The last time I was naked in front of a group of strangers was four months ago for naked yoga, and the only other time before that was when my mum put me in the bath with the weird little offspring of some of her random hippy friends.
But now I’m kind of becoming a seasoned nudist – I’ve taken it off for the people in autumn and winter. And I’m stepping up my game too; naked yoga was in a room full of strangers who were focusing on their own rudey nudey downward dogs – not mine. Whereas life modelling had me unrobing under fluorescent lights in front of people specifically there to consider the gravitational pull of my breasts; to ponder the stretch marks on my hips; to explore the way my skin folded around my middle; and to eyeball the architecture between my legs.
The event I modelled at was WOW (Women of the World) Festival – a festival of talks, workshops and performances celebrating females – which meant that the people I was liberating myself in front of were impassioned feminists in their most natural of habitats. Lesbihonest.
But this wasn’t your normal life drawing class because I wasn’t the only model in the room. It was me and a whole pile of other women – old, young, big, small, talkative, disabled. It was coordinated by Spirited Bodies, an organisation that invites women of all experience levels to get nude together to give birth to art.
It’s run by the lovely Esther, the type of woman whose unique energy and appearance compel you; they scream I’m-a-bohemian-feminist-artist-so-take-it-or-leave-it, and she has curly eyebrows like me.
Esther’s clearly passionate about what she does, you just have to check out her website to see that. She’s a good writer and it’s total ‘power to the women’. Her most recent blog post was about having her periods when modelling – bleeding and smelling, and melting all over the artist’s page. It’s pretty flipping gross, but powerful enough to make you squirm.
When I arrived at the venue I considered aborting mission as I awkwardly lingered outside in my usual lone-wolf fashion. I watched as more and more artists arrived with pens and paper at the ready, eager to get in and sketch some lovely lady lumps.
I started to work out who the models were among the artists because they exuded a special type of WE-IS-GONNA-GET-NAKED!!! energy. So when some of them started to go in I followed. Esther had warned me it might all feel a bit impersonal and rushed because there was a tight turnaround with the room setup, but when all the models crammed into a makeshift dressing room to undress, I freaked out because there wasn’t enough room for me!
The artists were now starting to be let in the room and I was still standing there wearing my backpack like a big dork. I panicked and did that wiggle-inside-the-clothes strip so that, ironically, no one could see my princess. It was totally graceless.
Directed by Esther, we all gathered on the cushions in the middle, then, surrounded by 50 or so artists, we were told to lose the gowns – I was off and away. Down went the gown and I wished there was a warm bath around.
We were guided through the experience to ensure an even mix of sitting, standing and lying, and each pose lasted between 5-15 minutes. I experienced at least four fuck-off cramps being too ambitious with my amateur poses but only got one inappropriate erection.
You might imagine the scene to look something like this and you’d be imagining it pretty accurately. Except there were more disabled people.
Esther had told me that models come to her for a variety of different reasons; sometimes to accept uncontrollable body changes and disabilities, sometimes for body confidence boosts, sometimes it’s secret rebellion against strict religious regulations and sometimes it can just be because people like the attention.
I was obviously there because getting naked is outside my comfort zone, because just like everyone else, I have my insecurities. My biggest concern was what people might conclude on the aesthetics of my bits and pieces. I mean I don’t have a Shrek vagina or Pinocchio nipples or any horrendous hidden growths, but they’re not exactly the designer assets of a good porn flick.
I was actually so concerned that, for the first time in ten years, I tried to grow my pubic hair back. Weeks before the event I had stopped waxing, plucking and epilating. I just let it grow… let it grow… let it blossom… let it flow.
And uh, hey guess what. Turns out I’m no longer a Fanta pants. That’s right kids, the old carpet-eroo doesn’t match the drapes no more. Nope, my hair is literally see-through blonde. And it doesn’t really even grow anymore. What was once a nice healthy bush of fire is now a transparent speckle of weeds.
When I told my friend Lauren she said “That’s a good thing to happen though, you’d rather blonde than orange, right?”
I only managed to see some of the drawings of me because people came and went throughout the workshop. Some were less insulting than others.
Not insulting: I’m on the left with no head and an incomplete leg.
Insulting: Some wise gal drew me from the exact same angle as per above, but added a few kilos to make me look like a swollen lymph node.
And would you believe she signed it and gave it to me as a gift? Straight to the trophy room innit.
A few people drew me from behind but failed to observe my buns of steel, instead drawing buns of pork.
One woman got me from the side and gave me the pointiest nipple in all the lands.
And another got me in this pose – that’s me at the bottom, I don’t really know what the other two are up to.
And I could be in this one, but I can’t really be sure.
It’s definitely an experience worth being part of, not just for the free fat pic but for the sake of building confidence in your own skin. Don’t get me wrong, I still find group nakedness a completely bizarre concept, but there’s just a feeling of self acceptance you experience when doing it. There’s a bit of a realisation that nobody would give a shit if you did have a Shrek vagina. And if they did it would only be because it made them feel better about their own Shrek genitalia.
If you are interested in being a Naked life drawing model or attending a Spirited Bodies life drawing event as an artist, you can get in touch with a very friendly Esther at Spirited Bodies.