"The artists are only interested in the shape of my muscles and limbs. They are not interested in me." Juliette Odolant

My experience of life drawing in Cambridge began during Freshers' Week, when I dragged my new acquaintances to a student-led class. As we sipped our wine and commented on how civilised it felt in contrast to the rest of our fresher activities, we started to observe the class in a new way – finding it less wholesome than we first perceived. We were shocked that the male ‘teacher’ was flirting with the beautiful female model in between poses, while the young woman who was modelling – probably no more than a year older than us – posed in strangely self-conscious positions. I resolved that next term – after the freshers' anxiety had worn off – I would take on the challenge of life modelling, to experience whether I felt sexualised or liberated.

For my first stint as a model, I choose a new class at ArcSoc. Strangely, as I cycle towards my fate, I feel calm. Maybe it’s the numbing hangover, but it feels quite natural that I am about to take off my clothes in front of a group of could-be-friends, probably-will-be acquaintances, and the odd middle-aged man drawing on an iPad.

 I would take on the challenge of life modelling to experience whether I felt sexualised or liberated.

When I arrive at the studio, I meet the other models and we undress politely in the starkly-lit basement toilet – making small talk, putting on our robes. It all feels quite normal until we enter the class. I look around the room at the eager students. The timer starts and I feel anxiety welling up through my stomach and chest. It really is like one of those dreams when you look down and realise you’re naked in assembly.

Taking off my robe feels like plunging into a pool of cold water. I struggle to find a pose – the other models dance into one effortlessly. I end up leaning my arm up against the wall. The students chat away – mostly about going out later. As my arms start to ache I begin to feel underappreciated. I want to point out that I am here: I’m fucking naked! The students don’t seem to understand that they are part of a privileged minority who have seen my genitals. I realise that my preconceptions of being made to feel like a sexual object were false – the artists couldn’t care less. They are only interested in the shape of my muscles and limbs. They are not interested in me.

I want to point out that I am here: I’m fucking naked!

There’s an ambient DJ set going on in the background – lots of industrial noises and beeping. This distracts me and I wonder whether my position has changed. The evening wears on and we get increasingly friendly. By the second hour, we are chatting to the audience (drawers? artists?) as they glance up and down at our bare bodies like we’ve just bumped into one another on the street. One of the other models – who is more experienced and demanding than me – shouts at the DJ to change the music. I almost forget that I’m naked.


Mountain View

Why everyone should try life drawing once

It’s all over. We stretch our aching limbs, dress ourselves, say our goodbyes, look at the art. One student has drawn me in dark shadows with a transparent cube around my head. I wonder whether this reflects my nervous energy. The other models leave and I feel an overwhelming loneliness pass over me. I have just been naked with these women; our bodies have touched, we have laughed, we have created art together. But it’s just a job. Nakedness does not mean intimacy. Nakedness is not even vulnerable.

As I cycle home, I imagine what my next class might be like, having lost my life modelling virginity. I feel sad that I won’t be nervous– that taking my clothes off has ceased to be an experiment. But I’m also pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to let go of nakedness. To be naked is no longer an act of danger.

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