How life drawing counters the images of the body we see in the media
Most days I wake up and reach out till I can feel the cold glass screen of my phone. I pick it up right away and start flicking through Instagram. I see photo after photo of gorgeous women in beautiful bikinis and outfits that look as if they’re just off the runway. I never dwell on what’s flicking past my eyes every morning but now I think about it, it must subconsciously sink into my mind. Photos of ‘beautiful’ bodies are so common on social media that what was once a cyber norm has translated into a societal one. The more I become actively conscious of the body types I am being exposed to everyday, the more I am aware of the media generated shame surrounding women’s bodies.
Now this is not a new phenomenon, however, with mass media becoming accessible to women everywhere, perhaps it’s affecting us on a larger scale. The pressure to have the best angles, clothes, makeup and style is slowly squeezing any sense of true normality out of women. Furthermore, the shame that comes with having a different body can be excruciating, especially for young women coming into their own. Breaking down what posting a picture can do to your mental health, it’s rational to think it isn’t worth it. But is it the posting of the picture that is fear inducing? Or is it fear of going against societal norms? Often getting comfortable with different bodies can help you go on a journey of realising that everybody is different and uniqueness is beautiful.
Life drawing exposed me to the beautiful uniqueness of bodies that mainstream media simply ignores. During the pandemic I found that drawing has helped me find a sense of inner calm and provided an escape from the sadness of everyday life. I found an online life drawing class and thought I would give it a go. At first, I wasn’t sure how I would feel. Would I giggle? Feel squeamish? Cringe? It resulted in none of these things. It genuinely felt freeing. Seeing a woman with an ‘imperfect’ body sprawled out on a sofa, embracing strangers studying her and drawing her honestly created a feeling of immense empowerment. It was inspiring to see model after model shine in confidence and embrace their bodies. Stark naked with nothing to hide behind. The more I began enjoying life drawing the more it got me thinking about what a healthy activity it is.
Seeing such a range of body types being shown off so casually started to change the way I think. The utter indifference of the models and artists to there being a naked body in front of them was a bizarre feeling. None of the artists really cared what the body in front of them looked like; it was more about the freedom of drawing a human in their bare and vulnerable state. When you truly study a body in life drawing, you’re not thinking ‘I wish I could have her abs’ or ‘why don’t I have hair like that’, you’re considering the shapes and curves that make up that person. The enjoyment you get out of drawing different types of bodies and shapes grows as you become better at recognising them. After all, it would be boring if you had to draw the same thing over and over again. You begin to welcome bodies that look like yours and admire differences in others, rather than becoming bogged down by a comparative mindset.
What I have learnt from life drawing is that it helps you form a healthy relationship with body image. It may feel bizarre to be staring at someone stark naked at first but if you are similar to me you will begin to feel empowered. It’s healthy to look at other people’s bodies and to get comfortable with how you and others look. Life drawing exposes this to you in a way that doesn’t involve comparison. You won’t be comparing yourself to the latest love island winner. You’ll be studying a confident person embracing their body and facing their self-conscious fears head on.
There’s plenty of online resources for life drawing that are affordable and often free. Starting now is a good time as if you are nervous you can do it by yourself in the comfort of your own home. You may even start to get more creative in your practice and if there’s areas you find hard, try finding a way around them. There’s no wrong way of being creative and learning about yourself!