myself – that I don’t look so hideous that I should have to hide- and made a couple of conscious efforts since to change the way I behave when someone pulls out a camera. But I just couldn’t and eventually I gave up.
Then one day at the coffee shop they played a song by John Mayer in which he sings ‘Your body is a wonderland where I lose my hands’. Hearing that song has always made me feel wistful and sore. Luckily no one tends to notice all the punches I endure in my inner world. This time when I heard it I thought that my body is not a wonderland but a battleground. That was the start. I began to mull things over in my head. I made three quick triptychs of the topic and posted them on Instagram but later removed them. I didn’t like the tone of my voice in what I had written and I didn’t like the photographs. But the phrase ‘my body is a battleground’ stayed with me and I continued taking photographs a couple of month later.
Why those poses and props, why in black and white? I don’t know and I don’t wish to analyse too much. Maybe I am taking these photographs to prove something. I wish I could say that I am doing this to confront and overcome this issue but it would not be true. I am far too sore.
Somewhere deep inside I remember. When I refuse to be photographed I refuse to be laughed at and humiliated again, even though there might be no one there laughing. Time is an overrated remedy. It is not only my body that is a battleground, it is also my mind.