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"I Like Being Naked"

The stripped down truth behind being a life model

Liz — a fourth-year Sustainable Development student who asked that her surname remain anonymous — shared that, while she isn’t a self-proclaimed nudist, she’s “very comfortable being naked.” “I like swimming topless, you know?” she mused. “Yeah, I like being naked.”

Organised by the Art Society every Tuesday night from seven o’clock to nine o’clock, School VI transforms into a makeshift studio space for Life Drawing. Each week — in front of a sizable group of artists — a different model drops their robe and assumes various poses for two hours, taking only a brief intermission in between. Every inch of their body is exposed and bathed in orangy lights, while they are closely studied, dissected, and drawn in a diverse range of mediums.. 

Wallis Brune — a third-year Art History and Sustainable Development student who modelled in strappy shoes only — recognises that most people can’t help but judge the body’s appearance: “People are staring at your naked body and what are their thoughts immediately? [...] ‘This body is thin, this body is not, this body is beautiful, this body is not’.” 

Before Brune became interested in nude modelling herself, she started attending life drawing classes at 15. By her first year at St Andrews, she set a goal for herself: “I wanted to 100 per cent be a model for life drawing by third year.” She has now modelled three times. Though, she still argues that “one of the most scary things you can do with your body is to stand in front of a room naked, and have people stare at you for a super long time.” 

And how exactly do these models keep their minds off the fact that they’re completely naked in front of a room full of strangers? Some listen to the tranquil music playing or think about their days.

“I have thought about super average things like, ‘What am I going to make for dinner when I get home?’ or ‘What am I going to wear tomorrow?’ Once I even planned out my outfit,” Brune shared. “I have also thought about my ex and my family and things that feel a lot more substantial,” she added.   

Elena Azais — a first-year Anthropology and English Literature student who posed in fake blood and red lipstick — said that her “biggest concern [...] was not so much the modelling,” but figuring out “what poses [are] good and engaging for an artist.” 

Similarly, Liz also considers things from the artist’s perspective, being one herself. “When I am drawing someone, it’s all about form, appreciation, and embracing all bodies, supported by the mutual peers who choose to step out of their comfort zones.” To her, nude modelling is an art form in itself, she said. 

One time, posed with her legs spread. “The open-leg pose was something I was going to decide, in the moment, if I felt comfortable enough. I decided it was the right time,” she explained. 

She recalled how, the first time she went to Life Drawing classes, she had “No Face” by Hailey Hendrix stuck in her head. When Liz became a life model herself — wearing nothing but her friend’s cowboy boots —  she requested that the society play that specific song. It reassured her that “I can do this, I can put myself in this position.” 

“It’s an intimate song. The singer is asking, ‘What is it about me and my body that makes you not able to show how you feel?’ I think that is relevant to the concept of life drawing,” she explained. “How can I get over picking apart my own body?”  The adrenaline rush she experienced after was worth it, though: “[I was] walking home [...] and I was like, I just did that.”

What makes a life model? “Deep-rooted self-confidence,” Azais answered. That doesn’t necessarily translate to excessive extroversion, though: “I think it’s more of that quiet, inner confidence that doesn’t necessarily need to be spoken.” 

After the class is over, strangers now possess their own renditions of the life model’s bodies, whether they end up in the back of a notebook or an art portfolio — something that Azais calls “a string of attachment.” 

For Liz, she likes that she’ll always be connected to the artist in that way: “Even though this was one experience, it kind of continues on by them keeping the works.” She even shared that she goes back to her own life drawing sketches and touches them up from time to time.

Brune feels that life models share a craving “for embodiment and growth” and “to put [themselves] in uncomfortable situations and gain something,” she added. “It is my choice [to put myself] into what feels like a challenge.”

“The faces hardly ever are the focus of the life drawing. In terms of my body — neck down it can be anybody,” Azais observed. “It could be me, [or] it could be the other person sitting next to me at a coffee shop.” 

Illustration: Darcey Bateson


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