How to Be Gentle with Your Body and Your Art

January 15th, 2010

This piece is coming along verrrry slowly, but it's been an interesting process using body shadows as the starting point for a piece of art. One thing I'm loving is the little heart that showed up in the bird's body. And within the piece, in the soaring bird, the blue hand and the layers below, I think there's a message from my body. What is this message exactly? I'm not sure yet, but I feel like it has something to do with gentleness.

The inner drill sergeant

I have an inner drill sergeant that barks orders in my ears about everything from my body to my artwork. Thankfully, it's so much quieter than it used to be.

In my early 20's, I became obsessed with my body. Like many in their first years in college, with the larger than normal consumption of pizza and mac & cheese, I gained a few pounds. And along with the pressures of being in school and trying to figure out what my future held, I became unhealthily obsessed with exercise and food and fat. Oh, it was not a fun time. I worked out 6 days a week, weighed my food, was crazy restrictive, and very cranky. I dreamed about the foods I longed to eat, but I did not eat them.. After a couple years of this madness, I was thin, yes, (people thought I was ill), but I was also miserable. And worse, I still felt "fat."

It's so easy to get sucked into the image of what women look like in the movies and television and think you're supposed to look like that. So much misery stems from trying to be some unattainable image. And then if you add in a strict drill sergeant voice, ouch.

Eventually, an inner rebellion began to build and warred against my inner sergeant and won. It was bound to happen eventually, but eating endless forbidden foods was not making me happy either. I had to find a balance again, I had to re-learn how to listen to my body, what it needed, and trust that it knew what was best. And that was hard.

A Gentle Approach

Over time, I've developed a relationship that is infinitely kinder and works a million times better for me. What does gentle look like? For me, it's about adding movement to my day because it makes me feel good (instead of out of fear of what will happen if I don't) and about allowing myself to eat what I want, while also noticing when I'm full and stopping. It's about adding self-care and noticing what my body is craving.

Have I banished that inner drill sergeant and healed my relationship with my body completely? No. It's a path I'm on. It's a path so many people are on. Sometimes, I still struggle with feeling like if I'm not beating myself up or guilting myself into action, I won't do anything at all. Just last spring, I signed up for a bootcamp exercise class. (What was I thinking?) And after the trial class, I quit. I remembered that route doesn't work for me. For me, the drill sergeant approach always leads to an eventual rebellion and that's a cycle I don't want to be caught up in anymore.

The Creativity Police

And what does this all have to do with creativity? Well, you know that drill sergeant? She doesn't just have things to say about our bodies. She also has input about the rest of our lives, including our art. With art, she might say things like, "That's not good enough! Why haven't you done more? You're lazy! Get to work and make good art, on the double!" Ouchie!

What's your art sergeant yelling in your ear?

Gentle Creativity

As I've learned to be more gentle with my approach to my body, I have also learned to be gentler with my approach to my art and creativity. And in both cases, I've found the gentle approach to be far more loving and sustainable. Part of the gentle outlook is what led me to start Creative Every Day. I loved the challenge of creating and posting daily for Art Every Day Month in November, but it wasn't something I could keep up for every day of the year. So I found a way to make creativity a part of my everyday life and it's been such a joyful (guilt-free) process!

Regular risk-taking and bravery are great for stretching yourself and growth. There's room for that kind of leaping too! But for day-to-day life, having space to be gentle, permission to do things smaller, and making things doable, works beautifully for me. I think it's so much easier to build upon our successes. It makes for a lasting relationship, one I can maintain without falling into a strict regimen or a rebellious outburst.

So how can you take a more gentle approach to your art, your body and life in general?

  • Give yourself permission to do it imperfectly
  • Check in with yourself, notice what you your spirit is craving.
  • Have a dialogue with your inner drill sergeant (aka your inner critic)
  • Take your to-do list down a notch and simplify what you plan to do. Make it doable.
  • Celebrate your accomplishments. Make an already done list!
  • List the things you're grateful for.
  • Treat yourself.
  • Notice what delights you and add more of those experiences to your life.
  • Play with being gentle as an experiment, see what happens.

The list goes on. What would you add to it?

Stay tuned for more discussion about the body. In a couple days, I'll have an interview posted with the super smart Blisscovery expert, Briana Aldrich!

25 Responses

“We tend to think being hard on ourselves will make us strong. But it is cherishing ourselves that gives us strength.”
- Julia Cameron

Leah, it always blows me away at how well you describe the thoughts, feelings and journey that so many of us are on. I love that ! I too am on the path of banishing the “drill sargeant” or “cruel judge” as I call that voice, and learning to work with that sweet voice of nurturing and cherishing myself instead. It is a challenge within and a challenge outside too, in this world that has been set up so backwardly ! Let’s keep talking about it, celebrating it, and expressing it all through our art. We are kind of “love yourself” pioneers if you think about it.
Love this post !
I hope you have a cozy, gentle creative weekend !

Needed this today…overwhelming myself…will look towards gentleness…
Thanks, Leah!

Great post….I was just thinking this morning that even though I have been exercising less frequently and letting myself have treats more often, I have actually lost a few pounds this last month. I think maybe I had been driving myself too hard, and my body had been rebelling. Now that I’ve relaxed my health “regime” my body has been happier. I like this gentle path, for sure.

Hi Leah, have you been reading my mind??!! This post is spot-on for me, thank you for writing it. Have a wonderful weekend.

I went through a phase like that too, being ultra-strict and mean about my body. This was about 8 years ago. My 12 year old and 19 year old remember it well.
Now when I exercise, or bring up eating more healthily, my older kid has said, “Don’t turn into that skinny bitch that used to live here.”
and my younger kid has said “Don’t turn into the Nightmare Bridget”.
If you can’t love yourself for your own benefit, it sure makes a difference to the quality of life of your loved ones!

Thanks so much, gals. It feels good to know that this is resonating with others too.

Kim, I adore that Cameron quote. Go, go “love yourself” pioneers! :-)

Susan, ((big hugs!))

Kirstin, so glad it hit your heart!

Michelle, that’s been my experience too. Wild, isn’t it?

Bridget, your kids are cracking me up! So true about how it impacts your loved ones too!

Hallelujah, Leah.

I am so with you on this. My issues with my body were milder and perhaps sooner realized than yours, but that doesn’t mean i didn’t struggle with them. And I am so upset with the self hate I see in women and girls today around body issues, self esteem, power and sexuality.

And I’m with you on the kindness we need to give ourselves, in regards to our bodies, in regards to our art, in regards to being a mother, because it manifests in that arena, too.

As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve learned that there is NO way to reach peace but to be kind to ourselves.

“Give yourself the freedom to do it imperfectly” those are the wise words I need to hear today as I prepare for a sketching and painting day.

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I just love this post and the thoughts behind it. I am so hard on myself and my projects. My mind is always too big for my body and it thinks that I can do anything and everything.

It’s really refreshing being reminded to be gentle to yourself.


I love this post. Thank you so much, Leah. I’ve been struggling with these same things lately and I’ve realized that I actually have the choice to be Good Enough. I can simply decide to be. That’s what I’m working on. That, and the gentleness, and finding more thing in my life that delight me. I love that word, delight. It’s a good one. :) Thanks for this!

Drill sargeant is a good description of how hard creative types can be on themselves! It’s like we know we have to be our own driving force because there is no “boss” pushing us and it does overflow into other areas of our life too. You describe many of us, I’m sure!

I wish that were my problem at the moment – What if our “inner drill sargent” has gone AWOL? What if we need a bit of a push?

Thanks, guys!

Rowena, I so agree, there’s no way to find peace but to be kind to ourselves. beautifully said.

Danielle, Ha! I like the idea of the sergeant going AWOL.

I find when I need a push, I’ll join a class or a challenge, something with some kind of accountability structure set up, which usually gives me an extra push. (I make sure to seek out something kinder than my drill sergeant, which is why I need to avoid classes that are anything like a boot camp.) Alternatively, you could try working with a coach or a ask a friend or small group of friends to help hold you accountable for the things you want to accomplish and check in with them once a week. Hope that helps!

Hi Leah, I’ve gone through lots of the same things. I think it’s great to have a conversation with the inner critic and sometimes we just need to tell it to shut up!

I told the trainer at my gym “If I want to do boot camp I will join the army.” Absolutely nothing about it sounds good to me. Like you, I’ve decided on a softer approach. I am not calling it a “workout” anymore. I am just moving. And you know what? I am actually enjoying it! Also, I read an article recently that stated you need a little meat on your thighs because it helps flush toxins. It seems people who have thighs less than 24″ have more health risks. So I realized I am closer to a better goal for myself than I thought. I’ve been holding myself to a an “ideal” that is not ideal! Who knew?

Hi Leah, Wonderful posting and fascinating image. Why does it have to be so painful coming to terms with our bodies? Finding the gentler path, perhaps that comes with experience and wisdom? Thanks for sharing your path!

Great post…I can relate to so much you have written and I’m always trying to deal with the fact that I can’t do it all. I have these dreams and aspirations and in my mind it’s all this stuff I have to do – seemingly straightforward – but of course it’s not so easy to actually do everything that comes to mind! I have found that talking to someone else, rather than yourself really helps. And outsider’s perspective actually helps to shed light on the situation, because they aren’t being overly critical…sort of objective!


This is so honest and so familiar. Thank you for sharing all of this with us and letting us all know that we are not alone in our struggle to make peace with our bodies and our creative spirits. I have cycled through the whole body thing over and over again and have yet to get it right–lost 75 pounds twice and regained it, and now trying again. I hear the inner art critic everyday saying “are you kidding me, this is art?!” “you have nothing interesting to say with your art, you should give up.” Everyday I have to silence that voice. Your blog and challenges gives me the strength to do that. By taking leaps of faith on a regular basis, I exercise that confidence muscle. As I go through these challenges, I end up asking myself “what am I doing, what do I like, what am I drawn to as an artist?” I don’t have any answers yet, but the journey is very important. And is great to have the hands of all the artists in this community holding mine as I proceed forward. Thank you so much Leah….By the way, I love the way this piece is coming out. It is so intriguing to see the hidden images. I see the hand of the body reaching for the bird, seeking to take flight and soar.

this post was spot-on! thank you for taking the time to write this. either i’m totally lost in my own dream world with no cares or worries (which is great fun, but does not get me to the finish line), or i am in the clutches of my internal ball buster (which beats me up mercilessly over what i have or have not accomplished). on a good day i can switch the lever back and forth easily, but i’m usually in one pole or the other, and finding the gentle balance is tricky indeed.

all i know is i love the colors, movement, and feeling in this painting…and it must be beautiful inside.

agree with you so much…
Some days I must keep reminding myself to enjoy the process while I’m in it because that is a big reason why I make art. I enjoy making beautiful things, but I get so much more just from doing it. When the inner critic tries to take over, the benefits get pinched.

I like your list it’s so true.I took a class last fall,one of those enrichment classes at the college.Our instructer
kept telling us,what matters is that yotime,but like you said my body tells me other things like,your not a real artist,no body will like it.My biggest challenge is my family thinks I’m a little dingy some times.My husband peeked in to see what I was doing to night in myart room,He said to me Are you making legs I said yes,he just smilled and I knew he was think those are “Leggs” u are(-creating-

not what it looks like.I try to tell myself that all the

I like your list it’s so true.I took a class last fall,one of those enrichment classes at the college.Our instructer
kept telling us,what matters is that your creating,not what it looks like.I try to tell myself that all the time.But like you said my body tells me other things like,your not a real artist,no body will like it.My biggest challenge is my family thinks I’m a little dingy some times.My husband peeked in to see what I was doing to night in my art room,He said to me Are you making legs I said yes,he just smiled and I knew he was thinking “those leggs are funny looking”

Wow, thanks so much for this post, your honesty and openness. It is also amazing to see so many people comment that they feel the same way. I too tend to push forward in many areas of my life all at once and then am left feeling sad, angry and unhappy because I am unable to meet all those goals all the time. I want to grow and learn but, I also love to sit and just be and enjoy the little things in life. My desire to grow and learn ends up bulling my gentler needs for serenity and reflection and living in the moment. It’s hopeful to hear that I can learn to put the bully in it’s place and enjoy a more balanced life.

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