What’s the Big Deal? It’s Just a Body…and It’s Beautiful.

Drawing Class at Pratt Institute

My kids would probably be surprised to know that I wasn’t always comfortable in my body; my door is always open and they see it often. After living in this body for over 40 years, I’m finally comfortable in my skin. But like most kids, I was self-conscious during my teen years; I dreaded the locker room in junior high changing quickly while struggled to hide my under-developed body. Growing up, we weren’t a family that walked through the halls naked; rather, we brought our change of clothes into the bathroom with us. We respected each other’s privacy. I never saw my dad naked or if I did, I carefully blocked it from my memory. Nudity was reserved for bathing behind closed doors.

I always loved and was fascinated by the human figure but I’d only had the chance to examine it covered in clothing.  I could sit for hours on a park bench and study people: their faces, hands, their gait. By the time I was a teen, I carried a sketchbook around and eventually, I went on to study art in NYC at Pratt Institute.

Art school exposed me to nudity in a whole new way. Suddenly, I was confronted with strangers’ naked bodies every week—mostly in our studios but occasionally above me in my roommate’s bunk bed. It took some getting used to. Our drawing studio freshman year was six grueling hours long and mostly focused on the human figure. We’d sit on hard wood stools beginning the day upright and alert and ending it, hunched over and depleted of energy. I can’t remember details about the first naked body I drew, but I do remember feeling uncomfortable and trying to avoid looking at or drawing the crotch area. At least, for the first hour or so. But after staring at the same naked body for six hours, no matter how foreign the experience initially feels, that body starts to become familiar and you slip into a comfortable drawing rhythm.

Our class had the privilege of drawing people of all shapes, sizes, and colors. We drew old wrinkly men, beautiful pregnant women, dancers, skinny people, flabby people, and even obese. In fact, our favorite model was obese. Her name was Aviva; she was over 200lbs and she was stunning. She moved with such grace and poise. We later learned that she was a former ballerina. We were all grateful for the experience of drawing her.

During that time in my life, drawing other people emboldened me to allow myself to drawn. Initially, you feel vulnerable and literally exposed as you sit there naked trying to remain motionless while someone studies every inch of you. It’s an incredibly intimate experience that leaves you feeling discovered and seen. I can understand how strange it might sound to people that are not artists or are not around artists. Drawing the human figure and being drawn reinforced how beautiful our bodies are, each a true work of art unique unto themselves.

There are several nude drawings and prints hanging in our house. If my kids were to open up my sketchbooks stacked in my studio, they would discover drawings many naked bodies.

Only recently did my son inquire about the print in our dining room that shows a hint of a woman’s breast. It was like he only just noticed it even though it’s been hanging there for years.“Mom, do you think it’s ok for that drawing to be in our house?” “Yes, I do,” I told him, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a body.” “Well, it’s naked,” he pointed out. “It’s a work of art,” I explained, “the drawing and the body. It’s quite beautiful, don’t you think?” He considered my answer as he examined the print and then, seemed to accept it.

Now, in my 40s and after giving birth to three children, although I still walk naked around the house (so be careful if you’re outside staring in the windows), I’m less inclined to bare it all on the beach but I do love this body especially for the precious gifts it has given me (like my 3 beautiful children).

I try to impress this on my children: your body is a beautiful work of art. How many hours did I spend breathing in every detail of their perfect little bodies after they were born? Now, I try to point out the qualities that make each of their bodies unique: their silky, flawless tan skin; their almond-shaped eyes filled with pools of dark brown color; the dimples in their chins–just like my grandfather’s; their long, lean frames. Eventually each one of their bodies will tell its own story through its scars, calluses, wrinkles, muscles, and curves. Their bodies will becomes their own personal memoirs. Treat it well, I tell them, and always be in awe of what it can do.

 


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Author: Heather Zachariah

Former Art Director for Home Magazine and Caribbean Travel & Life, Heather is chauffeur to 3 busy kids; the president of her Home and School Association; and VP of Marketing for TipsFromTown. And she's passionate about all 3!

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