Body Issues, what Body Issues?

Last night I went and took all my clothes off in front of a group of total strangers.

And a dog.

For 2 hours I sat completely still (on an electric blanket, surrounded by fan heaters) as 7 people stood at easels and painted/sketched/drew/charcoaled their own versions of me, to a soundtrack of old ska music and the odd surprising interjection of hip-hop (that Biggie Smalls, he was a laugh, eh?!)

Apart from the tutor and one girl who didn’t stay for the entire session, the group was entirely male – including the dog – and two of them appeared to be younger than my son.

It didn’t feel even slightly odd, though. There was no hint that any of this was in any way unusual or unpleasant and apart from the fact that everyone else in the room knew each other and I knew no-one, it was a perfectly ordinary, comfortable evening.

So – it seemed that for me there was no real challenge and no fears to be faced in getting naked.

And then I made the mistake of looking at some of the pictures.

I didn’t know what the etiquette was – does the model express an interest in the work going on around her and chat to the artists, or does she sit in a corner and mind her own business during the tea break?

So I combined the two. I sat in a corner stroking the dog and drinking my tea, and indulged myself with sneaky peaks at the pictures every now and then.

And that’s where the challenge and the fear came in.

Because, notwithstanding the varying degrees of skill of the individual artists, the difficult thing was seeing myself as others see me.

My fist instinct was to recoil at what I saw as ugliness. I’m under no illusions about my shape but I suppose I had expected to see something like this:

Beryl Cooke painting courtesy of the Canterbury Auction Galleries

And instead what I saw looked more like this:

The Venus of Willendorf

But without the hat and with my delicate lady parts far better hidden. Ahem.

Beryl Cooke’s work celebrates the female form, particularly the amply endowed female form, and does it in a way that smooths out the lumps and bumps and shows only curves and smoothness and generosity. Beryl’s work allows perkiness where there would, in reality, have been droop and sag, and satin skin instead of stretch marks and cellulite.

The Venus of Willendorf, in contrast, is much more lifelike, as are the paintings of Rubens which show bodies, male and female, as they really are rather than as we might wish them to be.

So – given that Rubens and that ancient sculptor had it right, what was I actually recoiling from? One of the paintings from last night was clearly made by an artist of real talent – he had captured the musculature under my skin and the fall of light and shade. There was a quote on the wall of the studio that said something about how painting the human body was a combination of architecture and landscape painting – and I think this artist last night had done both.

His work contained no judgement of me – the judgement was entirely in my own head.

And what was my judgement based on?

My external appearance doesn’t make me any less worthy as a human being.

It doesn’t make me any the less capable of doing the work that I love.

It is how it is in part as a result of 2 caesarean sections and breastfeeding 2 babies.

It also is how it is in part because I’ve never exercised regularly and I have a sweet tooth.

It is how it is also in part because of my genetic make-up.

And it is how it is because that’s who I am. If I looked different, I would have had an entirely different life and I wouldn’t be who I am today.

And who I am today is in a really good place, so why would I want to look any different? Do I really want to spend the rest of my life recoiling from The Real Me?

Hell No!

And so I am content. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience last night and I’m told that I made an excellent model because I had no difficulty sitting still. I shall do it again (especially if the dog turns up every time).

And next time I catch sight of a painitng, I will enjoy the artistry that’s gone into creating it and I will celebrate what it shows of the life I’ve lived to become who I am.

I have a couple of questions for you to ask yourself if you feel insecure about your appearance:

  • what POSITIVE impact has your appearance had on creating the person you are today?
  • if you’ve read this blog and thought “I could NEVER do that!” have a conversation with that fear and find out what it is you’re REALLY afraid of – you might be surprised by the answer.
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13 responses to “Body Issues, what Body Issues?

  1. In 1960, Borges – he of ‘The Library of Babel’ fame – wrote: “A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, fish, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.”.

    Our bodies are our autobiographies, they reflect all of our experiences. Other people may judge superficially but we are the only ones who know and can tell in depth what has gone in to the making of us. It’s great to tell that story, because you never know when it will be inspirational to other people!

  2. Just wanted to say that as an artist I have done a lot of life drawing classes and am always extremely grateful for the models who come and pose. It is strange as you say, but it actually does seem an entirely natural situation. The artists are usually happy for the model to go round and study their work and recognise that he/she has probably as good an opinion as anyone about it. Especially if he/she does it regularly. And are flattered with any compliments thrown their way.
    I think in these situations it’s not only the model who is exposed and baring all – the artists are vulnerable too. Their talent or lack of, is on display for scrutiny by the tutor, the model and the other class members. It can be terrifying if you’re having a bad day with your drawing and it just isn’t going right. You feel completely naked and there’s nowhere to hide it. So we’re in the same boat! But well done, I bet you made a great model!

  3. Love your celebration of who you are and how much you love that person. Naked, fearless and beautiful in your glory!
    I learned to love me because unless I am balanced with who I am and how I feel about me on the inside and outside too, I cannot be true to myself.
    Keep inspiring as you do so well xx

  4. Wow Cathy
    What an inspirational thing to do. Your writing reminds me of a friend who once said that she has spent years creating her body, and she had earned her curves 🙂
    A marvellous post, and food for thought
    Thank you
    Sue x

  5. I could never do that. I am not comfortable being naked even if in front of strangers. I am a lot warmer and happier wearing oodles of clothes. Good for you on doing it.

    • Ah but that’s the point – how many of the things we tell ourselves “I could never do” are we actually more than capable of doing? And what opportunities are we denying ourselves by telling ourselves “I could never do that”?

  6. Pingback: The S4P Blog » Blog Archive » I’ll Be Blogged! Reflection, Nudity and Non –Directive Coaching.

  7. I love doing life drawing and the models can make quite a difference. The models that feel confident in their bodies are lovely to draw and you forget that they are naked, but get caught up in the light and shapes and colours. You are obviously comfortable in your body to be told that you are a good model. Remember it is always interesting to see yourself as others see you even if it feels uncomfortable at first. I am part of Toastmasters and not only do we get our speech videoed, we also have someone evaluating us formally and informally we get comment slips from all of the audience. It is everyone’s opinion, it doesn’t mean it is the truth, but when lots of people say the same thing it is good to pay attention. Art is an interpretation, not the truth. What a lovely experience for you to have and thank you for sharing it with us.

    • That’s an interesting perspective Nicky – I AM actually very comfortable in my body – I just sometimes get a shock when I see it from the outside! You’ve made me wonder whether it would be useful for me to start taking life drawing classes myself, as well as modelling, to see things from all sides…hmmm…How Interesting!

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