As I rode the bus to my downtown Cleveland office this morning, reading e-mails and news releases, one contained an image that stopped me cold.
The image, "She is a Tree of Life," shows the adult figure of a standing woman that blossoms into the outstretched branches of a tree. This artwork, created by Sara Burchfiel, a former client of Shoreline Center for Eating Disorder Treatment in Long Beach, Calif., was awarded both first prize in IAEDP's second annual "Imagine Me Beyond What You See" body image art competition.
This unique competition, sponsored by the the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals Foundation (IAEDP) encourages eating disorder treatment centers, art therapists, clients, therapy groups, and the general public to reflect on the perception of beauty and then design mannequin-based artworks that challenge audiences to look and see beyond the purely physical. This year, the competition attracted 12 entries which were judged by a panel of eating disorder professionals, art therapists, an American Art Therapy Association representative and professional artist Fritz Liedtke.
But every bit as compelling as the visual impact of "She is a Tree of Life" and the competition's other artworks are the thought and preparation that went into them, from the selection and preparation of each mannequin to the color and presentation of the finished work. The history of each entry and reflections from each artist or artist group are captured in an engaging, illustrated monograph about the artworks in the 2012 "Imagine Me" competition.
“My vision for this project was to transform a mannequin into a tree. The natural world has always been a source of grounding and healing for me. At one point during my treatment, my therapist compared trees to women - we look at trees and see only beauty,” says Burchfiel. “We don't criticize broken branches, seared trunks and brown leaves. We don't compare or call one ugly because it looks different than the next. No, we see their magnificence. So, why do we look at ourselves so differently?”
Her first step was to obtain a mannequin, which she did with the sponsorship of the Shoreline Center. "I found her 'used and damaged' on Craig's List. I thought to myself, 'All the better - what woman does not carry with her scars of some sort?' I was shocked when I arrived to the warehouse. The mannequin stood at 5'9 and, per the manufacturer; her measurements were 32-25-34. It was clear that weight restoration was the first step towards life. A few of my friends from the Alumni group helped with this process - her new measurements are now approximately 36-31-41."
Each of the competition's twelve works merits time and reflection, with each telling an individual or collective story about how those in treatment reflected upon or rediscovered their feelings about authentic beauty. First runner-up honors were awarded to artists representing the Partial Hospitalization group at the Eating Recovery Center (Denver, Colo.) for its entry, “Mariposa," while Dr. Susan J. Mendelsohn’s Eating Disorder Therapy Groups (Cincinnati, Ohio) received the Honorable Mention for their entry, “Shattered.”