The beautiful side of OCD

Tara Chislett – The Aquinian –

Emerging artist documents OCD through photography

Beautiful still: Chelsea Stevens a fouth year journalism student will be attending the College of Craft and Design in the fall. (Chelsea Stevens)
Beautiful still: Chelsea Stevens a fouth year journalism student will be attending the College of Craft and Design in the fall. (Chelsea Stevens)

Chelsea Stevens has a scar above her left eyebrow.

Small and hidden behind her glasses and hair, most people don’t notice it. If someone does, she tells them it’s just a chicken pox scar, leaving out the part where she took tweezers to the scab just to get it off her face.

But assuming she leaves the second part of the story out because of shame would be wrong. Although it comes with a unique story, her left-eyebrow scar is one of many on her arms, her legs and her back.

And on March 19, all these scars will be on display at Floor 500.

“Beautiful Still,” Stevens’ first photography show, features a collection of self-portraits detailing they way the 21 year old picks at her skin.

However, Stevens’ didn’t understand skin picking as a form of obsessive compulsive disorder until she saw it on an episode of A&E’s “Obsessed” last summer.

“She was a lot more severe. Her face was completely marked and everything,” she said of the woman featured in the episode. “But I was watching it and I was like ‘I do all of those things.’”

After the episode, she decided to do more research. She said her perfectionist tendencies made it easy for people to joke about her having OCD.

Realizing she does have a mild case of OCD didn’t bother her.

It doesn’t bother her now, though. And with a bit of help from friends who stop her from picking at her skin when she’s stressed, Stevens said she’s much better at managing her impulses — even if her friends don’t understand why she does it. This made the decision to document everything visually difficult.

“I think my boyfriend’s a lot more worried that people are going to judge me,” she said. “I guess I don’t want people to go in and be like ‘Man this girl’s fucked up, why does she do this?’”

Aidan Stanley runs Floor 500 and has been working with Stevens over the last couple months preparing for the show. Aware of her art school ambitions, Stanley said seeking out a space to show work will help Stevens later.

“She seems to fully recognize the importance of skills and experience, and although my gallery is small and just starting, working under a deadline, working with a theme, working with other people, these are all attributes that can carry over really easily,” he said. “It’s something that she seems to recognize she could use more experience in.”

As for the show itself, Stanley expects it will be “cozy.”

“I think it’s going to be a very personal show and again, I applaud her for wanting to show a side of herself that is so personal.”

The idea of strangers seeing the photographs doesn’t worry Stevens — instead, she finds herself more anxious about close friends and family, who might not know how to take the photos. In particular, her father comes to mind.

“I think it’s probably going to be emotional for my dad. Just to see his little girl like that,” she said, adding that he messaged her on Facebook after reading the invitation to the show. “He was like ‘ You know I always thought you were too intense!’ and he was like ‘is there anything you need to talk to me about?’ I was like ‘No, I’m good, I’m just intense.’”

And while her boyfriend’s mother called the photographs beautiful when she saw them, Stevens doesn’t expect that reaction from many others.

“I don’t know if people are going to describe them as beautiful. Aiden saw them… and he described them as really intense.”

But whether the photos are beautiful or intense doesn’t matter to Stevens, so long as the message translates.

“I hope they come away with kind of an understanding of what I have, but also a lot of other people go through the same thing and look at other people with anxiety disorders in a different way,” she said. “Because I think everybody has a bit of an anxiety disorder. We’re all a little fucked up”