Blessing Bellies

8 months ago, I was given the chance to henna a mother’s belly. Megan was about 8 months pregnant at the time. Now that alone was something to celebrate, because on the way to becoming pregnant many negative and horrible things had happened in her life. Her previous labour was traumatic and left her disempowered and both emotionally and physically scarred, and too scared to consider having to do it all again.

But this baby boy was going to be born into a different era of his mother’s life – no more negative things. Megan had found herself in a much better place and ready to include another child in her new family.

To help celebrate Megan and her body, I was invited to henna her belly in the presence of her mom and a family friend, Sarah.

Henna can be very healing and transformative. When I work on a mother’s belly, it’s a time for her to sit and relax and be taken care of. And it might be a little scary too, because someone they just met is paying close attention to their body, and for some people that’s a little uncomfortable if they feel they have anything less than perfect on display.

But the effect of henna on people is amazing. They slow down, breathe deep, and take a moment to just be nurtured. And then this amazing thing happens.

They start to share stories. They talk about their fears for this pregnancy, their hopes, and they open up and tell the other women around them (since it’s generally a gathering of women at belly blessings) about the things in their past that they are not necessarily proud of. They may talk about mental health, postpartum depression, feeling ashamed or guilty, feeling lonely, feeling scared. We talk about scars, inability to cope and our absolute worst days of mothering.

IMG_9717“(She) is in love with her belly henna – she is proud and told me yesterday that she was overwhelmed with comfort and so impressed with your art.  Her partner Mike was also impressed.”  –Barbara

A month later baby James was born, and this time, his birth was not spiraling wildly out of her control.

At 8 months postpartum for Megan, I was invited back again to do an ‘honoring mothers’ belly blessing for her. She warned me before pulling up her shirt, “it’s not pretty”. But what she presented me with was a perfectly beautiful tummy, and I told her so.

The design I had in mind for her mirrored the design I had drawn on her pregnant belly, connecting her body now to that body 8 months ago. I am hoping that in her mind, she can make that connection as well, and learn to not be so negative about her body and as shy with her tummy when there is clearly no reason to be. My goal as a henna artist with postpartum mothers is to beautify the part of their body that they are having the most trouble with so they can learn to see it differently, and perhaps treat themselves in a gentler way.

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We had the same group of women present as we had 8 months ago – Megan’s mother and their friend Sarah and I, but with baby James on the outside instead of inside his moms body this time. The talk in the room that afternoon while I was working on Megan’s belly was all about body image. Again, we shared our stories about our bodies. Mothers’ feelings about their bodies range from feeling ugly, not sexy, undesirable, ruined, guilty and ashamed, and there was a good amount of those feelings coming up in that living room that day. All the while, I was focused on Megan’s tummy, working inches away and getting intimately into her personal space in the way that only a select few people would normally be. It takes a very brave person to make themselves vulnerable like that.

Unfortunately for some moms, it’s sometimes debilitatingly difficult to just lift your shirt in public. For some moms, baring their body in the presence of me, a stranger, and their family and friends is enough to start to make a change in their minds.  To let me in that close to a part of their body that they are hyper-sensitive about is a big step. And the nature of henna means that after my design is finished; it needs to take time to dry. So before they know it, mom is walking around with her shirt hiked up and everyone is admiring her and calling her beautiful. Now she’s feeling more comfortable with herself – another step forward.

To all mothers in the world that suffer from negative body image issues – change the script in your head that dictates how you treat yourself, how you talk to yourself, what you fixate on about your body. Realize that you are very likely that only one who thinks that way. Keep stepping slowly forward.

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healing

I did a henna crown today with Frances Darwin of Henna Heals (check us out here hennaheals.ca) and I had brought four henna cones with me. I always bring more henna than I need. It’s no big deal – cones are small and light comparatively to the rest of the stuff I bring to my clients homes, and occasionally I will find that a henna batch was too runny or too thick or just not quite right for what I want to achieve for that particular design, so rather be stuck with it I have a couple other ones to try as well. One of them is sure to suit my needs on that day. Sometimes, although rarely, I have a henna cone explode or leak on me and its much easier to toss it back in the cooler bag to deal with later and grab a fresh one than try to fight with a messy, leaky cone.

A Crown also takes more than one cone’s worth of henna, so I will need at least two on hand. This morning before leaving, I grabbed my cones from the freezer and they were all made of different types of cellophane so I knew that they were probably from different batches of henna. You get to know the henna you work with, and you will know which one is stringy and which one is creamy and which batch turned out a bit too snotty for finely- detailed designs.

The first cone I started with today for A’s crown was just the perfect texture. I did 3/4 of her crown, and then got to the last of that henna. I tossed the nearly-empty cone back to the cooler bag and grabbed a fresh one, of a different cello wrap. As soon as I started with this new cone, I recognized an immediate difference. This batch of henna was a tiny bit thinner and more mucous-y, a bit trickier to work with. I also recognized it as the same batch of henna that I pulled two cones from for my last crown, on Sharon a few weeks ago. (Sharons crown is the one that sometimes shows up on the banner on the top of this page)

While I was finishing up her crown, I was thinking of how this same batch of henna made Sharons crown. Linked through time and space by henna, these two women are fighting their own, unique battles, yet they share some similarities in their life experiences and their struggles. Even more significant is that after Sharon recieved her Crown, she gave us a donation to ‘pay it forward’ to the next crown. So her donation covered a large portion of the cost of A’s crown this morning.

And then, by chance, they shared the same batch of henna.

A saw her crown in the mirror and nearly started to cry with gratitude.

It really is blessed.

fall six-week henna course

Six weeks of henna! For absolute beginners or even those who have played with henna in the past and want more information, this is a good course to get your feet wet and decide if henna is for you. Or for those budding up-and-coming artists who need a little bit of direction. this is an extended, detailed version of our henna workshops – you will learn:

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History of henna from different cultures: where it comes from, why people used it
black henna and henna safety, including pre-made henna cones
oil safety – not all artists are using safe oils
how to mix henna, henna recipes that work and henna recipes that don’t work
henna chemistry – what makes green paste make red and brown stains?
adaptations to your recipe when dealing with special cases or people with allergies
how to roll cones
how to differentiate between different henna styles
lots of practice time to develop your own styles
how to use a cone and a jaq bottle
How to create basic designs and turn them into elaborate designs
Symbolism and culture of henna
how to recognize henna styles from different regions
designing your own patterns
practice hennaing each other
How to henna a crown

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where: taking place at our studio loft space in Toronto! 888 Dupont
when: The dates for this class are: sept 8th, 15th, 22nd, and oct 6th, 13th, and 20th.from 1-3.

Henna Heals will provide all the materials that you will need, and you will take home all the henna you make. there will be quite a lot of henna!

cost: $300 per person

registration will open soon

two workshops left

Thanks to you all out there who signed up with us, the registration for the July 14th workshop for beginners is now closed.

BUT! If you didn’t get your henna fix yet, then there are still two more workshops available. Mark your calendars for August 17th, and sept 29th. both workshops are from 1-3.

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in our henna for beginners classes, you will learn:

– what henna is and where it grows
– a general history of henna; where it came from, who used it, how its being used today
– regional and cultural styles
– differences in design and application tools
– henna safety, including black henna and pre-made cones
– Oil safety
– adaptations to your recipe when dealing with special cases or allergies
–  how to source good quality, fresh henna
– how to mix your henna paste, what works and what doesn’t
– how to know when the henna is ready
– the chemistry behind how henna works
– adaptations for sensitive skin
– how to roll and fill cones
– how to store your fresh henna
– henna aftercare
– beginners designs
– tips and tricks that the pros use

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we would love to see you there. your registration can be completed through this link, http://www.hennaheals.ca/#!other-henna-services/c3z4   and click on the workshop button. cost is $65

summer workshops!

as a Henna Heals artist, I am opening the floor with three workshops this summer: July 14th, August 17th, and September 29th. Grab some friends and get on the list quick, they will fill up fast! Classes start at 1:00 pm and will run approximately 2 hours.

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In the Henna for beginners workshop, you will learn:

– what henna is and where it grows
– a general history of henna; where it came from, who used it, how its being used today
– regional and cultural styles
– differences in design and application tools
– henna safety, including black henna and pre-made cones
– Oil safety
– adaptations to your recipe when dealing with special cases or allergies
–  how to source good quality, fresh henna
– how to mix your henna paste, what works and what doesn’t
– how to know when the henna is ready
– the chemistry behind how henna works
– adaptations for sensitive skin
– how to roll and fill cones
– how to store your fresh henna
– henna aftercare
– beginners designs
– tips and tricks that the pros use

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I will lead you through the process of making your henna, and then the fun really starts when we break out the pattern sheets and you can begin to practice and experiment to find your own style.

We promise a fun afternoon! henna Heals  provides all the supplies and you get to take home your henna cones that you made that day.

TO REGISTER;  go here and click on the ‘workshops’ button. cost is $65

phases

Henna moves quickly for me. Right now, I  am really into dense, delicate bridal work. A few weeks ago it was mandalas. A month or so ago, it was lotuses. It keeps changing, moving along fluidy, one to the other. I watch youtube videos and carefully follow the artists cone, deconstructing and reconstructing designs to learn how they are made. I am always striving to be better, never happy with my level of skill even though its changed a lot in the last little while.

The summer market has been a lot of fun so far. I have met some pretty cool people and had some great conversations, and taught some people some new things about henna or the cultures behind it. However, it has rained two out of three weeks. Henna is not a good match for rain. Hopefully this tuesday is sunny and warm.

Even though i have a stockpile of henna so large i am using my moms chest freezer to store it all, that paste is quite special and I hate to waste any of it. I think a lot of artists feel the same. We scrape and scrape the bottom of the bowl to get as much paste as possible into the carrot bag. We squeeze those cones down thoroughly before we roll the tops down, not wanting to leave any paste trapped behind. When i strain henna paste, i keep whats left in the toe of the nylon in a yogurt container in the freezer. Its the bits of twig and big chunks that cant go into the paste because it would clog the applicator, but its great for hair. When i have enough chunky henna built up, i henna a couple dreadlocks.

Henna is considered to be blessed, and even to have more blessedness than anything else. Wearing henna on your skin brings those blessings to you. Depending on the culture, henna brings good luck, turns away or distracts the evil eye and bad intentions and celebrates a significant life event, building comunity and strengthening social bonds. Thats a whole lot of good things. its definitely precious.

I’ll scrape the bottom of the bowl for that.