My friend who is much cooler than me, because a) she came up with the idea b) she knows how to get people to participate in the idea c) she follows through on it, hosts ‘naked lady art parties.’ What is a naked lady art party, you ask? Well, a naked lady art party is when a bunch of ladies get naked and draw each other. Why would anyone want to do this? Well, it’s super fun.
She came up with the idea because a friend of hers who is unitarian had a similar experience when she was younger. In her friend’s community at a certain age all the girls would get together, totally in the buff, and talk about how they felt self-conscious about their bodies, then in solidarity they would compliment each other’s bodies. Her friend said it helped to get rid of a lot of body conscious hangups she had.
How many times do we actually get to see another woman’s naked body? I’m not talking about one articulated by the male gaze, one intentionally made erotic for men on a movie screen portrayed with a conventionally ideal body. I’m talking about your peers. That sounds awkward but it’s actually not.
When I arrived at the party everyone was already topless, sipping wine and eating chips. There wasn’t a hint of uncomfortableness and jebus knows it feels good to take off your bra after a long day. These were just twenty-something ladies of all different shapes, sizes, heights and tones being nakey. After a few minutes the nakedness just becomes the way it is. It just becomes taken for granted. There were thighs, tits, tummies and glutes ripe for the illustrating. No two bodies were exactly alike but each was beautiful. Not in an erotic way, not in an insincere way either.
In all honesty, seeing other women naked made me more comfortable in my own nakedness. The thing about drawing a naked body is that you realize these excruciating details, the kind we turn upon ourselves in a negative light become these kind of ethereal things. The way your thigh squishes on the couch and gets wider when you sit down, or the little pooch of fat on your tummy, or the crookedness of your teeth or breasts or asymmetry of your ears become aesthetically pleasing instead of another reason why you’re not as pretty as so-and-so.
This wasn’t a beauty pageant, it was an empowering community of artsy-fartsies who would rather define their image themselves rather than let some arbitrary standard do so.
When I was drawing these ladies I was seeing a woman’s body through a different lens than the one insinuated by the media and Hollywood. That’s all it was too, a different lens, a different way to look at a body. It became more about details: light, shape, curves and bones. It wasn’t about who was the thinnest or who was the tallest or who looked most like Angelina Jolie. Like I said, no two bodies were alike but none were less attractive than another, so why are women, myself included, at times so obsessed with emulating the bodies of the cookie cutter debutantes of Hollywood? It’s a pyramid scheme to keep you buying stuff you don’t need by making you feel less stunning than you actually are.
We are taught from an early age to be ashamed of our bodies, women much more than men. We’re forced to cover up our chest when men don’t have to. To wear a skirt of a certain length. To never show too much or—what?—you’re a slut. The girl who shows her body, who exposes it, whether for money or pleasure or empowerment, carries a scarlet letter on her back in much of society. And why? Our bodies are natural. Could you imagine if there were laws that said all female cats, dogs and hamsters must be covered up as not to tempt the male hamsters, dogs and cats? That’s ridiculous but not really different than the kinds of standards we impose on women today.
Our bodies become sources of fear, shame and guilt but never of pride, confidence or agency. Challenge that. Don’t take that for what it is. You may not be ready to sit in a room with a bunch of other girls but maybe you’re ready to stand in front of a mirror and sketch yourself. Maybe you’re ready to notice every detail, definition and line of your body and really face it. Face it that you don’t look like everybody else and that that is absolutely wonderful.