Just over a year ago, I sent a message to a friend saying I was thinking about starting a fashion blog. I did this partly because I love clothes and partly because I knew it would force me to examine my feelings about my body. Posting photos of myself in clothes I would never allow myself to wear before – crop tops, tight skirts, bikinis – for strangers to see and comment on was empowering. I got positive comments from strangers, I felt more confident wearing the outfits in my everyday life and I found myself buying more and more fun clothes to play with. A year on, my confidence had grown…and so did my wardrobe.
There is a problem with Instagram though: it’s fake. I try to keep mine as real as possible by not heavily editing photos, only posting outfits I am actually going to wear and occasionally posting the bad shots, but the selection process that goes on behind the posts still makes it fake. I take multiple shots and choose the best, I filter to get rid of any glare, I pick what backgrounds and angles are presented and I caption each image carefully to present a certain image. It’s all fake. So when someone I knew was seeking life models, I decided to put myself forward. I would have no filters, nor even clothes to hide behind. I would have to choose poses I could hold for extended periods rather than ones I thought I looked good in and I would have no control over the images produced. I thought it would be good for me.
I’m not sure if the presence of friends there made me more or less nervous about taking off my clothes and revealing my saggy tits, my hairy pubis, my overhanging tummy, my stretch marks and scars (from self-harm and multiple medical procedures) and all the wibbly, dimpled, bumpy, inverted bits that are usually hidden by clothes, underwear or clever camera work. I also made what logically should have been a terrible error and invited someone I really fancied to model with me (turns out we’re madly in love, who knew!) which certainly didn’t help the nerves.
Here was the first thing I learned: I felt OK once I was naked, but getting undressed in front of people really freaked me out. Something about the process felt humiliating, but standing naked in front of friends and strangers didn’t feel too embarrassing. Go figure. The second thing I learned was that I cannot straddle a chair for twenty minutes and expect my hip not to pop out of place. My skeleton is, as a friend recently said, a disaster wrapped in a meat suit.
What I appreciated learning the most was that my body was beautiful. The drawings didn’t pull any punches; they show me how I am and they are beautiful. I was scared that I would enjoy the experience but be repulsed my body when I saw it on paper. I was actually fairly convinced that would happen, right until I glanced at the nearest work in progress halfway through my first pose. I loved every image I saw and couldn’t wait to go again.
The second time I modelled there was a theme of politicised bodies. The other model wrote messages about gender on their body and I highlighted all my scars in red lipstick. This extra layer of vulnerability felt natural and exciting and the space the organisers created was so calm I didn’t worry about being judged, but I’m not sure this is an experiment I would repeat at more traditional events. I hoped by this, by seeing my scars plainly in images, that I would find a bit more peace about the circumstances, the pain that leads to them. This didn’t really happen, partly because the scars that bother me most weren’t visible to most the room in my pose. The actual thing I learnt was quite different; the scars aren’t as visible to anyone else as I think they are.
So, would I do it again? Yes. Would I recommend others try it? Yes (but make sure it’s with people you know or through a reliable agency and not just some dudes basement). Did I learn that I unquestionably love my body? Well…no. See, I was OK being naked, but I did shave off body hair that I usually ignore when it’s hidden by clothes. I wore heavy makeup. I found I was in pain due to the poses and spent a large part of it hating my body for being disabled and weak. So, no. I learnt my body is beautiful, but that is still a far cry from the utter confidence I still need to achieve. Still, some of the artists gave me their drawings and I’m never one to complain about free art!