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The Hobby That Made Me Accept My Body

Call me a prude, but I am not a very liberated person when it comes to nudity. I avoid shop changing rooms because of the gap in the curtain, and on a recent trip to Budapest I almost had a panic attack when I realised that the public baths I was visiting didn’t have individual changing stalls. I stripped under a towel and it wasn’t graceful.

I just about feel comfortable wearing my birthday suit in front of my boyfriend, but on a bad day I’ll attempt to cover up in an XXL jumper that could fit a family of five. My mum’s constant protestations that "we all have the same bits" have only served to make me more self-conscious by drawing attention to the issue. I am the type of person who used the "knicker trick" in the privacy of my own bedroom up until the age of 15... just incase someone walked in.

Why? Well, I’ve never had a naturally toned body; my boobs are a bit wonky, I think my arms look like sausages and my weight fluctuates a lot and with it, so does my self confidence. I’ve gone from being chubby to slender and back again more times than I can count – in part, due to changes in contraceptive methods – but even when I’ve been at my lightest, I’ve always felt uncomfortable with my own body.

I’ll admit part of my problem is that I’m what you might call "an emotional eater". If I’ve had a good day at work then I’ll go home and weep into a family-sized bowl of pasta; if I’ve had a bad day at work then I’ll reward myself with a family-sized bowl of pasta followed by a Dairy Milk family sized bar. I’m also not one for a diet; I don’t care for the 5:2 diet or the Kim Kardashian-endorsed Atkins. I just can’t make myself order a side salad while I watch everyone else around me dine on great big pieces of meat.

Recently, after hearing a few people mention that they had been to life drawing classes, it felt like a sign from the gods that I should go too, so I enlisted a friend to join me at a £10 drop-in class at the Waterloo Vaults. While I had barely sketched since taking my GCSE in art more years ago than I care to count, I felt cocksure that I would come out of the class hailed as the new Rembrandt. But when our female model came in wearing little else but a short robe, I was slightly taken aback.

It’s become a bit of a cliché of late that the only naked women we see are those in magazines, films and porn, but as the model took off her robe and I picked up my charcoal, I realised that I’d not seen another female body that wasn’t mine, in the nude, right there in my face, in a really long time. While Lena Dunham has done a lot for the cause by proudly displaying her form in Girls, I can’t help but notice that Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna have probably never experienced having back fat the way I have.

It was powerful to see a woman stand there so confidently displaying herself and her body without the safety net of Photoshop to brush out her imperfections

As I began to draw, the model stood there in front of us, giving no sign of caring about her angles or the lighting in the room. She picked her poses with little regard for whether she was hiding her cellulite or not. It was powerful to see a woman stand there so confidently displaying herself and her body without the safety net of Photoshop to brush out her imperfections.

I took great care in trying to capture the shapes of her body without cutting off inches from her hips or straightening her curly hair. My rudimentary drawings (more nursery school than Rembrandt, it turns out) represented her as strong, powerful and confident. I wouldn’t say seeing this model quite made me feel all of those things, but as the class went on, an ease about my own body started to creep over me.

After the class ended, I immediately deleted the photos of Gigi Hadid I kept on my phone as ‘thinspiration’; they no longer seemed representative of a realistic body type for me to achieve. As I’ve attended more drawing classes, I’ve consciously thought about how I can swap my old habit of looking at these photos for a much healthier alternative: loving what I have and not pining over what someone else has.

I’m not the only one to have felt the positive affect of a life drawing class: A 2015 study by The Anglia Ruskin University found that they can promote a healthier body image, with the 138 men and women who took part in the study feeling 25% happier after attending a class.

Viren Swami
, Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, said: "Life drawing sessions [...] provide spaces for people to explore relationships with their own bodies and critically appraise media depictions of ‘idealised’ bodies." While adding that: "drawing may emerge as an effective means of promoting healthier body image across the population."

Personally, I still have a way to go in accepting my body for what it is, but for those occasions I’m feeling unhappy about it, I have my life drawing works pinned up in my room ready to take me right back to the place where I feel like all body types are OK. I can’t see myself modelling in a life drawing class any time soon, but they've significantly changed the way I feel about myself – for the better.