Meg Sheepway describes that nagging sense of dissatisfaction that often creeps in as we scroll through our Facebook and Instagram feeds: all those aspirational images of thin, beautifully dressed people in their tidy, gorgeous homes. Where, she wondered, was the space for messiness, for beautiful bodies of all shapes and sizes?
Meg had confidence in her own body’s abilities: after all, she had a degree in outdoor education and had led physically challenging Outward Bound courses for years. She’d climbed mountains, worked as a farmer, was a certified yoga teacher, had participated in the 715-kilometre Yukon River Quest canoe race, had given birth to two daughters, and weathered an eating disorder. Most recently, she’d embarked on her next career adventure: building and running Dog Paw Pottery, a studio in her Thunder Bay, Ontario, backyard. And yet, she didn’t see the beauty of her own body, its strength and skill and stretch marks, reflected back to her online.
Still, Meg needed to embrace social media to promote her new studio and business. “And so I created my own, body-positive, social media echo chamber,” she says. She began following #bodypositive threads on Instagram, finding and building community online — at the same time as she built up her bricks-and-mortar studio and local business.
Today, you can find Meg teaching 24 students each week at Dog Paw, a beautiful, spacious studio with room for nine pottery wheels. Much of the furniture was built with timber from white spruce and green ash trees cut from the property; shelving in the entryway is made from the branches of an apple tree. A small meditation room sits off the main studio — each class, and each of Meg’s own artistic sessions, begins with a short meditation. The studio opened in 2013, the result of an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that raised about a third of its original costs.
“What I love about potting is its connection to the earth,” says Meg, 35. “It’s creative, but it’s also grounding. And it’s a doorway that allows the average person into the world of art. We have this idea that art is something that only artists do, or that you do it one time in a class, or it’s just something for little kids. But art is for everyone, every day, and pottery is a really safe way to start creating — you know, ‘We’re just making some cups over here.’”
More recently, Meg is melding her online and IRL (in-real-life) worlds, with a series of sculptures of female forms that take their inspiration from Instagram hashtags. A torso with a mastectomy is called #allwarriorshavescars, and a voluptuous form is tagged #curvesfordays. A youthful, perkier body has the tag #thistooshallpass, while the figure of a woman with stretch marks and a full, softer belly is titled #radicalselflove.
“It’s a much more feminist, sex-positive, pleasure-based project,” she says. “Especially now that I’m the mother of girls, I really want to be able to embrace that for myself and my work. My mom was body positive in so many ways, but she never wanted to have her picture taken. And I think I grew up internalizing the messages that you’re not good enough unless you’re thin. And I want that to be different for me and my girls” — Jala, five, and Anouk, who’s a year and a half old.
Some days, of course, are easier than others. “There are days when I wake up, and I look in the mirror, and I groan. There are people who say that stretch marks are beautiful, and I kind of disagree. So, what do I do with that as I move through my day? I meditate. I give myself my own positive messaging. I’ll look in the mirror and say to myself, ‘I love you. I love your body. I love my body.’”
For Meg, one of the beauties of ceramics is that it embraces imperfection, the ability to start over and over. “Everything is used, and reused — clay scraps are collected and made into something new. If a pot doesn’t work out, you put it in a bucket, and it breaks down to be used again.”A glance at the pots and mugs lining the studio shelves illustrates her point. “I’ve never tried to make all my mugs look the same. I’m not interested in perfection, in creating a series of cups or bowls that are all the same size and shape. That’s not me, and it’s not real life.”
SUSAN GOLDBERG is a regular contributor to the Whole Family Happiness Project, where she is thrilled to eco-geek out on composting, reducing plastics, and other low-carbon life hacks. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Ms., Toronto Life, Lilith, Today’s Parent, Full Grown People, and Stealing Time magazines, and several anthologies, including Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender-Fluid Parenting Practices. She is a regular contributor to several websites, including CBC Parents, and co-editor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families. Susan is based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she can often be seen picking up cans to recycle on her neighbourhood walks.
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