Tahmina Begum explores the memeification of Breonna Taylor
What I Learned When I Stripped for Art
It might not be an obvious way to build body confidence, but it worked for this Restless writer
Growing up I was always self-conscious about my body. On the beach I would cover the tops of my thighs with board shorts, leaving a horrific tan line that took years to get rid of. I hit puberty earlier than most of my friends and the small nubs protruding from my chest made me feel weird and different. I didn’t want to be different, I just wanted to fit in.
With puberty in full swing, I suddenly didn’t want my mother or my sister seeing me naked anymore. I’d cover myself instantly if they needed to come and grab something from the bathroom, and shy away from being in my underwear and bra.
So how did I get from this point to full frontal nudity in front of a group of strangers? The short answer is, I needed the money. But the experience gave me so, so much more.
I had just come back from travelling and was really short on cash. A friend of mine had done life modelling for a local sculpture school and I thought I’d give it a go. My mother did not share the same enthusiasm as me about my new freelance role, and my dad has yet to find out (sorry dad, if you’re reading this). But I quickly agreed before I could give myself a chance to back down. Before I knew it, I was walking through the doors of a warehouse, greeted by a group of strangers that were going to sculpt my naked body for the next six weeks.
When I tell people I’ve been a model for a sculpture school, I am usually met with the same questions. Were you nervous about being naked? Did you get cold? Wasn’t it weird? I have to say, I was definitely all those things at one point, but the majority of the time I felt completely comfortable and at ease. As cold as it sounds, the students sculpting me did not see me as a human being, but rather a variety of lines, curves and shapes to capture. I began to learn more about my body than ever before, for the first time appreciating the fact I was not skinny. Or the way that when I hunched over my stomach created rolls and texture that made it interesting to sculpt. There were times in between poses that I would just stretch and the teacher would ask me to stop so she could sketch me.
Being told my movements and body were beautiful was something that made me feel appreciated beyond belief. I remember one time in particular when I was being sketched and the teacher was completely immersed in what she was doing. She paused to look up at me for a second before continuing to sketch, saying, “You have the most beautiful…” pausing as she was distracted by the lines she was making on her paper. I held my breath wondering what she was going to say next, “…knees.” It’s safe to say I was surprised, but I have never felt such pride for a part of my body that I would never have looked twice at. This wasn’t just one instance. One student adored the small bit of skin between my torso and armpit that seemed to form a tiny ‘v’ shape. Others complimented me on the elegance of my neck when viewed from behind.
I have never been particularly artistic, but being a part of a project where I was the inspiration for creating something beautiful filled me with a sense of joy and purpose I’d never felt before. My body with all its marks, rolls and lines was the muse for something truly unique and inspiring.
Modelling helped me break down the insecurities and barriers I had felt for years about my body and what is perceived as beautiful in modern day society. Women in particular face a constant barrage of photos of how we should look, shopping suggestions for how we should dress and daily judgements and scrutiny should we (shock horror!) choose not to wear make up or do our hair.
I’m not entirely sure when I became this confident young woman who dresses and moves with purpose. I would be lying if I said I don’t have days when I catch a reflection of myself in a shop window or a bathroom mirror and hate that I have a muffin top or wish I had a flatter stomach. But I try not to let these thoughts get to me, and after this experience it’s a lot easier. They appear and soon enough they’re gone again. I don’t know if I will ever be fully comfortable with my body, but suffice to say I am definitely determined to try. Would I recommend nude modeling for other women? That’s a resounding yes!