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How nude life modelling changed my relationship with my body

ART BY Ian Calcutt
Words by Kate Streader

It turns out getting naked in front of a room full of staring strangers is quite liberating.

Growing up as a girl, I was taught to hate my body. I saw friends become obsessed with their weight having watched their mothers pinch at their own soft spots in the mirror. I soaked up the messaging in TV commercials, usually directed at women, that warned against weight gain – “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips”.

I heard hushed gossip behind the backs of ‘stuck up’ women who dared to embrace their body or flaunt it in any way. And that was all before I hit puberty and sexualisation entered the equation. I’ve had female friends suffer eating disorders and undergo cosmetic surgery to ‘fix’ parts of themselves they don’t like.


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We’ve shared horror stories about strangers catcalling, sexually harassing and assaulting us, we’ve traded tales of bad dates, former partners and rejected suitors critiquing the way we looked – like a first date in which a guy pointed out the size of my thighs when I sat down next to him at the cinema or the boyfriend who convinced me I needed to lose weight and signed me up to a gym. 

Of course, body image issues are not exclusive to women and I don’t pretend to know the experiences of men, non-binary or trans people whose bodies each present expectations, judgements and concerns that are untrodden territory for me. 

And as a White, able-bodied, cisgender woman, I am aware that I have myriad privileges not afforded to so many other women. But, I do know that it’s a universal experience for women to feel uncomfortable in their bodies, for whatever reason. 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve felt like my body – and female bodies in general – are treated as public property. Men often feel entitled to touch and take what they want without permission, everyone from co-workers to family, acquaintances and strangers seem compelled to comment and judge, and there are laws that deny us bodily autonomy. 

We see women’s bodies weaponised against them all the time. In media which criticises and speculates, in revenge porn which turns a woman’s sexual expression into a form of retaliation, blackmail or a flex of power, and in reproductive laws that prevent women from making choices around their own bodies. It’s no wonder so many women have complicated relationships with their bodies.

Discovering life modelling

I was probably about as far from an exhibitionist as one can get before I started life modelling. Prior to posing nude in front of a room full of strangers for money, I hated being naked in even the most intimate situations and relationships, long-term partners included. 

I started life modelling in 2019 as a means of making some extra cash and in a bid to step outside of my comfort zone. Life drawing, for those who don’t know, is much like still life drawing except that the subject is a living being who holds poses for the artist to draw. Rather than a bowl of fruit, you have a (usually) naked model.

 

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I’d been looking for work and saw a sign in the window of a local art studio offering training workshops for prospective life models. I figured I’d give it a go and, if I didn’t enjoy it, at least I’d get a unique experience and some nude portraits of myself out of it. 

I didn’t expect to find it as freeing and empowering as I did. I was using my body in a way I never had. By shifting my perspective beyond how ‘good’ I looked and whether or not my proportions could be deemed adequately feminine, I focused instead on how I could use my body; the various shapes I could create and how long I could hold dynamic poses. 

 

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Through talking to artists I’ve met at life drawing classes I’ve posed for, it’s become obvious that the appeal for them isn’t about drawing a particular type of body or a sexy subject. The artists I’ve spoken to want to be challenged with different poses and enjoy drawing a spectrum of body types. It’s not about how attractive the model is, but rather their energy and the way they move which is so individual to them. 

Loving your body as a woman feels like an act of rebellion. I would be lying if I said I always love mine, or that I consistently feel confident in my own skin. But, I do feel grateful for the ways in which my body serves me and I’ve become a lot better at not comparing it to others. 

 

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But above all, life modelling has reminded me that my body is mine. I have the power to decide how I use it, who sees it, and how I feel about it. It doesn’t matter what size my breasts are or if my thighs touch in the middle, my body inspires beautiful art and helps me make a living and I don’t need to look a certain way or be a particular size to be worthy of loving the body I live in.

This article was originally published on February 8, 2022.

If you’re struggling with body image issues or eating disorders, you can call the Butterfly National Helpline at 1800 33 4673 for free and confidential support, or email or chat to them online here.

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