Self Portrait

Self Portrait
               

I have made something important to me that I have spent some time wondering if I should share. I have decided that I should, that I want to, because my most recent project has been all about self-acceptance, and I think a large part of that is acknowledging that when I go out into the world other people will see me.

I have a skin condition. I don’t know what it is, because the doctors do not know what it is. I have dark red patches on my skin. They can appear in under two minutes, and move around just as quickly. Until the last few weeks they were always on my face, but they would move from one area to another without a moment’s notice. Here my forehead and one cheek, now both cheeks and my jaw. As time has progressed they have got steadily darker, now resembling a dark red birth mark that just doesn’t know where to rest.

People are generally kind about it. They know it bothers me and so tell me that they don’t really notice it, or that it doesn’t look that bad, but I know from the reactions of doctors and other people that it really is the first thing that a lot of people see when they meet me. And I have had occasional cruel or unkind comments. When a patch moved quickly to my nose recently two people independently made ‘Rudolph’ jokes at my expense. And so it was the day after those remarks that I decided upon this project. And, honestly, I love it.

Stitching

I found the planning and stitching of this embroidery piece incredibly cathartic. I’ve found it so incredibly difficult to find any body positivity in my own reflection since my skin started changing. I have found it difficult to see this face as ‘mine’, partly because it is always changing. Not at the slow and steady pace of ageing, or even of a sudden change that I might slowly come to terms with, but something where each time I look in the mirror a different stranger looks back at me. I wanted to find some familiarity in the lines of my face and to reclaim my own reflection by getting to know me again.

I stitched the lines of my face and features first, because they were what came first. They are the bits of me that have always been, and that have been hidden behind the blemishes that my eyes fall on first.

Following my sketch on the 100% linen fabric, I used mostly stem stitch with small areas of back stitch for most of the outline work and got to remember my nose, my uneven eyebrows, the tilt of my eyes, my lips that were always a bit too thin, but that I now love a little more.

I used a series of small, straight stitches close together like satin stitch to make the irises, with a variegated blue embroidery thread, and made the pupils from three strand lazy daisies, each with seven petals to give a decent amount of fill. I put a bit more detail into my eyes than I did the rest of my features as I didn’t want the exploration and recognition of my face to be only about the marks on my skin. As witness to my past and present, my eyes are important to the person that experience has formed, as well as being a link (through strong familiar characteristics) to my child.

In contrast to my eyes I enjoyed making the slightly more haphazard stitches of the eyebrows, to add a bit of texture and character. They are not identical, because my own eyebrows are naturally uneven.

Blooms

Once all of the outlining and features were complete I started making the feature stitches of my facial markings. As they are constantly changing I picked a moment in time when I finally had my project idea and had gathered all of my materials and felt that I was ready to begin this journey of acceptance.

This is me on July 30th 2019, at 11am.

I decided to use a lazy daisy stitch for the facial markings as I wanted something that wasn’t as solid and permanent as satin stitch for the fill, but that would also not be too bold in texture (as French knots and some other feature stitches can be), as my skin condition has not affected the texture of my skin. I used a variegated thread again because my colourisation is not uniform, and I thought it would add a bit of lightness and a sense of change to the stitching. I also chose the daisy stitch as when I’ve spoken to people about my face (when they’ve noticed red patches appear whilst we sit and talk) I’ve instinctively explained that patches ‘bloom’ and then fade away, seemingly at random. This word, to bloom, usually means something positive, I know, but for some reason it has been the vocabulary I have developed to cope with discussing it with others. The areas of my skin that go dark red are also described by my doctor and others as florid, from the latin for flower, so a floral stitch added to my need for a sense of wordplay and whimsy to lighten the subject.

And so, after many stitches, and many carefully placed little blooms of colour, here I am.

               


5 thoughts on “Self Portrait”

  • There you are, and you’re beautiful. 2 things strike me. One, thank you for being honest and authentic. I wish people would stop pretending they’re perfect and don’t have s**t. Then other people can have courage to own their own s**t. Second, I had *horrendous* proper acne when I was pregnant with my daughter. It affected me immensely in confidence. It’s there and it’s on show to everyone. I eventually was released from it by extremely powerful medical intervention after she was born. I understand how exposed it makes you feel. I don’t know what I’m trying to say, just, sending you love and thanks.

  • You are not adobe in your challenges. Skin conditions are so misunderstood and often trivialised by other people who don’t appreciate the profound effects these conditions can have on a person. It’s often the attitudes of others that cause more grief than the actual skin problem.
    Have you heard of ‘appearance activism’? I think that is the term used by Carly Findlay who has recently authored a book about living with a rare skin condition and dealing with the issues around that. She has a website that may be of interest.
    Wishing easier times ahead for you. I’m certain that your sharing here is already helping others. Hugs xxx

  • This is absolutely amazing! I have a skin condition myself and would love to have something like this of my own to help my confidence. Such an original and thoughtful idea.

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