Life Drawing… Therapy?

life-drawing-coverEvery second Friday for the past couple of months, Achim has been rushing home early so that I can go meet 6 random strangers in a small, sunlit room to drink tea and work through issues relating to the body.

Group therapy? Well, no. Not technically. But as it turns out… Sort of.

I’ve been going to a life drawing group. Meeting with a little collection of people to draw live nude models. It’s run by a shyly smiling older artist, out of his quiet, sunny nook of a studio, nestled deep in a pre-war cake of a house. Aged, paint-splattered wooden floors, hot tea and an eccentric little garden with a koi pond, inexplicably a 5-minute walk from our place… Honestly, it feels almost bizarre, like a figment of my imagination magically made real. I had been looking for something regular, fun and relaxing to do away from home for a while, and it’s weirdly perfect. Exactly what my over-mommed brain needs to recharge, but actually, that’s only half the story.

lifedrawing-curled-upIt has been doing unexpected things for my body image. Good, subtle things. This body of mine has been on my mind lately. I’m not exactly unhappy with my body. I feel okay. I like getting dressed and I think I can look pretty good. But… beneath the clothing, if I am honest, I am finding it difficult to adapt to these post-baby changes. I hate to admit it, it feels so disempowered. But it’s the truth. I got used to my body one way, and this belly, with the soft “pile of sand” as Joni astutely called it, doesn’t quite feel like mine.

The other day I scored an awesome one piece bathing suit for a pittance from Aldi, a bargain grocery chain here that sometimes carries weirdly nice stuff in small supply. I saw it in the flier, and managed to swing by and snag one in my size. I was so pleased, thinking about wearing it to the beach back home in Nova Scotia this summer. But then, my mind did a sneaky boomerang and I caught myself thinking, yeah, good, I have a cool bathing suit that isn’t a bikini! Good. No random former schoolmates will see my pile of sand belly. Good. I won’t horrify my girlfriends who haven’t had kids yet.lifedrawing-girls-face

Huh. Because I am… horrifying?

Now, obviously that is ridiculous. Ludicrous. Of course it is. Come on, Elena, get a grip already. Do you think other women’s bodies are horrifying? Of course not. Of course not. But… there it lurked. A freshly buried vulnerability, and a dangerous one at that. As the mother of a daughter, it’s not lost on me. She is a healthy, chubby 10 months old, but already I feel the comments about her weight coming stronger than they did with my little boy. No. Way. I want to feel at home in my new body. I need to feel good here.

And that is the strangest, most serendipitous thing about this life drawing group. That day I bought the bathing suit, as it happened, I was on my way there. I was on my way to sit in silence – real, blessed silence, for two hours to meditatively follow the curves of another ordinary, perfectly imperfect woman’s body. These models. They do not look like anything you would see in a magazine. Their bellies are soft and rippled. Their breasts are shallow rosettes. Their arms are slow swinging hammocks. Their bums dimple like crab apples. And honest to God, in that quiet all I can think, all I can ever think as I follow the lines of their bodies, noticing everything, every nook and curve and scar and spot is how truthfully, completely and heart-renderingly beautiful they all are!

And although I’m self-conscious about the honey sweet cliché Michael Bubléness of that word, there is just no better way of describing it. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful. After 5 classes, I finally brought it up with the girl next to me. A quiet student with dark glasses and a nervous laugh. I know, she quickly nodded, knowingly. I feel the same way.

It’s funny. This is not my first time drawing nudes, I did it lots back in art school. I don’t recall it having this effect on me. Who knows. Sometimes you get out of it what you need at that moment. But this time around, there is something profound about the life drawing… There is no criticism there. To try and capture a person is to really look, and really see them and accept them. This is how they are, nothing to distract or hide under. I think it’s that acceptance, that non-judgemental, appreciative acceptance that is so powerful. When you look at a person that way, well, they can only be beautiful.

And, yeah. I get it, Universe. That applies to everyone, you, sweet friend, and yeahhhh, me too. I’m still figuring it out… really looking, seeing and appreciatively accepting my own body the way I do others is a bit of a mind twist. But it’s surprising me. It feels a little weird but it’s working, somehow. Cue the Bublé! But it’s true, I’m feeling glimmers of the beauty. And in the meantime, I’ve got my lovely life drawing class to practice with.


p.s. Have you ever done life drawing? I’d love to hear your experiences, especially if you’ve been a model. Does it help you to see yourself differently? So curious.

Illustrations are all drawings I did of the lovely models at my life drawing group. There was one man as well, an older gentleman, and the beautiful thing fully applied to him too, but I found his drawings just stood out too much here, so I left them out. 

8 thoughts on “Life Drawing… Therapy?

  1. Kat Finck

    This is lovely, Elena.
    I survived my early years in Montreal while pursuing my training and career in circus mostly through art modeling and dumpster diving. It was especially difficult to be in pursuit of a body “worth showing” and surrounded on a daily basis by others who were similarly focused and then go to work in a place where people were most interested in my curviest, softest, least “perfect” parts. It was often jarring but also I feel it kept me grounded. I would look at what people had drawn during the breaks and see a lot of truth about myself but also a lot of truth about the artist. We are beautiful or ugly through the veil which people see us. When we inspire love or happiness we cannot help but be beautiful. This was important to take to the stage with me… that if I could make people laugh, that’s where the beauty was.

    1. Elena

      So, so lovely to hear from you, Kat! That juxtaposition of performer and nude model is so interesting… two different ways of being seen. I keep coming back to the fact that you say it kept your grounded, because doing the drawing is so grounding for me too. Our model last week came around and looked at all of our pictures, and she seemed so curious and nervous and delighted, but actually, I felt the same way! I think it’s an exchange, actually. And quite honest. Both people are vulnerable – there is definitely as much about me in there as there is about the model. Again, thanks so much for your comment!

  2. Chiara

    Yoga did this for me. A wonderful mom started 6am yoga classes at the local studio and I dragged myself out of bed once a week for them this winter. It was amazing to remember that even though my body looks so different than it did before, and I don’t understand it as well, I can still stretch and bend and feel powerful and strong.

    1. Elena

      I’ve felt the same way when I’ve gotten myself out rock climbing, Chiara! Almost surprised at my power… I find momming so, so physical, but it’s often in this kind of bedgraggling way, like, schlepping a baby and a preschooler and a diaper bag and 2 coats and the preschooler’s backpack and a bag of groceries up two flights of stairs and trying to locate my keys while my muscles burrrrrrrn. I’m wiped out, but not in a way that I think of as powerful — but then the climbing kind of makes me mindful of my strength in a different way and that can carry over to the daily stuff. And I’d hold myself a little straighter and taller and just kind of perceive my body differently in the middle of those tasks and they felt less bedraggling. If that makes sense…? Hmm. I need to climb more!

  3. johanna

    Such a beautiful piece here lane, the writing, the reflection, your drawings. I love it. Miss you. xo

  4. willa murray

    Beautiful Elena! These body image concepts are relevant for every woman. I have done modelling for life drawing classes, and do find it’s an amazing reflection for me of what other people see. They are always kinder than my own eyes. I’ve always wondered if people in the class are feeling like you. Love your blog.

    1. Elena

      Thanks so much, Willa! When you say you think they are kinder than your own eyes, I feel you! Sigh. It’s a good exercise to put on the eyes of another. When people come around and look I always hope they feel affirmed, I really try and be honest, but that’s just it! People are honestly beautiful. It’s always a little bit of dissonance when I apply that to myself though. Maybe the next step is modelling myself! ?


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