Modelling nude for artists as part of a self-acceptance process

Lilly_1Years ago  I started an informal figure drawing workshop to allow people to draw the human body, nude. Not from a strictly artistic approach… for drawing practice, of course, but also to practice the way we perceive the body in its many different forms. Unlike in art schools, where the models are screened, trained and paid, our models are volunteers, usually with no previous experience, and we rarely tell them how to pose. We let them find their own poses.

The not-paying of the models was something that happened by accident (lack of funds), but what we discovered was that when someone poses for free, the energy is different from if it was a paid job, because they’re giving us something very precious and vulnerable – their body, and their nudity. Some people may talk themselves into doing it for the money, but when it’s for other reasons, it’s different. We get models who are scared to death and others who are rather happy exhibitionists, but we don’t criticize or overly praise. We let them explore and find their own peace and right movement within their bodies as they pose.

Because many of our models are uncomfortable with their bodies and are challenging themselves to face up to a fear, some weeks, the model doesn’t show up. In that case, we just draw each other’s faces, hands or feet instead.

Lilly_2One week when I hadn’t managed to confirm a model, the regular artists were disappointed, so I offered to sit for them, but fully clothed. That was fine with them, but then I started feeling uncomfortable that I couldn’t practice what I preached, and with a mixture of reluctance and frustration, I took off my clothes and continued posing, nude. It was an important moment for me, too, to break through this barrier, and I was grateful for the presence of those whose pencils scribbled peacefully across their papers, not visibly more or less impressed by me than anyone else they’d seen; yet obviously grateful to have another human body to sketch instead of the endless folds of clothing.


The thing is, all human bodies are interesting! Some of the figure-drawing artists that come to our group have seen more nudes than a doctor, but their gaze remains one of impartial appreciation. I’m sure they have preferences, but the simple fact of being exposed to different bodies more often than most people makes them more accepting than those whose references are restricted to their spouse or the usual media images of the body.

I could feel the difference it made for me to face up to this fear, and the dozens of models that posed for us almost all shared similar experiences. Some told me they felt they stood taller after posing nude, walked lighter and smiled back at themselves in the mirror. And by the end of a session, there is a warmth and closeness with the artists too… if they can look at our naked bodies and not laugh or criticize (the way we do!), then we can all learn to be more accepting of ourselves too.

– Colette

Bounteous Bodies

Below, examples of model-drawings done using a simple tracing technique on a light source. The drawings or tracings were then painted, and words added to share how the artist/draw-er felt as she worked on these images.

 

I’m working on getting comfortable with my own curves. When I did these drawings, I just dove in without thinking about it and I really enjoyed tracing the abundant belly and the generous amounts of flesh. I felt real pleasure in drawing this “sister” and I also felt a great tenderness for this woman who accepted to model as well as towards her sensitive and innocent body.  

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I really like this self-affirming posture (above). She looks sure of herself. I wanted to show the energy she gave off using colours and with the bands of colour inside and outside of her body. This body’s curves give you the impression that it’s soft, welcoming, and tender even if it’s large and strong.

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The belly and the thighs of this model stood out for me immediately, which is why I could not help but make them stand out in my drawing. The more vulnerable attitude of this model is intensified by her curves and gives her a child-like appearance. Maybe that’s how she was feeling as she posed?


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In this image (above), the model shows strength and openness… even if we’re seeing her from the back.

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I enjoyed letting the watercolours bleed… the watermarks seem to gently underline the roundness of the body.

– Iris

How thin is thin enough?

How many apples?eve-pomme-1

How much tea?

How many calories can I not eat?

 

How many laxatives will I take?

How much will I allow this needy, greedy hunger?

(This child of pain and anguish)

 

I can stifle her cries with my lies about how much I eat and when

If I am forced to eat or if I am weak, I can regain this goddess of control, who rules and reigns in a prison of limits, boundaries and loneliness.

 

Each time I reach out to touch another and be fed by their love, I am disappointed.

Denial and deprivation, this is real.  These are my friends and family.  These “friends” I know and can trust.

How thin is thin enough?

 

Where does it end?

Who wins?

How do we stop?

How do we surrender to the pain?

How do we love it enough to learn from it and finally let go of it?

Where do we find the gentleness and acceptance we need?

 

Uh oh another need, so greedy, so needy

How thin is thin enough?

 

I’ve heard the best anorexic is a dead anorexic.

Why?  Because a skeleton is as thin as you can get.

How can we stop the voice of control long enough, to recognize the hollow ring of a death victory?

 

Where do we find the love, we feel we are denied, that we deny ourselves?

How do we stop the judgment, control and rejection?

How thin is thin enough?

 

I’ve heard you can never be too rich or too thin.

What do you believe?

 

– Theresa

Photographing my “different” body

Meli_1_wuafba   I have multiple sclerosis (diagnosed over 12 years ago) and my mobility has been reduced over the past few years. I’ve gone from using crutches, to a walker, to a wheelchair to get around. The first few years following the diagnosis were very difficult, but pushed me to begin an inner process during which I was invited to experiment with photography and drawing. I was not someone who had ever even dared to draw before, nor could I imagine myself doing photography, especially not nude! Self-judgment is so strong! I always tried to hide from cameras, even when I was fully dressed. But bit by bit, I tried – I dared – hoping to at least breach a gap in the prison in which I lived; a prison built by years of self-criticism, of feeling lesser than others, of old psychological wounds…

So after hesitating for a long time, I took the plunge and did a first photo session, then another. I came to see that my body had been judged for so long by my own mind that SO wanted my body to be different, more attractive, slimmer…and it was a huge step forward, accepting to reveal it, not only to the camera lens, but also to the person behind the camera! Little by little, the gesture of undressing became less difficult and took on a sense of lightness, like a return to innocence, to the truth, to the very root of being human!

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My desire to participate in nude photography was based much more on this deep need to open up from within rather than any pleasure derived from posing nude. I felt, and still feel, a very strong need to see myself in a gentler way, and especially the most vulnerable aspects of me. I’m also learning this by photographing others, starting with the friend who photographed me! Being on the other side of the camera brought a whole other dimension.

It helped me to soften my usual perceptions, and to start seeing the body like a small child needing to be treated with care, and also allowed me to get in contact with the more vulnerable parts that are often ignored and hidden, both in myself and in the other. You must admit that vulnerability is not terribly fashionable in a world that worships strength and beauty, youth, performance and efficiency, not to mention our most sacred expectations of complete independence!

Meli_2_wuafbaIt’s amazing to be able to recognize and admire the beauty, the magnanimity, of a nude body, and to finally make peace, at least a little bit, with my own body, just the way it is. It feels good! And so much more so, because I am living in a body that is weakening, that suffers, responds differently to movements once taken for granted, and is becomes, for now and  maybe forever, more limited. It’s a real challenge.

Like others with physical limitations, I find it even more important to do this inner work to liberate the body from everything that keeps it imprisoned, and simply accept to reveal it, to honour it, to recognize its beauty and it’s greatness, which coexist at the very heart of the fragility that is so scary to us and to those around us.

Nude photography definitely contributes to this process of acceptance… and I’ve discovered that drawing is also an incredible practice that has changed my life! It has also become a better window through which to see the body, but also through which to see the whole world, and my life!

– MeliMeli_4_wuafba

Anastasia

Anastasia and I were roommates for only a few months, but a close friendship grew from sharing about our food and weight issues. We breached a huge taboo by admitting that we both turned compulsively to food when we felt overwhelmed by the stress in our lives, and that authenticity created an instant bond between us.

Anastasia_1_wuafbaShe felt like she was carrying a lot of extra weight then, and even though I was quite slim, I felt just as uncomfortable in my body as what she described, and I’d always felt that bad about myself, as long as I could remember. I told her how fighting for the cause of improving body image was helping me work on my own issues. I told her about photographing and drawing the nude body, including my own. She liked the idea of doing a photo shoot with me, but it didn’t happen right away. As I well knew from my own experiences, a lot of inner resistance came up in the meantime.

But the photo session did happen, about a year later. Anastasia had been through major life changes and had just about finished a course to become an esthetician. She told me about her studies, in particular how the practice periods required intimate contact with other students’ bodies, and how this made her a lot more relaxed about everything body-related, so she felt ready to be photographed nude.

She was challenging herself to do it in order to change the negative opinion she held towards her body.

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This photo session with Anastasia taught me how uniquely each person reacts in front of the camera. We made a date, and she arrived mentally prepared for just about anything, but when the time came to undress, she started to feel uncomfortable and wasn’t sure if she could go on. I reminded her that it was totally her call and I left the room to give her a few moments to herself. When I came back, she was sitting on the floor wearing a camisole and underwear and still unsure about what she wanted to do. Since we were in a room with a camera set up just for that purpose, I proposed to take a few photos of her anyways like that, but as soon as I disappeared behind the camera she made up her mind and removed the last pieces of clothing.

Anastasia_2_wuafbaWhat happened next really surprised me. I didn’t tell her what to do or how to pose, I only suggested she try to feel her way into different positions according to how she was feeling. Once the ice was broken, she seemed incredibly comfortable in front of the camera, in fact, her poses were creative and natural and clearly she was having fun playing the game of shifting positions to expose her body from different angles. I was quite touched by how easily she was able to move around while I took the pictures. She did not look like someone who was ashamed of her curves. What I was seeing was someone who lived fully in her body from the inside out.Anastasia_3_wuafba

Anastasia_4_wuafbaWe took at least a hundred photographs, then sat down together at my computer to go through them. We agreed that these images belonged to her, and would never be shared with anyone else, but she was okay with me making drawings based on some of them. We sorted through, and she left me about 30 images – those that did not clearly show her face – and the rest were copied onto a key for her and erased from my camera’s memory card. 

Anastasia_5_wuafbaI didn’t get around to actually drawing this series until 5 years later. I haven’t seen Anastasia since the photo shoot, but we’ve maintained in contact. I’m not sure where she’s at with her body image or her weight, but she has continued to work on herself and grow stronger. I know that life is not always easy for her, but she is tenacious. Drawing her was a wonderful process for me, mostly because I’d gained weight since I last saw her, and for the first time in my life I was able to identify with curvier women, and in drawing her, I clearly saw the beauty above and beyond the extra weight.

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My drawing process is very simple; there is nothing original about it. I print the photograph on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, and then trace the contours onto a sheet of white paper using a light table. With the photograph next to my drawing, I then work on the shadows and highlights to bring it to life. I don’t invent anything new or try to improve what I see; it’s more like a translation of a photograph into an illustration to better see things as they truly are.

Anastasia_7_wuafbaFinding myself behind a camera with a nude model is always a series of gentle, tender moments. I feel humbled to be invited into the vulnerable space of someone’s nudity, and because I have also experienced the model side of the equation, I want to make sure they feel comfortable. I believe that by facing up to our fears and discomforts about our bodies, we can get past them, but sometimes it helps to meet up with our own judgments in front of a camera lens or another person (who is NOT there to judge!) that the shift can really take place. Most people only undress in front of their lovers or perhaps a family doctor, so it is different to purposefully do so in order to see oneself differently.

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For me, drawing the nude body, whether it’s mine or someone else’s; man or woman, of whatever age or condition, is an act of respect towards the miracle that we are as human beings. We don’t always appreciate the complex intelligence of this envelope that allows us to experience life on earth. When we don’t become conscious of it and we don’t take care of it, we can find ourselves at war with our own bodies; as many anorexics, bulimics, drug addicts and alcoholics know too well. Aside from these extremes, there are still a large number of people insulting themselves in front of the mirror daily. Drawing the nude body is more like a celebration of the body in every form it takes; a moment of contemplation in front of this miracle; a tender caress of a crayon upon paper translating the simple beauty of the body.

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Thanks again, my dear friend Anastasia, for sharing your body for “the cause”. I am always deeply touched by these images and I trust that they will make their way out into the world to help other women on their body-acceptance path as well. xoxo Colette

Seeing the hidden beauty in each of us

I am working very hard at learning to love all of myself, a process that reminds me of peeling an onion. I pull off one layer, and uncover another, but I’m absolutely sure that each layer brings me closer to peace with myself. I am also convinced that so much of what I carry – what we carry – in terms of self-hatred, is passed down by our family’s and society’s views on our bodies.

I have a history of self-hatred. I know that I am not alone in this affliction. Some of us are aware of the hatred we carry, while others aren’t sure why they can’t stand certain parts of their bodies. I believe this lack of self-love is something that can be healed. I am certain this path of healing takes you exactly where you need to go, to grow. This gift of self-awareness can teach you compassion for yourself and others. I have worked on healing in various ways, one of which is taking nude photos of myself. I have been both the subject and the photographer. Both roles are healing. Each gives me a softer, more loving way of seeing myself and others.posernue1_wuafba

I am a very skeptical person. I doubt and question everything. I do not put my trust in very many things. I do, however, put my trust in this process for these reasons. The results I see, feel and hear in my own body confirm the healing nature of this process.

The first time I considered taking nude photos, I was working with a very kind person I had met at a health food store. I came to her with some of the health challenges I faced. She began to see me at home because she said she liked to help others. She helped me in so many ways. One, was learning to trust. She often spoke of taking nude photos as healing. She seemed so open and loving, I felt a need to try it. I had issues about pornography and I was very worried that she might turn out to be untrustworthy, after all. It was very hard for me to let go and trust. Yet, there was a chord that was touched inside me that yearned for this healing. I finally just decided to give it a try.

She took her clothes off as she photographed me, as an act of solidarity. She told me to close my eyes and feel the inside my body and to move in the way I wanted to. I had never done any of this before. At first, I felt very self-conscious. I was very aware of what she would think as I moved. Slowly I began to find a place inside me that felt liberated. To really be seen in a loving, accepting way, as you really are, is so freeing. I was exhilarated. I had climbed a mountain of fear and seen the possibility of absolute freedom on the other side.

I honestly felt completely loved and accepted. She did nothing to feed my insecurities or mistrust.

Later, I started taking photographs of other people too. I found that taking nude photos of people in nature gave me the gift of seeing them in a place of love and beauty. When I am behind the camera, I cannot see using my usual judgments. Everything I see is bathed in light, acceptance and love.

I continue to take pictures to explore things I need to love and accept. I have not found a more fulfilling way to touch the body with absolute love and to connect to the bliss of seeing the hidden beauty in each of us.

– Theresa

What pains us makes us grow…

Is photographing and drawing myself narcissistic? Self-Absorbed? Vain?

Or could it become a simple, accessible way to heal from self-rejection?

For me it is definitely the second statement. I do it because I have always judged and criticized myself harshly, and drawing self-portraits is the best process I’ve found to really change my self-perspective. Usually, when I look in a mirror, it’s to check/criticize/correct, and in my never-ending quest for perfection I can always find something to fix.

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I am 48 years old now and have been drawing myself for 12 years. I keep quitting and coming back to it, because in spite of my resistance, it helps. This image obsession has sucked so much vital energy from my life over the years that a part of me is really angry about it and has pushed me to act. Fortunately, there is a part of me that is able to see beyond the skewed vision of my mind and catch a glimpse of something else… an imperfect yet strong woman with a still-vulnerable little girl inside, a worthy and yes, a beautiful human being. AS ARE WE ALL…

It’s a double-edged sword in that it’s only because I want to be so outstandingly beautiful that I can possibly see myself as so pitifully ugly. And I’m not, even on the world’s terms, ugly. It’s craziness… but even crazier, our culture FEEDS this craziness!

I chose drawing because it was simple, accessible, free, and I had gentle, non-judgemental people around who encouraged me on this path even when I wanted to throw myself, them, or my drawings out the window. I am no longer shy to talk about this or show my work because I’ve had enough of falling back to the false visions and ingrained beliefs that are so harmful to my health and happiness.

We’ve agreed to only share drawings on this blog – to describe the process and invite others to try it – but I’m posting this photograph because it expresses in a single image just how much I’ve struggled with shame and fought for self-acceptance. And, because photography is  the foundation for our drawing practice.

Being old enough to remember life before digital cameras,  I must say they played a huge part in the development of this process because their accessibility lessened the cost as well as the performance aspect of photography.  My first digital camera allowed me simply to take many, many, pictures, period.

silhouetteCCWhen I began this self-image work, I took a minimum of three pictures of myself EVERY single day for nearly 3 years, and stored them in my computer. I didn’t even try to pose; most often I was balled up in shame, but over time I was able to experiment and slowly unfold my body. I eventually loosened up and even took some pictures of me dancing nude, which only I have ever seen because they were only taken for me to learn to love me.

To take self-portraits I use the timer, propping the camera up anywhere, and spontaneously throwing myself in front of the lens as the seconds tick down to the “click”. I don’t worry about lighting or backgrounds or positioning,  because taking the pictures is part of a process – it’s not about the results. In my mind, the pictures are only for drawing purposes anyways, so even if many of the photos are off-centred or unflattering, I keep them all, hoping to learn to accept myself from every angle.

But that is just the beginning – the most beautiful vision comes through when I take up a pencil and slowly transform the photographs into the simplest of drawings and later more detailed “artwork”.

Ultimately, we’re all “works of art”, just the way we are. Any other vision of ourselves is simply false.

 

– Colette

Self-Acceptance

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This picture is of me, which makes it more challenging to let go of the criticisms my mind propagates as I draw.

But with a deep breath and an open heart, I see one thing clearly:   I see the mind trying to accept – working so hard to mentally accept what the body has already long ago accepted – that I am perfect, already, exactly as I am.

I see softness and light.

I see great beauty within the design, human beings are so wonderfully made, we all are, both women and men.

We are made of love and light. I can see it distinctly when I draw and paint the body.

Drawing brings forth the basic design, the lines, the heartbeat and the body’s structure, then painting it fills it with light, the water, the gracefulness, the divine light of love.

How can I possibly hate something so beautiful?

There is a peace in this body. Usually, my criticisms and mind cover up  this peace, like the clouds in the sky.

Only through drawing and opening up can I see the truth behind the mind’s lies.

Practice, practice and more practice, help me open  my heart and see the truth. Having friends to draw with helps me too.

When the harsh judgemental clouds in my mind are so thick, I can’t find the light. I forget sometimes that like the sun, the light lives  within, it’s always there, and like the sun it shines on everyone equally. Rich or poor, black or white, good or bad. We are all lovable and loved, and this vision of myself as I’m drawing, painting my body, is real love.

 

– Theresa

Learning to love what’s different and special about me

I remember this photo session. I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin in those days. I was afraid to show myself, I felt trapped in my wounds, in my own way of seeing myself.

I was deeply convinced that I was really ugly. I was certain that people were being charitable if they looked at me when they spoke to me. I had developed all kinds of reflexes to hide my face, because I had this burning impression that I was so ugly. When I first saw the photographs that these paintings were made from shortly after the session, I cried, because they confirmed once again the ugliness of my face and of my body. To me, this ugliness was quite dramatic, because in my mind, how could you possibly love something that was ugly? And what I wanted the most, more than anything else, was to be loved.

I was also quite convinced, deep down, that my boyfriend could only see my imperfections and that he was just waiting for an opportunity to leave me and find himself someone better. Even so, if I looked at this logically, I could see that something was wrong, because I saw that many women around me were flawed according to the beauty ideals of the moment and were loved by their partners even if according to my judgement, they were too tall, too short, too thin or too fat.

No matter how much I rationalized, the wound of feeling unloved that I carried towards my appearance, my body and my face continually reappeared.

The first time I saw the photos, I saw a face that reflected foolishness, narrow-mindedness, a weakness of character, arrogance and many other flaws. Perhaps what I was finally discovering on the outside were the judgements I had unconsciously applied to myself for so long.

 

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During the photo session my cat appeared, as if to remind me that the tenderness and gentleness in the world were within reach, that I only had to open myself up to what is small and vulnerable like this small animal.  I started to feel better when I focused myattention elsewhere than on myself.

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In spite of so much discomfort, at the same time I really wanted to unveil myself in order to be free from the horribly destructive tension that I carried in the way I saw myself. But it was difficult as I had to fight my shame of showing my face and body as they really are. I started by allowing my bare back to show in order to get used to the nudity, the truth of the body. At least from the back I didn’t have to face the shame of showing my face! It was as if by uncovering my body, especially the front of my body, my belly, I was revealing my real face, my true nature… and a person I did not believe to be deserving of love. That person had to hide herself to protect her shame and her wounds.

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devoilement-4The sheet was like a screen. I hid behind it, but I also used it to slowly allow myself to be exposed. I kept my eyes closed the whole time, to stay concentrated on listening to a tiny little place of peace inside me. In spite of the devastating effects of my self-view, I could concentrate on a little space inside me where nothing moved, and which seemed to grow and grow as I started to move away from my inner paralysis. In this image, I am preparing to open up and allow the vulnerability of my stomach and my breasts to emerge.

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Finally I dared to take the plunge and let the entirety of my shame be exposed, my stomach and my face.

This last pose reminds me of something growing out of the earth.

The suffering that usually bullies my body and soul quieted down.

 

– Marie

Anorexic girl

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Drawing this girl taught me about judgment, because  I never reached the point at which I was satisfied with my work on her image.

I came to that realization after several hours of drawing her and trying to capture her hands and legs in this pose that I know so well.

I was going to have to accept that this picture is perfect just as it is, and afterwards I was thankful that realization.

So much of life is lost in judgment and fear….God knows I spend most of my life there…

Only while drawing can I  manage to open up a space for real living.

I am touched by this delicate, vulnerable woman… exposing her body and trying to hide it at the same time…  I can relate to this so well!  Her face is accepting that this is the best she can do for now, and that is exactly as it should be.  Thank you for your compassion and patience. By trusting in the presence of something more powerful than we are, we can learn to practice acceptance.

We can begin to open up  to acceptance of ourselves and others as we truly are.

We can see the perfection that is already there… we’re just waiting for our eyes to open to see this truth.

– Theresa