The following expressive arts directive is called Unmasked and is by contributing guest author Dr. Deah Schwartz. Once a month, Dr. Schwartz shares an art therapy idea or activity to facilitate exploration, increased awareness and healing in the areas of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Some of these activities may need to be facilitated over more than one session, or modified for different ability levels, size of group, budget and size of work space. Learn more about eating disorder therapy here.
Each month I offer an Expressive Arts Therapy directive that focuses on Body Image and or Eating Disorders. These directives may be used in individual or group therapy sessions or as self-help activities. Sometimes the activity itself is nothing new or brilliant but the Objective of the directive is unique and specifically tailored to exploring issues related to body image and disordered eating. ENJOY! Fun is the main ingredient!
This Expressive Arts Therapy directive challenges the participant to make a mask that represents a part of them that is typically masked by other aspects of their personality, or behaviors. By exploring some possibilities of what is being masked by our eating patterns and or body dissatisfaction we can address our fears and fantasies of what we would do or who we would be if we took that mask off.
Wearing a mask in our society is typically associated with costume parties and Halloween. We often select masks in order to try on other personas that are different from our day to day personalities. This month, let’s look at masks from a slightly different perspective. What do we mask with our body hate and disordered eating and why? If our attention wasn’t consistently focused on weight and body image issues what other aspects of who we are would be revealed?
This mask making exercise challenges the participant to create a mask that represents either:
- An aspect of themselves that is being suppressed, avoided, or undiscovered.
- A new coping strategy other than food or body preoccupation to help deal with difficult feelings and life challenges.
- A fear or fantasy of what would happen if the “body/food focused mask” was removed.
Masks can be created in a variety of ways depending on age group, financial resources, time available, and physical abilities of participants. For example, if time is an issue but there is a budget for art supplies, already made blank masks can be purchased and using paints, markers and or fabric, stickers, etc. the mask can be decorated. If there is enough time and the clients have longer attention spans, making the mask out of paper mache or plaster cast strips and then decorated is another option. For the purpose of this article, I will explain how to create the mask from plaster strips.
SPECIAL NOTE: If using scissors is an issue because you are working inpatient, the plaster strips may be cut prior to the session. This activity also works best in pairs.
- Plaster cast strips: can be found in school or medical supply stores. One roll per mask.
- Bowl of warm water
- String (If you want to wear the mask for role plays)
- Materials for decorating the finished mask e.g. glue, fabric, buttons, photographs, paint, etc.
- Drawing paper and markers, pencils, pens, or crayons.
- Optional: Hair covering (headband or shower cap), latex gloves, and or smock to protect hands and clothing, this can be a messy activity.
- Cut plaster tape into pieces of varying lengths. It is important to keep strips dry until used so the plaster doesn’t harden.
- Pull back hair and apply a light coat of Vaseline on forehead and around the area where the mask is going to be made.
- Dip the plaster strips in the water and apply them to the face making sure that the side of the tape with the extra plaster is facing out.
- Repeat step 3, three times using extra tape around the bridge of the nose and then let dry for about 15 minutes.
- Carefully remove the mask and let dry for 24 hours.
- On a separate piece of paper using pencils, markers, crayons, etc. have the participant plan what they will put on the mask to represent the qualities mentioned in the Objectives Section (see above) a, b, or c.
- When masks are complete if this is an Expressive Arts Therapy group, participants may use the masks for role plays to further explore the issues discussed in the Objectives Section.
As always, I welcome feedback comments and personal stories about using these activities either with your clients or yourself!