Words: Chloe (Joe) Rabbino (she/her)
Artwork: Sophie Aicken (she/her)
This article features in our third print issue of the year: Ashes to Ashes.
“Hang loose” is an attitude rarely used when approaching the body.
90 minutes spent naked in front of a circle of strangers provided me with more inner peace than any meditation or yoga class. As numerous eyes shuffled about my form, pencil markings on paper made me feel permanent. Within a life drawing class, documenting the naked body requires the same approach as used with any other inanimate object. No longer a measure of morality, the body acquiesces to its inherent form: a figure of shapes, shadows and angles. It becomes, in a way, like a bowl of fruit or an earthen landscape, not beautiful by measurement or force, but beautiful and worthy just because.
When the class finished, I instinctively scurried to the side to clothe myself. I felt the need to be discreet as I got dressed. These strangers had just seen and documented every inch of me, yet the ding of a timer transported me back to a world where my nudity was unacceptable. Physically, nothing had changed. I was the same person, in the same room, with the same people. However, I was no longer protected by the “art form” of being nude for a life-drawing gig. That two second ding of the timer reminded me that I was just naked, and it was 7pm, and where the fuck are my clothes, and holy shit I’m naked and everyone is looking at me. I thought posing for this class would free me. It did, but only for the 90 minutes where my nudity was acceptable.
Growing up in Miami, Florida, the presence of fat on my body was wildly objected to. Year-round bikini season promoted the annihilation of anything other than a “bikini-bod”. This led to my full-fledged embrace of one-piece swimming costumes and years of body dysmorphia. Common to individuals all over the world, the feeling of “a right way to be” was etched into my brain. I had built up so much shame around having a body and felt so apologetic that it wasn’t “perfect”. At 18, I turned to art modelling because I wanted to prove to myself that if I stood naked for 90 minutes in front of 50 strangers, the world would continue to turn.
We are taught that our dimensions measure our worth. Yet, in a life drawing class, the body is simply a shape. Rolls and dimples add character. As someone who frequents these sessions as a drawer too, I recognise that bodies that are traditionally marginalised by society are my favourites to draw. They are the shapes that feel real and tell stories that I want to document. Society and capitalism have forced the images of perky breasts and hourglass shapes into my mind with every ad and clothing website, reinforcing the trendy body-type of the present time period. It feels glorious to drain those images out, and fill my mind up again with the diverse images of real people.
After my nudy-judy moment, I questioned how I could take the expansive perspective adopted in life drawing classes and implement it in daily life? How do we free ourselves, without it being some loud performance of liberating activism? Do we get to just be naked? I want to be quietly naked. Not a shout in your face, holy cow, look she’s naked, naked. I want to experience nudity and think ‘oh yeah, they’re naked’. Just because I have these beliefs does not mean I can just as easily abdicate myself from the fear that someone might yell ‘yuck’ when I undress. I’m still fist-fighting my prior fears of getting nude in front of my peers; soothing myself with the mantra ‘if they haven’t seen it before, it is about time they do’. I no longer view my nudity as a decision or a rejection. I simply let myself get naked.