I've written before about my attitudes to nudity and our bodies (see for instance here, here and here) and I return to the subject quite unashamedly especially as Channel 4 TV's "Life Class" (which I admit I have not been watching) has created a bit of a backlash in certain circles. So it was good to see a couple of articles last week coming out in favour of nudity and trying, quietly and sanely, to redress the balance.
The first was written for BBC News's online magazine by life model Sarah Snee (who is herself also an artist). The piece went under a banner Starkers for Art; here are some snippets of what she has to say:
As a student strapped for cash the allure of making money modelling for art was too much to resist. But there was another motivation - self exploration.
"I was intrigued by the idea of being naked in front of strangers," says Sarah. "Especially at the age of 20 when you're still getting to know your own body and developing your own sexuality. It was a very romantic idea, a bohemian idea [...] My first time was daunting. I was wondering what people thought of my body. Was I attractive enough? Did my bum look big? The things most people would be concerned with."
Despite being under the intense scrutiny of a room full of pupils, male and female, Sarah found she quickly became used to being under the artist's gaze. "It made me feel more confident about my body. I felt liberated. I feel more self-conscious wearing a bikini on holiday with friends than I did when I was naked in front of strangers."
"People say to me isn't life modelling really weird? Isn't it a bit sexual? Of course there are men who have this idea they're all going to draw these naked women and it's going to be thrilling [...] But the artists don't view you sexually. They see the body as a series of lines and shadows, a piece of art."
The second piece, titled Nudity does us all good, was by Jemima Lewis in last Saturday's Daily Telegraph. Again Jemima Lewis has a refreshingly down to earth view of nudity, and echos my view that nudity is not only normal but we would all be better adjusted if we grew up with nudity and understanding our bodies. This is (part of) what she has to say:
[...] who are these children who have never seen a naked body before? And more importantly, why not?
Going naked in front of your offspring is one of the duties of parenthood. Studies show – and common sense suggests – that children from households where nudity is commonplace grow up to feel more comfortable in their own skin. We need the background scenery of other people's bodies – dumpy, scrawny, dimpled or lean – in order to be reassured that our own peculiarities are normal.
Especially now, when most public images of the human form are airbrushed into a preposterous lie, children ought to know what actual people look like under their clothes.
Some of my favourite memories of school feature middle-aged men and women disporting themselves in the buff. Our A-level teacher, like many artists, preferred her life models on the well-fed side, their rolls of fat allowing for plentiful chiaroscuro.
Although it is a long time since I picked up a sketchpad, those life classes, combined with the tireless domestic nudity of my parents, are proving more useful to me now than ever.
As my wife's uncle used to say: "If you see anything God didn't make, heave a brick at it."