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31 March 2023

The Bare Necessities

EVELYN FABER

I present to you: Miranda (S2, E4, 21:59), a scene that has lived in my head rent-free from the very moment I first watched it as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, spotty tween. This particular episode (‘A New Low’) shows Miranda, in an attempt to keep up with her trendy young friend, bracing the bare and taking off her clothes for a life drawing class. As she strips, the class members replace their canvases with exaggeratedly large ones, eliciting the predictable cackles from the live audience behind the camera. Now, whilst I understand that the sitcom is 1. tongue-in-cheek 2. semi-autobiographical and 3. a product of its time, it is worth noting that this is perhaps not the most body-positive scene to grace British television screens. The teacher (an unexpected cameo appearance by Duckface, Four Weddings and A Funeral) refers to Miranda’s ‘curves’, ‘contours’ and ‘undulations’ in a discernibly judgemental tone. Does this mean we too should be judging Miranda? In the same snarky tone the teacher describes Miranda as ‘Rubenesque’ (more cackles), a gesture towards the painting style of Peter Paul Rubens who typically painted plump, curvy female bodies. Despite its somewhat farcical nature, upon re-watching this particular scene, I wonder if it left such an imprint on me because my body was beginning to take on its Rubenesque form. Indeed, I wonder if this scene perhaps cracked open the Pandora’s box of women’s bodies that didn’t all resemble that of Amanda Bynes in a Y2K chick-flick. 

 

Fast forward to the present day and here I stand at the ripe old age of 22 having successfully survived my first life modelling session. 

 

I’ve attended life drawing sessions for several years - at school, local pubs and even a friend’s flat for a while - so you could say my desire to strip naked for the artist’s brush has been a slow burner. Over time I began to wonder, if other people can do it, why can’t I? And of course, once the idea was planted in my head, it became an itch I had to scratch. So, a few weeks back I frenziedly emailed every gallery and art school I could think of within a five-mile radius. Lo, and behold I found myself in communication with a friendly local gallery owner who pencilled me in for the following Wednesday evening. And suddenly it became real. The following Wednesday I found myself unable to sit still all day. I fidgeted incessantly until the clock struck 7pm, at which point my friend (who had signed up for the class as moral support) gently propelled me out of our flat, like Cinderella’s fairy godmother whisking her to the ball if she was about to get her tits out for a room full of strangers. 

 

Upon arriving I found my nerves reach an all-time high - a situation not particularly mediated by the fact that the gallery was a brightly lit room that sat on a busy, residential street and had NO CURTAINS. I am fairly convinced that if my friend who lives across the road had peeked out of her bedroom window that night, she too would’ve been party to our intimate little gathering. Thus, in the 0.5 seconds prior to walking through the front door, my inner monologue played out roughly like this:

‘I can’t do this, what if someone I know walks past?’

‘So what?’

‘They’ll see me naked!’

’There are literally 15 people in that room who are about to see you naked’

‘It’s different with people you know’

‘It’s just flesh.’

 

So, as I tiptoed across the threshold onto my catwalk I half-jokingly mumbled ‘well there’s no going back now’. Whilst I was grateful to the gallery owner for his friendliness, my thoughts continued to rattle around inside my brain. It is, after all, difficult to focus on whether you’d prefer a glass of Ribena or apple juice when you can’t stop wondering whether your bare bottom is going to stick to the leather sofa in the middle of the room. I had to remind myself why I was there. I remembered 15-year-old Evie who used to dread swim class with every fibre of her being, throughout the day consumed by the thought of stripping naked in front of her girlfriends. I remembered 17-year-old Evie who vowed to wear only long-sleeved tops after a boy commented on her hairy arms and 11-year-old Evie who cried in the girl’s bathroom after a classmate told her she was fat. I remembered 18-year-old Evie whose male PE teacher told her with a wink to go change into ‘more appropriate’ gym attire. I thought about how much time, how many fucking minutes and hours and days of my life I’d wasted feeling so unbelievably rubbish about the way I looked, and I dropped the dressing gown.

 

I’m not going to lie. It was scary. But it was scary for approximately one second - like a piercing is painful for one second. Once the proverbial Band-Aid was off, there was nothing to be scared of. No one ran out of the room screaming or told me to crawl back into the cave from whence I’d come. They simply looked at me in the way I know I’ve looked at every model I’ve ever drawn, inquisitively and methodically.

 

I was desexualised; I was a bowl of fruit, a flower, beautiful for merely existing.

 

It was impossible for me to be ‘not good enough’ for them because I was their subject, their art; my body had the capacity to inspire creativity (and honestly, anything is better than drawing a bowl of fruit). 

 

The poses were to be 45 minutes each, which is a fairly brutal introduction to modelling but I took a perch, focused on a splodge of paint on the wall and emptied my brain of all thoughts. No one spoke, RnB music blasted from the radio; an old man with round glasses and a Father Christmas beard squinted and held his pencil up in the air to measure my body proportions and I found myself stifling a giggle. After what felt like nine hours, the gallery owner sidled up to me with a cheery grin to let me know that we were halfway through. Safe to say it was at this point I began to regret the pose I had so willingly thrust myself into whereby my entire body weight was directed onto my right arm. Then came a worrying dilemma: whether it was sheer nerves or the space heater positioned at my feet, I felt beads of sweat rolling down my body and started to wonder if I was dangerously close to resembling an agitated glazed doughnut. Nevertheless, once the first pose finished, I felt positively ecstatic and having regained feeling in my right arm and tied my robe back on, eagerly accepted a second offer of Ribena. Walking around the room was enlightening; each drawing was magnificently unique, even the bad ones brilliant. I felt like Botticelli’s Venus. My legs were strong gashes of charcoal, my stomach rolls delicate threads, and the curves of my hips had been meticulously transcribed onto paper. It sounds cliché, but it was empowering; my body was abundant in undulations and looked fucking fabulous. 

 

A kind, middle-aged woman enthused over my bravery and how grateful the class was for my eagerness to model.

 

For someone who very much enjoys being the centre of attention I suddenly wondered why it had taken me so long to sign up for an activity in which I was quite literally the centre of attention.

 

In retrospect, I’m pretty sure that’s why I’ve always loved acting (you could say I’ve replaced Brecht with breasts…). I remember my mum asking me, aged 13, what my favourite part about performing was. I told her - and I wish I was joking - my favourite part was bowing at the end of the show because that’s when everyone clapped for me. Yikes, what a diva. But I digress.

 

The second pose flew by and before I knew it, the session was up. The gallery owner expressed his gratitude and asked if I’d be keen to model again to which I enthusiastically nodded my head. Minutes later I was sitting in the pub, fully clothed, and wondering if I’d just woken up from a fever dream. Despite what I’d told myself beforehand, what I’d just done was a big deal; if you had told 16-year-old Evie that one day she would drop her pants for a room full of strangers she would have had an aneurysm right there on the spot. Indeed, it was so much fun that a week later my friend and I hosted our own life drawing night with some friends. We ate cheese, drank wine, and listened to music, and by the end of the night, most of our mates wanted to get naked too.

 

I think it’s important not to turn this spiel into a ‘just love your body’ free-for-all because much as Cosmo may claim otherwise, there is no 5-step-how-to-guide on accepting your body. Everyone has their own demons and battles; one size does not fit all. Of course, in an ideal world, there would be no battles to fight. In an ideal world Black women and fat women and disabled women wouldn’t be fed the same ‘just love yourself’ epithet because society would already value their bodies. In an ideal world, those internalised, crippling feelings of insecurity would cease to exist. But here we are folks, very much in the real world where some days, you do just feel like a toe-rag.

 

Whilst it is unbelievably lame to round off my contemplations with a quotation, I’m going to do it anyway. In an interview on The Late Show last year, Emma Thompson reflected on how much of her life’s purpose she’d wasted worrying about her body; she ruminated, ‘this is your vessel, your house, it’s where you live’. I think, at the moment, I am on a one-woman mission to reassert my claim over my vessel. Life modelling was one, not insignificant, way of helping me do that. To each their own but if you’re tempted, I say do it.

 

After all, you’re somebody’s muse darling x 

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