Making the Invisible Visible: A Q&A with Artist Alex Rudin
**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
Alex Rudin is a multimedia artist based in New York City. Her artwork is narratively focused on the complexities of the human experience through stylized portraiture and anecdotal commentary. Her intent lies in uncovering and expressing the truths of what it is like to be a woman in modern America. Alex is currently creating work surrounding feminist issues, including eating disorders and sexual abuse. In addition, Alex regularly uses her work to speak about political and social justice issues. She has partnered with organizations such as Women for the Win, Article 3, and The Sam & Devorah Foundation, among other female-led orgs. Alex’s writing and artwork have been featured in USA Today Mag, Grit Daily, Yahoo.com, and The Female Lead. She has shown in both solo and group exhibitions in New York, Delaware, and Philadelphia.
In this Q&A, we ask Alex about her artwork and the impact of art on those creating it, those consuming it, and on society at large. She explains how art has benefited her recovery from an eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder and shares samples from her portfolio.
Tell us about your art and how your experiences with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia have informed it.
I have always been an extremely creative person. I am also a very emotional person. The synthesis of these two facets of my life was imminent. For much of my life, I have struggled with dysmorphia and disordered eating. Having an eating disorder (ED) is excruciatingly lonely and isolating. In an effort to deal with these feelings I turned to my artwork for self-expression. Yet, I knew all too well that these two aspects of myself were either going to destroy each other, or come together to heal one another. Was my eating disorder going to “consume” my creative spirit, or would my art work to heal the cutting and critical voices in my head?
In an attempt to translate my thoughts and feelings to the canvas, I found that making the invisible visible was an invaluable tool to help better comprehend my disorder. Being able to do this for myself was not only a learning tool but also a connection to others with similar issues. The ineffable qualities of consuming art are transcendent. Art allows the viewer to sit in introspection and to question oneself, no matter the discomfort level. I believe the same to be true in overcoming an eating disorder. We must confront to overcome, and we must reflect to progress. Art allows us to tap into the recesses of our minds to expose the complexes at the core of our psyches.
Making work about my own struggles with dysmorphia and disordered eating has enabled me to more deeply understand my personal struggles with perception and reality testing. It has also given me confidence in ways I never thought possible. Recovering from a severe eating disorder has been the longest and most difficult process of my life to date. Those who have walked down this road know that recovery is not linear. Eating disorders have no size, no shape, no color, no religion, and no gender. They do not discriminate. This is a battle I fight constantly. The voice inside my head tells me that I will never be good enough in this body of mine. It tells me that no matter what I achieve, if I’m still this weight, it won’t matter. It makes me paranoid. It makes me fearful of socializing. It makes me feel ashamed. Yet, my work says something different. Art has taught me more than any book or article. It has taught me the most valuable lesson of all—my value has nothing to do with my body.
Could you share some of your art with us?
I Wore A Shirt Into The Pool That Day 20 x 30 in, Acrylic, ink, pastel, watercolor, gouache on paper
I Have Scars That Remind Me 16 x 20 in, Acrylic, ink, pastel, watercolor, gouache on paper
Reality is Non-Reality 18 x 24 in, Acrylic, ink, pastel, watercolor, gouache on Canva Paper
How has sharing your art served your recovery?
Being able to share my work around my recovery has been fruitful in numerous ways. Connecting with others who have struggled with similar issues has made me feel less alone. While I have loving personal and professional support systems, having an ED is the ultimate experience of isolation. No matter who loves me or tries to help there is always a constant negative dialogue in my head. Now, as a result of sharing my work and story, I know that I am, in fact, not alone at all. Reaching others who have suffered from disordered eating in a positive and productive manner has been key in my attempt to relinquish the solitude of my disorder.
In addition, sharing my story and dysmorphic artwork is the definition of exposure therapy, a recovery method I am all too familiar with. While exposure invariably brings about anxiety and fear, the subsequent relief that it brings is unparalleled. Talking openly about my journey has led me to take yet another serious look in the mirror. This is not the end of my journey, and there is still plenty of work to be done. However, I can safely say that by sharing my artistic expression of dysmorphia I am one step closer to healing that part of myself.
How can art change the ways bodies are viewed in our society?
Living in the age of technology has quite literally and figuratively warped our minds into thinking our natural state is glitch, something to be fixed or remedied in order to be accepted. My series Dysmorphic II highlights the very real threat that our current society poses. We live in a world where physical perfection is the silver bullet for happiness. Rampant increases in body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and eating disorders are the result. By exploring the correlation between psychological states and expression of the human form, my work attempts to peer into the moment where societal pressure and psychology meet, where expectation and acceptance clash, and where reality and fiction diverge.
As citizens of the modern era, we are constantly barraged with images of perfected, altered, unachievable bodies. The societal impact of such imagery is pervasive. We use terms such as “bikini body” and “summer body” to emphasize the importance of looking a certain way in order to garner acceptance. These overtones only shame those with non-conforming bodies and make them feel unworthy of praise, acceptance, and self-confidence. This is what needs to change. Representation matters. Words matter. Seeing common, everyday women in campaigns and fashion shows allows society to embrace differences and consider them valuable and beautiful…and normal. While advertising and imagery play a key role in our perception of ourselves, art can take it all a step further. The purpose of art is to challenge the viewer and question accepted notions of truth. In doing so, artists can offer a conduit to understanding in addition to equitable representations of the body.
What do you hope your art says to other people affected by eating disorders?
I hope that my artwork inspires others to use creativity as a vehicle to help further one’s own recovery. To me, it is all about agency. What choices will you make to silence the voices of your eating disorder? Personally, I leveraged my artistic voice, and trusted that it would lead me down the road of recovery. Whether it be writing, music, or visual arts, using some form of creative expression will open your mind and enable you to access the invisible. Once you make the un-seeable seeable, it loses its power. They say “seeing is believing,” but in this case “seeing” allowed me to lose belief in the power of my eating disorder. It allowed me to take possession of my own narrative and put my ED in the back seat. While I know we will most likely be driving together forever, I am now in the driver’s seat, and that is what I call control.