Last night, as the rest of the world prepared for an evening in front of the telly, I set out in the rain and the dark and the wind to get my kit off for strangers. And I wasn’t even getting paid for the privilege.
A million questions flew around my head: Should I have waxed? Is it going to be really cold? What if I don’t know how to stand in the right way? What if I find it all so awful that I start crying? Or just want to run away?
Patrick Palmer, the teacher of the life-drawing class I would be sitting for, tried to reassure me. He told me that nobody would be thinking of me as a naked woman, they’d be too busy worrying about their art. Very easy for him to say, wrapped up in his jeans and jumper.
When my friend suggested naked modelling as one of the challenges, I didn’t relish the idea of it but I wasn’t horrified either. My bum is bigger and wobblier than I’d like, as are my thighs, but on the whole I don’t mind my body.
The older I get, the less I care – and anyway, it’s not like it’s beauty contest. I may as well be a piece of fruit or a vase of flowers as far as the artists are concerned.
But as I stood on the cold tiles of the art centre’s loo, putting on my fluffy white dressing gown, I felt differently. All I could think was: ‘What the hell am I doing? How has my life become so strange? Why aren’t I at home, getting ready to watch Sherlock, like a normal person?’
But this whole project means that I am no longer a normal person. I am a fear fighter extraordinaire. And so I walked back into the room where about 15 people were fiddling with easels and paints and charcoal and prepared to take my clothes off.
I was directed to a grey office chair, positioned in front of them all, under a strong spotlight.
‘Whenever you’re ready,’ said Patrick.
And just like that I took off my robe and sat down. Naked. Properly naked. Not a stitch on. It was weird. Not good weird or bad weird, just weird.
But just as I put my naked bum on the rough seat, a latecomer walked into the class. He was good-looking. Then it was bad weird.
I crossed my legs and put my arms in my lap, just to cover something. I picked a spot on the floor and kept gazing down. I don’t remember ever looking so intently at a floor.
After twenty minutes, another model came to join me and we did some balletic standing poses. In one our arms were up and I realised I hadn’t shaved my armpits in a few days. I wondered if any of them would notice.
Then Patrick told the class to rearrange themselves so they had an angle they liked. Mr Good-looking brought his chair up so that he was sitting directly in front of me. I’d normally have to be very drunk to show this much to a perfect stranger. I felt a moment of panic, then I told myself to grow-up. I set my gaze back at the floor and thought about what I’d have for dinner when I got home.
Afterwards I put my robe back on and looked at what he’d done. He told me he’d messed up my face, he worried that my nose was wrong. We didn’t mention anything about the boobs – which, for the record were captured perfectly. I asked him what his day job was. He worked in I.T.
As the evening went on, it was strange how un-strange it all felt. Walking around looking at people’s drawings and paintings, I could see that we were just bodies and curves and lines. Nothing personal at all. I wanted to thank one woman for making my bum look smaller than it actually is but then I realised that that was probably not appropriate.
But if I’m honest, vanity did kick in. I really liked how I looked in all the pictures. It was cool to see yourself as a work of art. I also loved how LaDawn (the rather fabulous name of my co-model) looked. She’s larger than me and shorter – and the contrast between our bodies was brilliant. I loved her fleshiness and her shape. I could have looked at her body for hours – it was so different to mine. Fascinating.
LaDawn and I went into our final pose, sitting face to face, with our hands held up and touching. We started chatting about all sorts – her kid’s schools, work stress etc. She told me that she’d started life modelling a few years ago, as a way of helping her get through depression.
‘I’m a large woman,’ she said. ‘On the street I’m not beautiful but here I am. The artists love my body, the folds, the size… it’s empowering. I come away feeling like a million bucks.’
And by the end of the class I was sad to go. I could have hung out with La Dawn all night. We said our goodbyes and she said ‘Shall we be friends, then?’ and I said ‘Yes!’ I loved the way she asked the question. Why don’t we all say that to people we meet and like? I guess life modelling must make you shed a lot of inhibitions.
At the end, Patrick asked me how I’d felt it had gone and I really didn’t know how to answer. I still don’t.
It was all a bit surreal and strangely underwhelming. I didn’t come away feeling empowered or exhilarated, just happy to make a new friend. And hungry. I went home and ate two bowls of curry. As all the best models do.
If you fancy a life drawing class, the one I went to takes place Sunday at 5pm, at the Fire station arts centre in Windsor, and the teacher was Patrick Palmer. It had a lovely atmosphere and welcomes all levels. And they play nice music at the same time and allow you to bring down pints from the bar upstairs. Am I selling it?! For more details visit: www.patrickpalmer.co.uk
PS – CAN’T QUITE BELIEVE THAT THANKS TO THE BLOG I’VE PUT A PICTURE OF ME IN A SWIMSUIT AND IN THE NUDE INTO THE WORLD. NEXT STOP PLAYBOY…