I turned 18 in 2012, which meant I was legally an adult in the UK, could drink, smoke, vote and get married without permission. I wasn’t so fussed about that, I was more interested in starting life modelling which I’d been excited about since about 16 years old. I’d already pre-arranged my location (a cute artsy bar/gallery in Oxford) and was really excited.
Throughout my teen years I was fortunate enough to be quite ignorant to societal pressures on how women’s bodies should look, so was always quite comfortable being naked. Even more so in these situations where it’s so simply not a sexual thing.
I think my self-confidence came from my mum. She died just before I turned 13, but I always remember her being so honest and encouraging. I admired her body, which for me was the epitome of femininity that I was excited to be a part of ever since I first noticed my underarm hair.
I never saw my mum resent or dislike her body. She was always happy to stroll around nude, always dancing, always confident. She wore what she liked, what she felt comfortable in. Cellulite, stretch marks and hair was always just a thing, natural, and never something worth distracting from the joy of being nude.
My dad also was always encouraging. He was given the task of raising a newly-teenage girl and her teenage brother alone after my mum died, which he did well, now I can look back in hindsight.
Dad has never imposed his opinions on me, never dictated what I should and shouldn’t do, never tried to make me feel guilty for my decisions. He’s always just maintained that so long as I’m happy then it’s fine. I was about 10 years old when I understood that there will always be things that my dad won’t understand about me, and I won’t understand about him, since he was never a girl.
I took these things into my own hands, as well as grieving for my mum, learning about my own body and it’s new actions, schoolwork and so on. When you’re in that kind of situation you tend to just get on with it, rather than dwell about your jiggly thighs or big ears. This made school pretty tedious, and I’ve only taken away a very selective two friends who didn’t fall for that stuff either. We’re still like sisters today.
Dad had no issues with my choice to life model, he already knew of the venue and trusted my judgement anyway. He didn’t have any issues when I told him I was in a relationship with an older, foreign man. He didn’t have any issues when I said I wanted to study art. No issues when I decided to move to a place he’d never heard of. He’s one of my best friends now, and it could’ve gone either way. Understanding is the most important thing in any kind of relationship!
I don’t remember feeling nervous. You just come in and get on with it. I only modeled to groups of about 20, 30 on a busy day. As it was connected to a bar too, most people came in with a glass of wine and were really chatty and interesting.
My only real issue with life modelling was how uncomfortable it could be. I was usually on a wooden pedestal with a few scratchy pillows which forced me to learn how to balance my weight for long periods even when I couldn’t feel my limbs. One time (in the middle of winter) I had only a small heater to keep me warm which did a good job until a pose I was in almost meant melting my foot while the rest of me was shivering.
I only fell asleep once, during a 45 minute pose, and was only drawn by a girl I knew from school once (which was awkward, when you haven’t seen each other in years). Generally people were very polite, although spooked when you’d run through them naked to grab water before fainting. Not many people would complain at the sight of an 18 year old girl running past them though.
When I did life drawing at college, our models were rarely women, and never young people. I said to myself that I wanted to model a bit at 18/ in my youth, and again when I’m 60, to compare and keep the fire alive.
When you’re drawing, you tend to forget that the subject is alive. It’s quite a surreal experience at first, because you start to see just shapes and shading (I guess a nice kind of objectification?) then suddenly their chest rises or they blink and you snap back to reality again.
The main thing I took away from my short time life modelling was how refreshing it was to be naked and not sexualised. As a tall girl with large breasts and my mum’s rounded hips, I’m used to being catcalled and sometimes even cornered by men just walking down the street.
There’s something very raw and wholesome about being sat with people naked, something primal. To be sexual all the time is exhausting, and it’s such a great way to get used to your own body and others by just sitting and enjoying nature.
I feel like this attitude has really impacted how I conduct myself now, as a woman. You learn very quickly when to take things seriously and when to cut out the immature people. I feel like I know my body inside and out, which is so necessary for being able to read yourself and your emotions and keeping perspective in an otherwise quite smothering world.
Have you ever life modeled? Or even attended a life drawing class? I’d love to hear about your experiences! I also highly recommend it if you need a confidence boost, or some extra cash (£10 for sitting on your arse isn’t bad if you ask me!). You could potentially be the muse to the next Rubens, Botticelli or Rossetti!