Labours of Love

Selfies of the Soul by Bethany Perry

Bethany Perry brings a modern perspective to the female nude with her personal renditions of the physical form. 

Her body impressions are inspired from her days as an exotic dancer and are presented to encourage all of us to de-layer and release beliefs and traumas that suppress our true nature.

“Do you love yourself?”

I alway found this question to be cringey and — maybe because it made me question how I felt about myself — it often inspired a cloud of guilt. Because the honest answer would have been no. I didn’t love myself. I felt okay with myself. But love. Wasn’t that a little egocentric?

Maybe it was the fact the word love was too far left on the LOVE<—–>HATE spectrum for me. Perhaps if I was asked, “Do you like yourself?”‘Or, “Do you accept yourself,” that question would have felt softer and easier to respond to.

Regardless, for a long time the answer was a straight up “NO”. No, I didn’t love myself and I most certainly did not like my body. This dislike of my exterior slowly worsened throughout my teens.  I also let dyslexia and lack of academic smarts move me to the ‘well you are good at art so that’s something’ corner, which in hindsight, I see was a very dampening and dismissive way to feel about myself. I was naturally a pretty confident kid, but somehow that got tampered with during my school years, which proved to be pretty brutal and damaging to my self esteem. Learning never came easy and unfortunately my dyslexia failed to be diagnosed until I was 21.

My ability to feel happy and confident was controlled entirely by my perception of how I looked. A bad face day, or a bad hair day, and my entire world would feel like it was falling apart. Like I was worthless. Pressures and stresses from school would exacerbate these feelings further and my only release from all of this pressure was making myself vomit.

From a young age I learned that how you look is important. This turned into a sturdy belief ,and  as a consequence, my mood became ruled by my appearance. I would punish myself if my looks failed to rank with the girls and women in the magazines. My confidence was my exterior, my hair, my skin,my facial features, my weight, and my ability to turn heads. The attention and praise for my appearance only fed and affirmed my belief that how I looked mattered, it mattered more than anything. 

Bombardment of ‘size nothing’ supermodels and head to toe perfect celebs set the trend and did nothing but reinforce my belief that this is what beauty is, this is what happiness is, this is what popularity looks like. 

Fast forward twenty years and not much has changed. Yes, there is more awareness and support when it comes to diversity, body shape and learning disorders which was practically non existent when I was at school, but in some ways we could argue that aesthetically there’s even more pressure on the younger generation, thanks to the birth of social media and those all so popular filters. Retouching imagery is more sophisticated and It is no lie that most of the ‘beautiful’ humans we see on instagram come with a filter which changes their entire face shape and skin texture.

The battle we face navigating this modern world is that it has manufactured its own idea of ‘beauty’ and intelligence, particularly in the Western society arena. If you don’t match these modern, unrealistic, unobtainable ideas of beauty, feelings of inadequacy can creep in and the negative mind kick downs can start. As a result these feelings of inadequacy can turn into unhealthy beliefs about ourselves, which do nothing but damper and deflate our self confidence. In short, we start to move away from our authentic nature, in turn this can cause unhappiness. 

I spontaneously moved to London when I was 23, I always had such a strong desire to get out of the small stagnant town I grew up in. I was fresh out of an illustration HND and mistakenly agreed to hand paint someone’s beloved dog in oil. Before I knew it, I had a list as long as my parents’ front lawn of locals wanting their pets studied and painted. After a few months of relentless pooch painting I started to fade and loath it. I needed to get out, I needed to move out, I needed to get up to London. 

The big city was everything I hoped it would be, exciting, diverse and rife with opportunity. I quickly got on the social scene and one summer’s evening started chatting to a girl band that was touring around the UK. After a few cocktails and bonding I responded with a confident “that’s what I am!’ when the lead vocalist mentioned they needed a hair and makeup artist to tour with them. “Fuck” I thougt what the hell have I just said?!

The following morning the band manager called and booked me as hair and makeup artist on their music video that same week. I remember getting off the phone and just staring at myself in the mirror across from me in disbelief. “It’s art but 3D, It’s just a 3D canvas, how hard can it be?” I thought.

I scrambled every bit of makeup and hair styling item I owned, rushed to boots and fluffed up my kit with additional products. The shoot day arrived and It was amazing, the girls were happy and the manager continued to rebook me. 

This was my new venture and I wanted and needed to get my head around this industry so I went on to study at GREASEPAINT, a well respected hair and makeup school in London. I also bagged a job at Bobbi Brown makeup counter in Harrods, to pay my rent and gain more experience.

I networked, curated shoots with photographers and stylists and worked my way up to a point where I was signed by Carol Hayes — a highly respected agent — and specialized in fashion/beauty editorial. It got to work on big campaigns with celebrities, traveled to extotic locations, mixed with and met inspiring people and had endless invites to parties and PR events, oh and the free makeup…there was so much free makeup!

 The industry was exciting and I got to collaborate with incredible teams, designers and industry professionals. But after a few years the novelty and the excitement started to fade.  The industry was fanning the flames of a very external part of me, It was consistently reinforcing the Idea that how on the outside is what matters most.

 My physical and mental health took a sharp nosedive towards the end of my twenties. My orthorexia was at an all time high, my bulimia was still a thing and my stress had turned chronic, meaning my system was in a constant state of unrest, and persistent eczema and acne on my face had been getting progressively worse.

I was engulfed in an industry that strives for perfection and if it doesn’t reach it, it gets retouched until it does. I didn’t have the tools to manage my mental health and ‘de-layer’ built up traumas and frustrations.  I had ignored my body’s warning signals for years and everything had reached boiling point.

Three weeks before my 30th birthday I broke down to the point of being nonfunctional, and was forced to leave London and move back to live with my parents. 

Being at home and being ‘mothered’ again at the ripe old age of 30 felt disgraceful. I battled with feelings of disappointment and failure for abandoning my position in an industry I had worked so hard to climb. 

Country air and long walks proved to be the best rehab and thank God I have understanding, loving parents who cared for me whilst I gained my strength and recovered. Unknown to me this ‘wall’ hitting’ moment in my life was the smack around the face I needed. It forced me to finally start tuning in and listening to gut.

I had to revisit who I was. Rediscover the parts of myself I had forgotten about. Rekindle the aspects of me that I had smothered. I had to learn how to be me again. How to be happy. How to laugh. How to play.  From a young age you would often fine me covered in paint and chocolate, and I danced.  I loved to dance. I always danced. I danced everywhere! Fuelled by music, dance would put me in my happy place, as would painting and creating beautiful messes. 

Music ignited something in me that nothing else could. It made me feel alive and free. In truth, I was a closet stripper for years, but it was something I suppressed and laughed off when confronted about. It was only when I hit this low point, a very close friend dragged me to a club to audition. It was purely because I felt at a point of a “‘fuck it, it cant get any worse, I may as well try something”’ mindset.. It was a live/working audition and the club was full when we arrived around 10pm. My friend who initially wanted to audition quickly hid in a shadowy end of the bar, she sharply hand gestured me towards the “house mum” who sharply explained the rules of the audition.

The center stage was huge. The runaway divided the club and pooled into a large round dance floor with a pole in the end. The entire space was designed around this stage., It was a striking spot- lit centerpiece. 

I eagerly selected my three tracks and went backstage to change into a black slinky long dress. Girls of all shapes and sizes decorated the dressing room which was lined wall to wall with mirrors and lockers. Perfume laced the air, pulsed through the walls. My ‘stage name’, Rosie, echoed throughout the speakers, it was my turn to dance.  I walked through the  low lit corridor to the stage entrance, the entire venue filled with music, my music. I knew from that very moment I had found my therapy.

The time I devoted to dancing in Spearmint Rhinos liberated me, it put my body in a state of calm and over time, the chronic stress and inflammation I lived with on a daily basis dissipated. The day I decided to stop caring about what other people thought of me, was the day I started my personal journey to freedom. The dancing removed the stress and negative mind chat, it took my mind and body to a place where I could find peace and stillness. Ultimately it put me in an environment where I could heal, recuperate and align with my true self. 

For six years I used that environment as my place of therapy. The dance and movement at first was passionate, highly expressive, and energetic. Over time the movement became slower, softer, far less erratic. It was when I reached this calmer, softer state I knew it was time to leave. The club had served its purpose, It had eradicated all the trauma, all the pain, all congestested untruths, all the irritations, it was time to leave.

The first body impressions I did were like a personal memoir to that place; playful, colourful, and human. I was so grateful for that time in the club.  I wanted to mark the revelation and recognise how much I had managed to move through , all the dark times, all the times of feeling so lost and unhappy. I would often wonder what the dance floor would look like if my body impressions were highlighted and visible. It was from that point of curiosity the impressions began.

Body print after body print, I never tired of the process and their raw, unapologetic nature. Drawn to Black and gold paints, I was channeling all the strength, mystery, extravagance and empowerment I felt when I was performing in the club.. 

Body impressions are mediums of reflection. Have you ever seen your own body squished onto paper? It’s a way of looking at the body from a completely new refreshing angle, the performance side of it is playful and all consuming. The process behind the artwork is therapeutic and meditative. It pulls you into the present, it calms mind chatter, it feeds your soul.  

I truly believe that any negative emotion we feel is a disharmony with our true nature. It attacks our life energy, our chi or some might say our soul. The body impressions and the dance helped me connect with my body in a very nurturing and nourishing way. I stopped that hate talk and self judgment, it all started to melt away. This new narrative slowly rewired and overpowered the negative chatter which allowed me to find peace and stillness.

I want my own story to come with a strong message of support and comfort to others who are experiencing disconnection and confusion. I had so much shame around the idea of following my instincts, I blocked them out for years. I know what it feels like to feel disconnected and powerless in your own body. The point is to restore a strong sense of self and overpower that negative narrative the mind loves to get stuck in. There is an internal voice talking to you, wanting to guide you, the challenge is taking that leap of faith and allowing yourself to do whatever that is, and to do it fearlessly, without shame or guilt.

It’s been a blessing to extend the body impressions to others, to work with other women creating impressions with them and getting them in that self reflective zone. It’s something I want to continue to do because it’s very self loving and creates strong awareness. It’s a gift to the soul, a selfie of the soul and that’s the real YOU.

We are all work in progress, and that work is never ending because when one thing is released and restored, the next challenge will rear its head, that’s just the way life is. If we can embrace life with a strong sense of self  and a clearer, healthier, more balanced mindset, we are able to continue to move forward without feeling so stuck.

So go and embrace who you are, be afraid and scared. Get out of your comfort zone and screw what others might think. This is your life and your happiness, living a life full of ideas and beliefs that contradict and suppress your inner voice will only cause disconnection.  

Follow your fun, listen to that internal pull, you will be amazed at how much your life will change for the better once you start following and listening. Do what you need to do to calm and halt that monkey mind, find your thing, dance naked, do yoga, run, swim, create art, experiment until you align with something that gets you in a state of calm, because that’s when the magic starts to happen. 

That when you get on that path to freedom.
Stay connected and see more selfies of the soul via my instagram and website

@Bethanyperryart

www.bethanyperryart.com

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