INSIDER'S LOOK: THE BIKINI COLLECTION

ICYMI, I wrote an article about Christianity and nude art, because this is a conversation I’m having more frequently (either, from a place of “how can you be a Christian and draw nude women?” or “how can you draw nude women and be a Christian?” depending on the person with whom I’m conversing). Check it out here.

Now that we’ve laid the foundation, I’m excited to share a little bit more insider information about my work (especially since, as of October 1, 2019, I have two running shows this month, and this series will be on display!).

I’m excited to share some sneak peeks and insider intel into current work. First up is The Bikini Collection.

Samuel Butler once said, “Every man’s work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of oneself.”

And, similarly, Oscar Wilde made the comment: “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”

In this collection, especially, this stands true. My references are usually sculptures, and sometimes editorial imagery, but in this case, my self-portraiture shows up more prevalently than a lot of my previous work. And this one is significant, because my favorite things about her — part two of The Bikini Collection — are the very same things I have fought so hard to love about myself. 

Ladies, women, daughters: I know the struggle of fighting for self-love, especially around body image and acceptance. We have it tough out here, being held to unrealistic standards, being marked by comments from our boyfriends, fathers, strangers (not that they’re even ill-willed, most of the time!).

It doesn’t matter what you look like. Somebody will always have something to say, whether backhanded or outright mean. As a young dancer, I had a ballet teacher criticize my rib cage for being too robust (which, of course, there is absolutely nothing I can do except for break a couple ribs), a boyfriend tell me to stop doing shoulder exercises because he didn't want to date a girl with "boulder shoulders” (I loved my shoulders) a model agent tell me to "not worry" about my muscular thighs because it was something we could “work through” — meaning, no more running, no more lifting, and no more salt. Ouch.

Here’s the thing, though: I have broad shoulders because that's my frame, and I loved them most when they were strong and shapely. I have a rib cage that will always be robust, and ironically, will probably only look bigger the smaller my frame gets in comparison. I have thighs that have leapt across stages in ballet performances, over hurdles in track meets, and thrusted me backwards in a rowboat as a member of the University of Washington crew team in college. 

And don’t even get me started on the height thing. At 5’10” — and with hair that adds an inch or two — comments about my height are daily, sometimes kind, but often, mocking and degrading.

A while back, my friend and I were in the middle of a conversation — discussing body image — and she mentioned, "it's been years that I've been working on being okay in my body. I often wonder if I'm single because men just aren't attracted to me" — and I haven't been able to shake it.

This woman is witty, hilarious, and wildly smart. She is inquisitive, forward-thinking, creative, and one of the most generous people I know. This woman wrote me letters once I arrived in Denver after my move to make sure I felt at home, seen, and loved. This woman is cream of the crop — one that I think most men aren’t worthy of — and I was absolutely struck.

And the part that burdens me is that this is not a unique situation. As single women, especially, we might quickly get caught up in the lie that we’re single because we’re not pretty enough, that our bodies are unfit, and that we’re just never going to be what men want in a woman, physically.

It’s exhausting.

Like loving others, or loving God, loving ourselves is a choice.

And more often than the decision to love, it's a fight  to love. It takes work, it takes commitment, it takes pursuit. It’s almost as exhausting as believing the lie that we are unfit for a relationship because of our physical appearances.

Not only does self-love require that we learn what is beautiful about us, but it requires that we unlearn what our culture has deemed time and time again inadequate. 

It requires that we choose to intentionally love those places in us that others have made fun of, or questioned, or downright hated. It requires speaking life over ourselves — speaking into existence the things that are not as though they are, according to the Bible — which, for me, looks like often mirror talk: “Hey, Soph? You’re beautiful. You were made intentionally — the perfect height, the perfect build, the perfect amount of muscle. I’m sorry for the lies that I’ve agreed with. I’m sorry for perpetuating the narrative that you are not physically enough. You are enough…the perfect amount of enough.”

Sometimes, it looks like shifting my perspective. It’s no secret that we’re all way more critical of ourselves than we are of others. In creating the Bikini Collection, I asked myself," “what’s been a struggle for you to love about yourself?” and then I drew these women with those exact features. In this case, what came up were shoulders and ribs and thighs.

And, in finalizing this piece, I stood back to look at her body, and I loved what I was looking at, shoulders and ribs and thighs and all. In order to get out of my own head, and silence the lies about those places, I had to interpret what was beautiful about me from a new perspective.

Now, here’s the truth: It’s not always this easy. The fight, for me, has been a years-long battle for love and appreciation. But, guess what? Sometimes, it is this easy. Maybe it just takes a shift in perspective.

Here’s my encouragement to you, daughter: give it a try. Maybe your fight will be a little easier when you’re able to identify the lies you’ve agreed with, and reclaim that story. This doesn’t necessarily need to be through art (but maybe!).

Perhaps, for you, it’s an internal conversation. Perhaps it’s an out-loud pep talk in the mirror — a series of self-declarations that align with God’s Word and what He says about you. Maybe it’s a photo series, or some drawings, or maybe the next song you write is an in honor of your body, beautiful and bold and created by the maker of the heavens and the earth.

Cheers to bodies — yours, and mine — broad shoulders and robust rib cages and all of the things about us that are just right, whether or not we yet believe it.

Cheers to the fight, and cheers to the victory. If you haven’t seen it, it’s on its way. I promise.