I’m just emerging from hibernation after a virus confined me to my bedroom for a number of days. It was a pretty horrible experience, particularly for someone who’s not used to getting sick and who prefers to be out doing stuff whenever possible.
It was also a humbling experience – being sick when you live alone with no family of your own and no relatives nearby can be quite lonely-making and I confess I shed a few tears, triggered by a sense of vulnerability, helplessness and, of course, too many romantic comedies.
But I also challenged my independence and asked a friend to bring around some supplies. For a good while, I was determined to make it to the shops on my own – they’re only five minutes walk away – but when the thought of getting out of my pjs and braving the cold brought tears to my eyes, I knew it was time to stop being so stubborn.
I wish I could say I’m back to 100 percent but I’m not and I’ve been warned these viruses have a habit of making a comeback so I’m trying to take it easy. Plans to work on my book haven’t got off the ground but I thought at least I could manage to finish a blog – on the naked truth – I started two weeks ago.
Before I get to that, did I tell you I have a literary agent? I have a literary agent! In fact, I had offers from four literary agents, which is – if I can bring myself to acknowledge my success (never an easy thing) – quite an achievement. It’s also a little poignant, because the fact is I didn’t seem able to believe my book was worth a literary agent or a publishing deal until an agent told me it was.
I’d been dragging my feet, finding excuses not to get on with my writing, doubting my ideas, thinking I should just give it all up. And then someone else told me what I actually knew deep down but was too afraid to embrace – that my book is a great concept, that it’s well worth a literary agent (or four) and that, with a little more hard work, dedication and self-belief, it’ll be snapped up by a fantastic publisher. It’s just a shame I needed someone else to tell me that. But then maybe I’m just normal – human normal – and insecure in my abilities.
So back to the half-written naked truth blog – it’s one I prepared earlier (as they used to say on Blue Peter):
A few weekends ago I took my clothes off. All of them. In public.
It was really good for me – and I reckon it was pretty good for the audience too.
Got your attention? I’ll carry on then.
I was taking part in a life drawing session at the Women of the World festival hosted by Spirited Bodies (@spiritedbodies), an organisation that encourages
women people (correction after publication: while I attended a women’s only event, Spirited Bodies is for men and women) to model nude or draw other nude models in order to feel better about themselves and their bodies.
I went along because I thought it would help me get over some of my body hang-ups, which are still there despite huge improvements in my thinking since I got into recovery from an eating disorder some nine years ago.
My body hang-ups have a lot to answer for. Not only did they prompt me to start blogging two years ago – on my first blog site called Just As I Am – An Experiment in Self Acceptance – but they’ve also contributed to my abject failure for pretty much all of my life to appreciate my body just as it is, perfectly imperfect. They’ve convinced me to cover up my arms and legs because they didn’t look anything like Cindy Crawford’s. They’ve guided me away from figure-hugging clothing and towards items that conceal my shape. And they’ve caused me many a self-conscious moment at parties, on beaches and in bedrooms.
I thought Spirited Bodies could help me with all that. But first I had to get over my resistance to being out of my comfort zone. When I sat down in the Spirited Bodies event at the Southbank Centre and was told to collect some paper and drawing materials from the table, I immediately wanted to be anywhere else except in that windowless, ground floor room. And not because it was a windowless, ground floor room.
On the floor above, a talk was taking place about women in the media – an intellectual talk with some well-known speakers. A talk that was right up my street. A talk I could have listened to with my thinking brain and taken notes on. I’d have been in my element, right in my comfort zone. As it was, I was being asked to draw, which is something I’m not naturally good at. I’m good at writing and talking but not drawing – not my strong point.
My body tensed up. I wanted out of there. It wasn’t anything to do with the imminent nudity of the models – I was a little apprehensive but generally feeling fine about seeing a bunch of ladies naked – nor to do with the potential for taking my own clothes off – I felt ready to do that and had a friend along for moral support. No, my resistance was all about the prospect of turning my hand to something that didn’t come easily to me, to something I wasn’t going to be able to master in minutes, to something that was going to call on a side of my brain or my persona that I’m not that used to engaging. I was not going to be the best – far from it – and my output might even be a little embarrassing. Get me out of here!
Fortunately, I stayed put and once I’d started drawing, everything was OK. In fact, it was more than OK. My brain, after a while, had switched off. I’d stopped chewing over my worries of the day – which agent to choose was my main concern right then – and was completely focused on trying to capture the curve of the breast of the voluptuous lady lying in front of me or the rounded pregnant belly of the woman kneeling at her side. This was bliss. I’d found a way to silence my thoughts, to find a bit of peace from the washing machine that is my head. Thank God I’d chosen this room and not another intellectual debate, ripe for study and note taking. My head needed a rest and it had found one.
So that was one benefit of the life drawing session. The second was the way I was looking at the women. I wasn’t sizing them up or comparing their shape and appearance to mine. I wasn’t judging who came out on top in the thinness and beauty stakes. And I wasn’t using what I saw to beat myself up for my own imperfections.
Instead, I was seeing a work of art – the female form in all its voluptuousness and diversity – and I was trying to capture it on my paper. The models before us were an eclectic mix of shapes and sizes – young and old, thin and curvaceous, with large thighs and small, breasts that stood up or sagged and one lady, a breast cancer survivor and a veteran model, with only one breast. In between poses, these ladies talked about why they’d got into nude modelling – some had done so to restore their confidence after being in relationships with abusive men, some said modelling had taught them to love their imperfect bodies, it had given another a good reason to get out of the house.
As I heard their stories and drew their bodies, my own efforts to conform most of my life to a certain shape and size seemed foolish. We could never all look the same even if we tried – and why on earth would we want to? Our bodies are beautiful, in whatever form.
Then came the fun part. Following a call for volunteers to try nude modelling, a friend and I stepped forward. We’d both struggled with eating disorders and body image issues over the years and we were fed up with all the hiding and self-criticism. It was time to display our own works of art. Of course, we couldn’t do so without a little bit of slapstick humour.
“Hon, our boobs are touching,” I giggled as we stood stark naked, my arm across her shoulder and hers on my waist alongside a handful of other nudes, staring out to the room full of female life drawers and trying to keep a straight face. “I know, move that way a little,” she giggled back.
“I’m going to have to move – I’m all sweaty and my leg’s killing me,” my friend whispered half-way through the pose. “Mine too,” I answered as I quickly shifted my weight from one leg to the other and back again. With a few more giggles and some jiggling about, we managed to hold on until our time was up, returning to our clothes with – I reckon – a sense of pride for what we had done and a greater sense of freedom and acceptance for the varied and beautiful female form.
When I saw the drawings other ladies had done of our pose, it didn’t bother me (as it might have done in the past) that in some pictures I looked more stocky than I’d have liked to or not as pretty as I’d hoped. This was art and we had been works of art, open to interpretation. In fact, we are all works of art, both on the outside and on the inside. It’s good to remember.
So congratulations to Spirited Bodies for the brilliant work it’s doing – helping
women people appreciate the way they look and to find confidence in their beauty. While I’m sad to say I didn’t keep my own drawings from that day or take any photographs of them, I have been looking for a life drawing class to join – as an artist not a model – and I’m excited about recapturing that sense of mental peace, concentration and appreciation of beauty that I remember from that Saturday at WOW.