Everyone wants to feel confident naked. The pre-fall Garden of Eden existence – before the snake ruined everything – seems a pretty sweet deal, right?
Leafless frolicking in a Utopian fantasy with your partner and some talking fauna (cited from the classic The Simpsons adaptation of the Old Testament) sounds like a damn good weekend retreat to me.
Like glamping. On acid.
But frolicking without your clothes on is easier said than done, because, as we all know, being naked makes you rather vulnerable.
So as I stood utterly starkers and surrounded by strangers, I did wonder if I’d gone too far in my search for inner confidence. This was not a changing room towel-slip or a dream in which I’d forgotten to don my pants.
This was life modelling.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that our body insecurities, our scars of the past, are hard to shake off. No matter how hard we fight against them, inside many of us lurks a 14-year-old self-titled ‘ugly duckling’.
Our pubescent counterparts are part of our DNA and they shape who we become as adults. It’s no wonder some of us have a lingering lack of body confidence that translates into a phobia of de-robing.
I too am a victim of my own formative body issues. For that reason, I am naked only when scenarios deem it necessary (read: showering and sex). I don’t like being exposed. I like winter coats and blankets. Anything I can be completely shrouded in, head to toe.
So there I was.
A person who hates being naked, stripping in front of 15 eager animation students, contorting my body into unusual positions while they gazed on, pencil in hand.
…And it was okay.
Once the erect-nipple-goose-pimple inducing cold and my awkward self-awareness subsided, I relaxed. I focused so hard on constructing interesting poses for the artists, I almost forgot that I was au naturel.
I modelled under 47-year-old Andy Lam – the ‘most naked man in the UK’ – who has been in the business of life modelling for two decades and runs Cardiff Life Model Collective.
Lam knows better than most how liberating it is to be comfortable in your own skin, and credits his own body positivity to life modelling.
He encourages models to engage with the artists, saying, ‘Interaction loosens up what can be a tersely creative atmosphere.’ His attitude softened what most would consider an awkward situation.
A 25-year-old artist who has been modelling with Lam for three years explained:
The strangest aspect of modelling is a room full of eyes looking at you – and that’s the same whether you’re clothed or not.
She was right.
Like her, I had debunked the myth of my own nakedness. This, for me, is mega.
As Gen-Y kids go, I’m pretty vanilla. I have tattoos and piercings but these are symbols of my reluctantly waning youth and my apparent incapacity to think uniquely.
Now I’m older and ‘wiser’ I gladly accept that I enjoy long books, shopping online for home furnishings and English Breakfast tea. I found 50 Shades of Grey more embarrassing than titillating and I staunchly defend the Old Faithful; missionary.
There was a time when my naked body evoked revulsion.
I would stand in front of my full-length IKEA mirror (invented by Swedish designers in black hats to make us all feel like OXO cubes) and prod and poke and squeeze.
You could say offering my body up for life modelling was a little masochistic. But that’s just me.
I am an ex-serial-self-harmer.
It was a form of punishment: A physical manifestation of self-loathing, my own form of operant conditioning.
It was a vicious cycle that I repeated until I was hospitalised.
I am by no means the only one. According to the Mental Health Foundation, the UK has one of the highest rates of self-harm in Europe, affecting 400 in every 100,000 people.
In 2014, figures were published by the World Health Organisation that showed a threefold increase in the number of British teenagers who had purposefully hurt themselves in the last decade.
The Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children report also revealed that of 6,000 young people surveyed across England, up to one in five 15-year-old children say they self-harm.
I first self-harmed in 2005. I was 13-years-old and I was obsessed with a heady mixture of The OC, hardcore bands and teenage boys with acne. Instagram was yet to take hold – hell, the iPhone wasn’t to be invented for another two years!
Now, when I think of the young adults today who are at the constant beck and call of images professing to portray body perfection packaged as #fitspo – or, god forbid, #thinspo – I have to admit with great, great sadness that I am surprised the self-harm statistics aren’t higher.
The desire to conform is natural in all teens but the widespread image of so-called normal physiques is unattainable, insipid and damaging.
I'm delighted that my large scale figure drawing workshop at the Art Students League of New York will be running next week! As of now there are still two or three spaces available. Monday and Tuesday, October 10-11, 1:30-8:00 pm each day. Contact the League at 212 247-4510 to enroll and receive information on materials. #figuredrawing #lifedrawing #artworkshop #academicdrawing #atelier #lifesize
Life modelling counteracts it.
Artists value the diversity of human form. Big, small, hirsute, waxed, pale, tanned? We’re all welcome.
Some young self-harmers will grow into adults who wear their scars like battle wounds, symbolic of their dedication to fighting their personal demons.
You just need to browse body positive Instagram accounts such as @LoveYourLines to see how brave and open some sufferers can be in the hopes of letting others know they are not alone.
"My lines aren't as deep and noticeable as they were in my early teens when I battled with self mutilation but these little guys peek out through my tattoo and remind me every day of how far I've come. I've had scars all over that've begun to fade and I smile at the thought of the pain I used to feel fading too. Before my tattoos there were just scars that told my story, now I have scars AND tattoos that've become a story book of my journey and strength. I love my lines from scars to ink." – @LinneWest on IG.
However, vanity always gets the better of me and my scars have only served to deepen my insecurities. Judgemental societal perceptions of self-harm worry me, so I cover up.
I hate to perpetuate these taboos, but there you go. Pobody’s Nerfect.
If I could tell my 14-year-old self that in ten years she would stand in a crowded room, completely naked and comfortable in her own skin, perhaps her twenty-three-year-old counterpart wouldn’t have scars to hide.
I will model again.
Perhaps it’s the £30 cash I received after two hours of simply being an anatomical thing.
Perhaps it’s because the session was the closest I’ve come to exercise for sometime – the fat girl inside me optimistically high-fiving herself for working up a sweat, albeit mild.
Truthfully though, it’s probably the raw elation I felt after dressing: No one called me disgusting and pointed out my scars.
No one politely masked gagging noises as I wound into poses I believed to be so goddamn sexy, I can only assume them reminiscent of Kim K’s #breaktheinternet PAPER cover (yes, I’m still talking about it).
No one made me feel small or silly or ugly – they all accepted my form and just sketched it.
In that room there was an unwritten rule: All the bullshit and trappings of normal social exchanges – the desire to impress – was abandoned and replaced by a simple two-way creative transaction and it was liberating.
I sashayed away from the life modelling session feeling confident; more aware of my body and its truths than I have ever been, and content with the reality I walk in.