From the very first time I drew someone naked, I was hooked. The model was a curvy brunette who disrobed in my high school classroom. There was quite a bit of giggling from some of the girls (myself included), but after the first few poses we were as comfortable with her nudity as she seemed to be.
For the next few years a huge variety of figures and forms were paraded in front of our easels, both male and female. While the size, shape, and colour of each person differed, what they all had in common was self-confidence. It was baffling to me that someone could be so accepting of their body, that they were willing to stand in front of a room full of young girls – possibly the harshest beauty critics conceivable – and bare everything.
I was even more surprised to see how the features I hated on my own body became beautiful on someone else when seen through the eyes of an artist.
The Models Speak
Janice Kent-Mackenzie has been an academic life model since 1989. In her 23 years of experience she has developed an acceptance and pride for her larger body.
“Of course, like any other woman, I desire to be a size 12, even a size 16, but I owe it to my audience to have that second slice of cake,” she says, smiling. “These beautiful young girls break out crying, wishing they could be as comfortable in their skin as they see I am.”
Ms. Kent-MacKenzie believes that life drawing could be used for purposes other than education or entertainment: to help sexual abuse trauma and those battling with negative body image, for example. Working with a counselor, a professional artist, and a model like Ms Kent-Mackenzie, participants would draw a variety of body shapes to find the beauty inherent in every body.
“There’s something healing to the soul in drawing curves. They can find beauty in the rolls,” she said, gesturing down at her stomach.
The Strawberry Siren has been one of the life drawing models for Drawing Straws, a class held regularly at Burlesque Bar in eclectic Fitzroy. She has been performing in both dancing and circus arts since she was 11. Naturally confident, a big voice in a small body, Ms Camden loves to see the different people who are drawn to both watch and perform.
“That’s one beauty of burlesque: there’s no discrimination against any size or shape. It’s not like ballet,” she scoffs. “Burlesque is open to anyone and everyone.”
Another model and performer, Ms Honey B. Goode – not what she’s called at her day job – finds modeling for life drawing cathartic.
“It helps you realise you can’t control how other people see your body,” she says. A tall blonde with curves, Ms B. Goode enjoys creating comedy in her acts, and is not afraid to distort herself to “look ugly or weird” if it gets a reaction from the crowd.
Media and Body Image
While these women who bare their body for the sake of art may be happy with their own shape, not many people today have a positive opinion of their own body.
The Butterfly Foundation (new window), a foundation providing the treatment and support for people with eating disorders and negative body image, found that body image is the number one concern for Australians aged 12-28. This is reflected by an increase in eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.
Danni Rowlands, from the prevention and education arm of The Butterfly Foundation, says that it’s not good practice for young people to compare their body to others’, as “people most often compare the things they don’t like”.
“Unfortunately society, or more specifically media, has defined beauty and what the desired shape and image is,” she says. “People are bombarded with the same type of shape for females and males, so it’s not surprising that so many feel dissatisfied with their own appearance.”
Ms Rowlands said that the standard body we see on television and in advertising is unattainable for most people. While what is considered ideal might change over time, we’re currently seeing thin, tall women with long hair and perfect complexions, and lean, muscled men dominating the screens and magazines.
“It’s very important that people are exposed to a diverse range of shapes and have the opportunity to decide for themselves what they perceive as beautiful and attractive,” Ms Rowlands says. “If people are exposed to body shapes that are more similar to their own, then this may help them to feel more content and accepting of their own shape and size.”
Becoming More Comfortable with Yourself
It seems unlikely that the media will make a dramatic change to represent different body types in the near future. Whenever we do see celebrities who don’t have a thin figure, it’s usually turned into a gimmick. A small bulge in the stomach area becomes the first signs of a pregnancy, or the result of a breakup.
When “curvy” women are featured in a positive way, they’re called “real” women. The skeletal ones, who are just trying to keep up with the trends, are then criticised as being unhealthy.
Unlike much of what we see in mainstream media, life drawing has the power to help young women and men become more comfortable in their own skin by seeing that all body shapes can be beautiful. Whether it’s for education, healing, or fun, life drawing has the potential to liberate both model and audience.