My childhood home was a safe place for my body growing up. This is a privilege and a rarity I appreciate every day.
My mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and I had no qualms about being naked around each other. Discussing scars, breasts, bumps and bottoms was normal. Nudity was comforting and warm, and it has stayed as a bonding ritual with friends and lovers.
My mother is still on her feminist journey, more so than she was when I was a teenager. So I was in no way free of all negative body talk. I went to a girl’s high school where diets and tanning beds, teasing and shaming were all daily life. But somehow I managed to forge a mostly positive self-view, probably from the sheer preference of not wanting to hate myself, and the inherent sense that there were more things wrong with the world than with my body. This too is a privilege and a rarity I appreciate every day.
I have always been mostly made of boobs and hips, with strong calves and pale skin lined with stretch marks. I have always been in an infuriating niche between mainstream store sizing and plus size lines. It’s hard for me to buy clothes and harder for me to buy bras. My weight goes up and down. My opinion of myself is steady but with occasional peaks and dips.
I have been a nude model on and off for a long time. I have lay on concrete floors in winter for photographers, lounged in my friend’s sun chair while being filmed and sat still until I cramped and tingled on foam swabs in community halls.
Recently I haven’t had the time to model. I have also had a series of frustrating clothing experiences which left me feeling like my body was an inconvenience, an abnormality or a ‘specialty’. The concept of unapologetically taking up space is a powerful one, which I am still working on. I had a dip in my body love; a break in my stride.
The next time I modeled was a turning point. I sat in a warm studio surrounded by students, all younger and thinner than me, and I cleared my mind as I have learned to do in order to stay calm and still. Then my awareness shifted and something lovely happened.
I became conscious of everyone in the room staring at me. I mean, that’s normal, but I hadn’t really thought about it before. They weren’t just drawing me, it was me they were drawing. They moved around to make sure they captured everything, I became aware of the sheer focus and intent. The frantic sketching and blotting before I changed my pose.
Afterwards I looked around at their work (which is always my favourite part of modeling).
My frustrating breasts were brisk, topographic contours.
My knobbly knees were rich blue puddles.
My ‘fashion niche’ stomach was bathed in peach and shadow.
And I slept, peacefully on a page of watercolour, arms as chubby pillows, while everyone in the room rendered MY body into art.
My body which I was fruitlessly fighting with, was just lines and curves and seismic valleys. I felt insignificant and important all at once. And left my dip on the spot.
Paintings are by Kelsey or Matty