Living with ________: Exploring Life with HIV Through Body Mapping

by Lisa Foster, MSW, THP Case Manager

Body Mapping is a guided workshop where you outline the human body as a starting point to make life-size pictures of yourself.  Body Mapping allows people to tell a story about their life.  Throughout the process you realize your ailments and tribulations are just a part of you, not all of you.  To complete the body maps, we went through a series of guided meditations and topics that included: where you came from and where you are going; where you get support; identifying your power point; creating a personal symbol and slogan; drawing your self-portrait; identifying the marks on and under your skin; finding out your HIV status; and looking after yourself.  At the end of the workshop, group members were encouraged to complete the statement, “When I see _________’s body map, I see a person who is living with ________ and _________.”

Participants at a recent Body Mapping workshop held at THP’s Higher Ground day center found this exercise to be challenging, somewhat uncomfortable, fun, and enlightening all at the same time.  One participant said, “I was really surprised at how engaging it was.  To sit back and look at the whole work is powerful.”  Asking participants to draw what they felt when they were diagnosed with HIV evoked raw emotion.  A participant shared, “I just felt sad about HIV when I was diagnosed.  Just sad like in the middle of my body there.”  This workshop also showed participants the strength they had within.  Participants had reflections like, “I like how my guy looks like a super-hero” and “It was good to do something so big; like here I am.”

Society has a way of labeling us and then defining us by those labels.  Poor, felon, drug addict, disabled, homeless, HIV+.  The clients THP works with may have one or more of these labels at any given time.  As service providers, we have a heightened awareness of the labels that impact our client’s daily life.  With good intentions we focus on their substance abuse, homelessness, disability, HIV status, etc.; but they are people first and are not defined by any one thing.  We tend to see our clients as people living with HIV/AIDS; but they are, “people living with: strength, courage, compassion, frustration, joy, fierceness, hope, knowledge, and purpose.”