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Are You a Work of Art? The Secret to a Better Body Image

09/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The first time I saw a painting by the French painter, Seurat, up close and personal, I was strolling through the Chicago Art Museum. The Chicago Art Museum houses one of Seurat's most famous paintings, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884). Seurat's work is an example of the style of painting called Pointillism, which is a juxtaposition of many dots of multicolored paint. The viewer's eyes mix the colors optically instead of them being blended on the canvas for you by the painter. In other words, if you stand very close to it, or focus in on one point, you only see dots of color. If you stand back, the colors blend together brilliantly into a picture.

I have seen many cheap copies and imitations of this painting on napkins, wall hangings and purses. What sticks out most in my mind is A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte's appearance in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. In this classic movie, one of the main characters, Cameron, who is chronically depressed and a bit of a hypochondriac with serious father issues, hones in on one particular figure of a sad little boy in the painting. The camera starts with a distant shot. The entire picture is visible. Then, the camera pans closer and closer to the dots until the little boy disappears into splashes of colors. You can no longer distinguish that it is a boy or a picture of people frolicking without a care on the beach. One might assume that it is a parallel to the way Cameron sees himself, chronically looking at the negative in his life, unable to see the big picture (for example, he has a pretty cool best friend).

It's interesting to watch people at the Chicago Art Museum. People walk up to the painting and then back up, playing this optical illusion on themselves. Sometimes they hone in on the dots and sometimes they take a few steps back to focus on the big picture.

It reminds me very much of the way we look at ourselves. At times, we narrow in on one aspect of who we are and lose sight of the big picture. Let's take body image for example. Many of my clients are so overcome by body loathing and dissatisfaction that the other amazing dimensions of who they are simply fade away even things like exceptional talent, stellar careers and strong relationships. Julie, a 21 year old music major, won a full ride to the college of her choice due to her singing talent and excellent grades. Yet, she was perpetually unhappy about her body and spoke of feeling worthless and invisible to the world. Her body image dot was the only thing in her field of sight.

So, if you find yourself obsessing about one aspect of yourself, particularly your body image, imagine yourself as a Seurat painting. You are a combination of many dots (aspects of who you are -- your career, spiritual life, relationships, talents, quirks, and achievements). What's wrong with focusing on just one aspect? Think of Cameron in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. He was unable to enjoy one of the most amazing days of his life. Perhaps you might be missing an opportunity or something you could be enjoying because you are focusing on just one thing, the way you think your body should look. You might be torturing yourself with fad diets, believing that this is what you help you to stop obsessing. If this sounds like you, imagine taking a few steps back from yourself. See your sense of self as a combination of all the dimensions of your personality--like the dots magically blending together in Seurat's paintings. Consider how other people would see the totality of all the dots in your life blended together.

Remember, you are a work of art.

www.eatingmindfully.com from the author of the new book, 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food