If you met Hannah Colgan in her day job of a Physiotherapist, you’d probably not give much of a second thought, too busy concentrating on your exercises to wonder what she may get up to in her spare time. But behind the professional care worker exterior, Hannah holds a more unusual hobby.
Hannah’s been a life model for about 18 months. She originally decided to get into this daring hobby of standing in front of strangers naked as a personal challenge. “I’ve always been low in self confidence, especially around my body, and so I wanted to try it to see if I could actually do it.”
The standard format for life modelling is to cover yourself up with a robe until ready to be drawn, keeping your modesty intact, but Hannah says that standing around naked under a dressing gown amongst fully dressed people is actually quite disarming, perhaps more so than being completely starkers. “It feels quite intimate, to be naked under a robe, like something you would only normally do with people you are close to. The taking off of the robe is quite often the hardest part. Not the being naked, or the pain and discomfort from a tricky pose, but the undressing. It feels personal, somehow.”
Hannah found the first time she took off the robe scary, because she didn’t know what to expect, but each time after it got easier. She explained “I still find that first step of taking off the robe a bit disconcerting, but I’m more used to it now. The hard part now is thinking of poses to do; I’m not very imaginative. I find I’ve had to become more aware of my body and the positions it can get into, and whether they’re acceptable to do naked or not!”
It varies across different art classes, but the models are usually free to come up with their own poses, which can be difficult. Hannah admits she’s not an artist herself, and is still working on having a repertoire of positions to make sure the groups get the most out of them while trying to let go of the thought of whether her body looks good or not. She added “I have to remind myself of why I’m there, and that they care more about their work than what I look like. The artists are hugely supportive.”
Hannah’s biggest fear is seeing someone she knows in a class. “It’s not happened – yet!” she says with a laugh. “I’m not sure whether I could do it. I’m hoping I never have to find out!”
In a world where being naked is often sexualised, and people are judged against often unattainable physical appearances, Hannah has found some comfort in seeing a different view of the human body and its place as art. She’s also used it as a chance to educate people about self confidence issues. “When I’ve told people that I’m a life model, their reactions can vary from childish giggles, being told I’m brave to comments around because I’m slim it must be OK. I tell them that no matter what someone looks like, no matter how ‘thin’ it is, they might not necessarily have a good view of their own body.”
The best thing about life modelling? “Seeing what people have drawn. I found it really interesting to see how people viewed me, and what their representation was. I often found I thought I looked way more slimmer and toned in their pictures than I think I am, which has helped me view myself differently. I feel flattered, and more confident in my body.”