I’m in a room full of strangers. Nobody is speaking. Candles dot the cement floor, flicking orange light onto the walls. The air is cool and heavy; someone burnt incense in here not too long ago. Perched on chairs and stools, strangers are scattered around the room, mostly in pairs and trios. Some came alone. They’re all staring at me. Of course they are — I’m naked.
Somehow, a fleeting red-wine-induced thought of "Wow, I’m so effing hot... someone should totally draw me" had stuck around, and I hadn’t been able to get rid of the tiny feeling that maybe seeing my body as art would be nice. It was a curious thought. I wanted to see if my stomach did look as big as I thought it did, or if my hips were as uneven as they’d looked in that one picture from years ago. I wanted to see myself drawn beautifully, like maybe it would lift the heaviness of the sadness I felt about my body.
The little curious feeling lingered, but I still felt that while it was all well and good to have a glass or two and feel like the most beautiful woman to ever exist, being a model a life drawing class wasn’t something I could do. The only times I’d ever seen anyone model for artists was in TV or movies. Those lithe, sultry women splayed across velvet couches always had a certain air of femme-fatale intrigue — something I felt chronically deficient in. I didn’t feel like my body was beautiful enough to be drawn.
And that’s where I was ridiculously, incredibly, enormously wrong — but it wasn’t until I actually attended a life drawing class myself that I understood why. Nestled between two very talented friends in a stuffy attic, I made awkward small talk trying to distract myself from the horrible feeling that I’d accidentally giggle at the life model’s boobs, or that my pitiful attempts at artwork would have to co-exist next to my friends’ masterpieces. Amidst the chatter in the tiny room, a woman had emerged from the corner and made her way to the ottoman in the middle of the room. I watched as she fiddled with the tie of her silk robe until the room went quiet. And then she undressed.
I wanted to see myself drawn beautifully, like maybe it would lift the heaviness of the sadness I felt about my body.
As her robe fell off her shoulders, she turned away to place it neatly on the floor, and something clicked inside my mind. I spent the next two hours getting more charcoal on my clothes than my paper, but I left happier and lighter than I’d felt in a long time. The bus ride home gave me time to message a local life drawing studio and explain that even though I had no experience, modelling for a class was something I just needed to do.
The fact that complete strangers would see my bum crack, and even worse, my toes, was frightening in a nervous-giggle-and-back-away-slowly kind of way. But when the studio replied and offered a session for me to model, I had to take a deep breath, say yes, and figure out how I was going to stand still for so long.
Who am I to say my body isn’t beautiful or good enough when, in all of its rolls and dips and bends and lines, it is art?
So there I was, naked in a room full of strangers. My arms are stretched upwards towards the ceiling, reaching for something not quite there. A change in song tells me it's time for a new pose and I sit, legs arched in front of me as I curl forward into my knees. I can feel my stomach fold twice, maybe three times, over itself and instead of straightening up or feeling embarrassed that, heaven forbid, my stomach is taking up space, I breathe in the cool, heavy air and settle in for the next 10 minutes.
That’s what clicked. I knew that at the end of the session, I would get up, pull my robe around myself, say hello to the artists and ask to see their work. I would laugh with them about how much my neck had hurt during the pose that had been their favourite. They would show me the drawings they were proudest of, or maybe ones that had gone horribly, hilariously wrong. I knew that every single person would have captured my body differently. I felt a great calmness in that.
I realise that I’ll never understand exactly what my body might look like to other people, and I don’t need to. I saw proof in the artwork around me — everyone had stared at the same body but each had created something entirely unique. The stomach rolls that used to make me squirm looked so soft in one drawing — and so strong in another.
The weird thing my hips do when I shift my weight to one leg looked poised in one drawing and casual in another. Even my fingers had been drawn so differently from artist to artist. Who am I to say my body isn’t beautiful or good enough when, in all of its rolls and dips and bends and lines, it is art? Why waste time obsessing over what others might think of my body, when I could find things to love and cherish, and look for those instead?
Some artists chose not to draw my stomach rolls, or instead drew a perfect hourglass figure and back-breaking, gravity-defying boobs, and that’s fine. Months ago, I would have enshrined those drawings above my bed like some altar to a benevolent deity, but not anymore.
Being a life model made me love the things about my body that I’d thought made me unworthy. I wasn’t me without those features. I recognised myself in the art. I appreciated the pieces where the artist had taken the time to round each stomach roll, shade my softer jaw, and capture the unevenness of my hips. I saw myself in the gentle curve of a spine and thighs that pressed into each other, a thoughtful expression and dark lashes gazing over folded hands.
When I see myself now, I see artwork in motion.