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It was one thing to drop the robe, but afterwards I got to see myself through other people’s eyes.
Sonya Krzywoszyja

15 Nov 2019 - 10:29 AM  UPDATED 3 Jul 2020 - 3:18 PM

“Hey, are you still available for life modelling?”

I had completely forgotten that I signed up to model naked in front of strangers.

Months ago, my friend alerted me to a body and queer positive life modelling class happening locally and suggested I put my hand up to try it out.

I had always been interested in the idea of life modelling and the same friend had done it for years and always spoken about how much fun she had found it, so I thought “Why not?”, texted back, “Yes” and then promptly blocked it out.

Until the text message, asking if I was still interested arrived.

My stomach dropped a little. I was scared just getting the text, let alone thinking about the idea of having to actually have my bits out in public. It was terrifying to me.

But this is my year of challenging myself so I texted back my continued interest.

In the past 10 years or so, I have been getting more comfortable with body neutrality and trying not to mention mine or others bodies in anything other than a neutral way. I have spent so long working to the point of getting to be ok with my body, instead of being at war with it. There are days when I feel great (when I am dancing, or boxing or running) and there are days when I hate it (when my endometriosis flares up or when I have to buy jeans or swimwear). These extremes I go through aren’t helpful for my mental or physical health, so what I like to aim for most days is neutrality. 

As the day got closer, I was nervous

Modelling naked was going to challenge those extremes AND the neutrality.

As the day got closer, I was nervous and made sure my body was freshly groomed and I was wearing a full face of makeup. I arrived at the art studio and took note of all of the artists that would be staring at my naked body. It wasn’t until the facilitator mentioned they were still waiting on the model that I realised I hadn’t actually introduced myself. 

I have always had a little theatrical streak, so I did some weird form of jazz hands and announced with a flourish: “Hi I am here! The model!”

The facilitator was amazing, making me feel immediately comfortable. She explained how the evening would be structured, the lengths of poses I would be doing and the different activities she would ask the artists to engage in. To me, she noted that if at any time I needed a break, wanted the heater or air conditioner on, or if I wanted to put an article of clothing back on, to just sing out. With that, it was time to get my kit off.

Disrobing was difficult. All those eyes, staring at me. Coming up with different poses though, was much more difficult. What would be interesting to draw? How would I look? And most importantly, could I sit on my knees for three minutes without shaking or moving in any way?

Disrobing was difficult. All those eyes, staring at me. 

While I was mostly staring off into the middle distance through most poses, mentally preparing my shopping list for the week, a few times I made shy eye contact with the artists. When I did this, I noticed how intensely they were focusing on my body, how quickly the charcoal or watercolours were moving across the page.  At one time, the facilitator gave the artists an exercise to focus on one body part of mine and draw that. Another time, she asked if they could draw without looking at the page.

During the break, one artist asked if I had done this type of thing before. When I said it was my first time and that I was quite nervous about the whole process, she assured me I was doing well and that my body was beautiful. This was a lovely comment to receive, but my favourite comment was another artist telling me that the shapes I was contorting my body in were awesome to draw.

An hour went by quickly. My last pose was a supine 10 minute pose. I almost fell asleep. I felt at ease. When I went to the back room to put my clothes back on, the artists had all laid out their favourite drawings of me, for me to look at.

Seeing myself through other people’s eyes, laid bare on the paper was amazing for my body confidence. I don’t think I have ever felt so good about this meat sack of mine, as I have at looking at a close up of my thigh tattoo, my lips, my butt. Whenever I start to feel a bad about my body, I remember those drawings. The next time I am asked to life model, I’ll respond with an enthusiastic “Yes!”.

 Sonya Krzywoszyja is a freelance writer. 

Life Drawing Live premieres Saturday 4 July, 8.30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand. It streams live across Australia on SBS On Demand and live on SBS at 8.30pm AEST with a delay in WA, NT and SA. A Pose Cam will be available as a separate stream, for those drawing along at home. Join the conversation and share your artwork on the night #SBSLifeDrawingLive Full details at www.sbs.com.au/lifedrawinglive

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