What does the naked human body mean to you? Generally, the naked form is perceived as a purely sexual tool, its appearance an object of lust or humiliation. The majority of nudity we see in the media these days is just this. Take Page 3 for instance, or Kim Kardashian breaking the internet with her big ass. Then there’s the reaction to breast feeding in public, people sharing beautiful pictures of babies on the breast being reported as obscene to the Facebook police.
The Greeks portrayed their male heroes, Gods and Olympic champions in nude form, perhaps as a symbol of greatness and strength; the early version of those David Beckham underwear ads. Christianity, would you Adam and Eve it (!), at one point used the naked form as a symbol of shame (many would argue it still does) and then at some point down the line it became normal practice for art schools to have life models sit for them regularly.
To me, the human body is strong, it’s incredible and unique. It runs like a finely tuned machine and handles much of what modern day life throws at it. I think of the illness, the injury, the stress and trauma and abuse we put our bodies through and I hold them in esteem and admiration. We only have one body and yet we have the audacity to criticise them. They are such works of art and engineering that we try to copy or improve on them with machinery.
Yes, I admire the human form and I use the term admire in its truest sense. To be perfectly honest, I never quite lost that feeling of freedom from taking my clothes off that is scolded and embarrassed out of us before we are old enough to be a public nuisance.
I have always loved nude art. The great nudes to me are so powerful, not least so because they are accessible. The majority of us can read emotions and body language a darn sight easier than gauging the meaning behind more abstract art. I’m not encouraging Jo Public to feel free to get naked in the street, but why does being naked have to be so hush, hush? Even the very word or mention of being de-robed can cause utter embarrassment, which is bizarre as it’s the most natural, honest thing about each of us.
However, much as I would love to emulate the great nudes, sadly, I am not a great artist. I realised this at a very young age. What I didn’t realise until a few months ago was that I could, however, become one of those great nudes that I so love. So I decided to try my hand at life modelling. To clarify, that means being unclothed and staying very still while talented and developing artists study my form and try to replicate it on paper. Say it fast and it’s not so daunting.
My first modelling session was on a cold, dark, wet winter evening somewhere outside of Blackpool. I stood in the loo, hesitating, for what seemed like hours. Thinking about taking my clothes off, thinking of the few people who knew I was going who had told me I was mad or brave or both and to have them on speed dial in case it wasn’t legit.
I took every last strip of warm, comforting clothing and replaced it with my best dressing gown and a pair of slippers and shuffled into the community centre hall, to the soundtrack of a fitness class finishing up in the next room, and stood about waiting to be asked to go to my first position. The room filled with a cross section of people, from teenagers balancing a sketch book on their knee to retired folk with smock and easel. Then, time was called.
I spent twenty minutes sitting and thirty minutes reclining and fifty minutes laid out on my robe. ‘Don’t make eye contact, try not to move but don’t tense, concentrate on your breathing, make a list in your head, smiling or not smiling?’ I tried to remember all of the tips I’d read on the internet, to ignore to tickle on my cheek and the tingling of a dead arm and soon enough we were done. I looked round the class (robe on, no eye contact, I’m not that brave) and caught sight of some of the drawings.
I couldn’t have imagined how those almost two hours could make me feel so… enlightened.
Looking at the few simple, expertly drawn lines I saw a strong looking woman, at ease in her own skin drawn by people who you might bump into in the street and it was much better than how I see myself. Regardless of how often I’m told that I am brave for stripping off and being drawn or cast or the achievement of holding a fifty minute pose when I realise five minutes too late that I haven’t enough support, the biggest and most awesome part of the process is those who sit for two hours to capture me and my lumpy, scarred body and do so honestly and without judgement.
Brave I am not, nor am I over confident, a naturist, nudist or exhibitionist. I don’t feel like I have a perfect body, nor am I ashamed of my imperfections, my work in progress, my body, my temple and home. Life modelling, for me, is a mix of self exploration, reassurance, and empowerment. Each body does an incredible task in just BEING that is bloody beautiful in itself. Most importantly, it’s a way for me to be involved in the art I love, even if I’m not the next Venus or Chloe.
If you are thinking about life modelling, go to the register of artist models for information and tips: www.modelreg.co.uk. Be sure not to put yourself in a position where you feel or may be uncomfortable or unsafe. There are several Life Art classes and groups locally.
The author of this article would like to remain anonymous.
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