Just under 2 years ago I started life modelling. It was something I’d wanted to try for a while, ever since an off the cuff remark about wanting a painting of me for my bedroom wall one Friday night ended with a drunken half naked drawing session with a recruitment consultant/amateur artist from London called Will.
I’m not an exhibitionist, don’t like being centre of attention and I hate being stared at, so this was ideal to get out of my comfort zone and do something that scared me a little bit. I don’t particularly mind being naked as such (I’ll go topless on holiday, for example) and like to think I’m pretty body confident, but I reckoned this would test that. Was I really as body confident as I thought?
Society, culture and the media all have different views on nudity that we’ve grown up with. When I told some people about this, there’s sniggers and smutty remarks. Others are horrified and tell me they wouldn’t be able to do it. Does this say something about me, them or our attitudes to nudity in general?
I guess nudity is a ‘thing’ in society nowadays. We British aren’t really known for our laid back attitude to it, and if you look in most media it’s sexualised so much people can’t look at a baby being breastfed without feeling offended or uncomfortable. So the idea of getting your kit off in front of a stranger, let alone a room full of them, is pretty abhorrent to a lot of people. Add into that mix the affliction that is low body confidence (especially in women) and it’s no wonder everyone’s natural reaction is ‘no way’. We’re not encouraged to find all forms beautiful; to embrace nudity and all shapes and sizes.
This is art. I can’t imagine anything less sexual or sensual than sitting or standing naked in an art room under a lamp being scrutinised. I’m pretty sure the artists aren’t going to be sitting there leering at me and making judgements on my body. If they are, then that says more about them that me; it’s their business, not mine.
It’s a completely contrasting environment; one where the model is looked at like an object to be drawn, the artists noticing things like shadows, changes in direction, spaces and curves rather than body parts. They’re not looking at whether your arse is big or not, whether you have cellulite, or wondering how you got that scar (I fell in a ditch when I was 14). They’re not judging the size of your lady lumps, or how big your tummy is, or whether your bingo wings move when you move (tip: you can’t move anyway, so no problem). They actually don’t give a shit about you. You’re almost a piece of art yourself, sat like a statue, in front of people to look at. You could almost say the art is in the creation process of the pieces over the hours, model and artists both, and not in the finished pictures.
There’s lots of reasons why people feel shy being naked, but a lot of the time it’s in a different context. Sitting in that art studio is completely different to say, getting naked in front of a new partner for the first time. Or having to get changed in front of a group of people you know at the gym.
One of my reasons for trying this is to see how I did actually feel in that first moment of having to sit there, starkers. I’d say I’ve got pretty high body confidence mainly; I’m pretty happy with how I look, it’s all I have and if I don’t love it then what hope is there for anyone else to? It’s who I am and I’m healthy and can do stuff, that’s the most important thing to me. But it’s one thing saying so, it’s another thing talking the talk.
I’ll not lie, I was a little nervous when it came to it that first Wednesday. Stood with only a dressing gown to cover my modesty, while the room filled up with PEOPLE. It all of a sudden became real, and felt very odd to know I wasn’t wearing anything underneath. I felt a bit like I was in one of those dreams where you’re naked, no one else is and you can’t run away because your feet are stuck to the ground. I even checked with Alex (the tutor) that I should be fully naked, just in case I was actually supposed to wear underwear or something and I had got it all wrong, as somehow that would have felt even worse. But no.
They were all stood behind their easels just about ready to start and I had to do a last minute dash to the loo. Nervous wee. Then, before I knew it I was perched on a box in the buff. And as soon as that first second was over, I relaxed. Well, as much as you can. Because THEN, I realised that there’s actually other things to worry about than the being naked thing. Like, take a bit of time to get comfy before you settle into a pose. Because you’ll be there a LONG time and although it sounds easy, staying in the same position and not moving AT ALL is really pretty hard and takes a hell of a lot of concentration. Every few minutes I’d realise my muscles had tensed up without me realising and I’d have to concentrate to relax them. And repeat, many times (the class is 2 hours and apart from a short break you’re sitting for all of it).
This is also alongside feeling so hot (the first week it was BOILING, I swear it was like a million degrees) that I was sweating like a bastard. Actual droplets, rolling down me with nothing to catch them (boob sweat, ick), with me acutely aware of them and the fact I could do nothing about it and with a lamp shining on me it would have been pretty damn noticeable. This bothered me more than being naked until I just realised that actually, there was nothing I could do about it, it’s what the human body (well, my body that day) does and hey, that’s life. Accept it and be confident. So I did, and I did eventually cool down and stopped looking like I should have been in a bikram yoga class.
And also weird things happen while sat there (although I have had this before, so maybe it’s just me that’s weird) where I feel like parts of my body aren’t connected to me (so like sometimes I feel like I’m floating, or my head is loads higher than it is, or my hands feel like they’re in a different position – I think it’s because they’ve gone a bit numb). It’s a bit like being in a bit of a meditative state, and also I start to wonder if I AM actually moving, but can’t look to check and just can’t quite tell what my body is doing as I feel so disconnected to it. And there’s also the thing which we coined as “the monkey on your shoulder” in Spain earlier this year – have you ever walked past a river or been on a balcony or something and had an urge to throw your phone (or similar) off it? Like a little monkey is sat perched on your shoulder whispering “go on, throw it off, throw it off, see what it would look like down there? Throw it off, throw it off” into your ear, and you have to try really hard not to, because your brain knows that you don’t really want to throw your phone into a river. Because I’m concentrating so much on not moving the monkey starts telling me to wave my arms around or kick my leg out some other involuntary spasm. Like Will in that Inbetweeners episode where he takes drugs for the first time and can’t control his arms.
I’ve also done some modelling for an artist, one-on-one. The same premises apply, but it’s a lot more relaxed and informal. It can be a bit strange, and not something that’s the norm or indeed always recommended (always trust gut instinct and put safety first), but there’s a bit of freedom and artistic licence allowed for the model. During the [whole day] sessions I got to try out a variety of poses, and a whole heap of different styles of art were created. The artist would never draw the whole of me, and so I only had to worry about keeping certain parts still, meaning I could still chat, move around or wiggle my toes.
If you want to get into it, I’d suggest having a chat with any local art groups or schools and go from there. You don’t need any formal training but you do need an understanding of what’s involved.
If you’re in the UK, you can join the Register of Artists’ Models (RAM) which is a UK register and aims to help raise the standards for life modelling. Art Nude UK is a site that aims to bring together all factions of life modelling and provide a self-promotion platform for models.
Apparently Sean Connery was a life model in Edinburgh in his early twenties, so you’d be in good company.