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Photo by Elizabeth Anderson
Sophomore Molly McGlynn stared at the white computer paper placed in front of her.
“Draw what you are feeling inside right now,” her therapist said.
I feel useless, ugly, fat and unwanted, that’s what I’m really feeling.
McGlynn started sketching out a figure with a dark shadow behind it.
“There is always this shadow there, and that’s kind of like my eating disorder,” McGlynn said. “I’m always going to have that a little bit in the back of my mind.”
Since she was two years old, McGlynn’s life has revolved around art. Her mom, a mural painter, would set up an easel for McGlynn right next to her work space. While her mom worked with different brush sizes and stroke technique, McGlynn prefered using her fingers to create her first masterpieces. Her talent thrived as she began sketching two dimensional figures, which turned into three dimensional portraits, abstract sketches and surreal paintings.
Then came middle school. With it came a negative body image, self harm and an eating disorder. She wasn’t happy anymore and her grades felt the repercussions of it. Going a whole day without eating became a forethought and art became an afterthought.
She traded her artistic ideas for suicidal thoughts, before she realized she needed help. She spilled out her feelings to her mother, who helped her find a team of therapists and nutritionists who could help her get back on track. But the therapy that McGlynn found most comfort in was art therapy. She went to sessions every couple of weeks and used art to relay her feelings.
Once high school hit, she filled her schedule with photography, ceramics, drawing and painting to escape the shadow that is her eating disorder. She sketched to avoid the urge to starve herself, and painted to ignore the suicidal thoughts.
“When my eating disorder flares up again, there are two options,” McGlynn said. “Either I start spiralling into it more, or it sparks that I need to be creative. Instead of going deeper into my eating disorder, I go deeper into creation.”
This is not the first time that art has provided necessary help for McGlynn’s family. After accidentally signing up to volunteer to paint a mural for a building in San Francisco, Nicole Emanuel, McGlynn’s mom, discovered art as her new obsession. Emanuel credits it to stopping her from going down a bad path when she was younger.
“There is a phrase that ‘art saves lives,’ and I think you can see that as just a silly thing, but I’ve seen art change people and I’ve seen art change communities,” Emanuel said.
After McGlynn was able to find solace in art, she decided to use her talent to help others through volunteer work. She volunteers at her mom’s non-profit organization, Inner Urban Art House – an organization that offers studio space to artists in the downtown Overland Park area.
“There really isn’t a place for artists to gather and get information about how to become a better artist,” East art teacher, Adam Finkelston said. “[Inner Urban Art House] is not only for professional artists, but for young artists as well who want to learn what being an artist is really all about.”
So McGlynn passes out flyers for her mom’s fundraisers and runs errands for art supplies. She delivers packages for the artists in the studio and interacts with them at the same time. She’s learning what being an artist is really all about.
Along with helping her mom’s non-profit, McGlynn also teaches art classes to kids at a local farmer’s market and volunteers to help adults with developmental disorders. She helps give them the chance to create their own artwork. McGlynn helped an adult who didn’t have the full use of his hands create a piece of artwork that was unique to him. The ideas all came from his head; McGlynn just put his thoughts on the paper.
“I was his hands,” McGlynn said. “That was a really special experience for me because in a way my eating disorder is kind of like that for me. Sometimes people have to be my normal thoughts so that I can have them. I get stuck and he’s sort of stuck in his body where he can’t use his hands. It’s a physical way of showing what my problems are.”
McGlynn hopes to be able to attend an art school for college and turn her lifelong passion into a career someday. Right now, she is looking at attending Columbia in Chicago, school known for their liberal arts program. While McGlynn isn’t sure what type of art is her niche, she knows that her talent is there, she just has to find it.
“I think that Molly is a healthier, more resilient human because she knows that she is naturally gifted,” Emanuel said. “It gives her purpose and expression, which I think is critical to humans. I would say on a daily basis, the way she walks the planet is creative.”
So when there are the days she senses her shadow’s presences more than usual, she doesn’t criticize her body for every bite of food she takes, she reaches for a pencil and a piece of paper.