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    The Body As Canvas

            One toy that re-appears each generation is some sort of humanoid figure, less than a foot tall, completely made of white resin, that allows you to paint on it. Sometimes the paints come with it, sometimes you have to buy the paint separately. Curiously, the closer it looks like a human being, the more clothing it usually has on.
            I remember seeing these as a kid and getting incredibly excited. In fact, when I see them today, in whatever modern form they have evolved into, I get...incredibly excited. Because even as a child, the idea of having a blank slate upon which to create myself filled me with a light that made me glow from the inside out.
            Before I knew what it meant to not like myself, I didn’t like myself. I always remember wanting to be somebody else. I had a very active fantasy life where I was always pretending that I was some other thin, cool, popular, attractive, happy kid, instead of the fat, melancholy, socially awkward boy that I was.
            These little all white figures were tabulae rasae that I could paint as brightly and as beautifully and as outrageously as I wanted. It was much different than painting on a piece of paper. The little statue that looked like a human body was far more symbolically evocative of who and what I could become. It was like I was painting on myself. It was as though I was re-creating myself whenever I painted one of them. I obviously wasn’t mature enough to be aware of that then, but I see that connection clearly now.
            Even now, just thinking about a three dimensional human form upon which to paint and adorn however I choose fills me with a child like joy and excitement that only the possibility of full self expression can conjure. As a child, my opportunities for full self expression were extremely limited. And when the opportunities arose,there was always a ceiling or a limit on just how expressive I could be. Even if I was just painting a toy.
            Not now. As an adult, whatever limits I place on my own self expressiveness are, ultimately, of my own design and choosing.
            What I’ve come to understand is that, like that little white statue, I see my body as a canvas upon which to paint whatever I choose. But, unlike the statue, it’s not a static canvas. It’s a vibrant, dynamic canvas that I can sculpt into the shape I want. I have a certain amount of control over the shape of this canvas, and through exercise and nutrition and discipline and knowledge and desire and hard work, I can make it into something I like the looks of. Something I like the feel of. I don’t have to fantasize about being somebody else. I can become the man I want to be. “Sculpting” and “Painting” this canvas called my body is one piece of that self-actualization.
            The clothing and the jewelry and the hair color and whatever else I adorn to present to the outside world are like the colors and designs I paint on the little white resin statue. I have become that magical canvas upon which to paint. And I don’t want to limit my colors or my designs. I want to use the colors and the styles and the designs that I like. I want to combine them all to create a unique presentation. I want my physical form to look as unique on the outside as I am on the inside.
            It doesn’t make any sense not to use whatever colors or styles or designs or accoutrements excite me to create this. Certainly not because somebody else is telling me what’s acceptable or normal. As a child, it was parents or teachers or other kids setting the rules on self expression. Now it’s societal norms.
            No thanx. Been there. Done that. It’s not a whole lotta fun. I’m going to use whatever colors I like. I’m going to go with whatever designs and styles move me. Why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t you?
            This reminds me of a conversation I had with my neighbor’s mother about the color of my house. When I first painted it, I saw her sitting alone on her lawn and went over to say hello. I hadn’t seen her since the previous summer. After a few minutes she said to me “You know, I really don’t like the color of your house. Purple?”. She’s an outspoken, old school Italian woman. Her candor and directness I find refreshing, very unlike her female offspring, who just stopped talking to me one day after I painted the house. Anyway, without skipping a beat, I replied to her “Well you know Mary, I don’t like the color of your house either. It bores the hell out of me.”
            We both laughed. Ah, truth. Nothing like it.

    ©2009 Clint Piatelli. All Rights (and a massive tabula rasa of Wrongs) Reserved.

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