Trigger: violence against women
I stood naked on stage, back-to-back with another woman, arms raised as if protecting ourselves. The eyes of 40 other women were on us. I swallowed the lump in my throat and blinked back the tears. Feelings of vulnerability surged through me.
“In the UK, prosecutions for violence against women include domestic abuse, rape, forced marriage, stalking, honour-based violence, trafficking, female genital mutilation, child abuse, and offences related to prostitutions and pornography.”
“Around the world a woman is killed in an honour crime every 90 minutes. If a woman is seen to have bought shame on the family by refusing to enter an arranged marriage, looking too long at a boy, or even being raped, a man is free to kill her as long as another family member forgives him.”
The tears I blinked back were not for me. I personally did not feel vulnerable. Quite the opposite. I was enveloped in warmth and good will. I was mentally stilled by the concentration of staying physically still, absorbing the meditative silence of those concentrating on their drawing. The surge of emotion as we held positions that spoke of violence and trauma were for the women whose lives I was imagining as the words above were read out. Somehow, the experience of feeling so strong through being completely naked enabled me to feel more acutely the vulnerability of the women whose stories we were hearing.
I hadn’t really expected the experience of modelling for life drawing to be particularly emotional, but then I am not sure what I had expected. Participating was a spur of the moment decision. Reading the programme for the WOW Festival the night before, I had spotted that Spirited Bodies was running a life drawing session and audience members were free to model. I tweeted them in the morning and then turned up really early. I planted myself on the front row, a complete fraud amongst the people who wanted a prime position because they could actually draw. I didn’t want to draw, I wanted to take all my clothes off!
I didn’t want to take my clothes off quite as much as Nat who walked to the back of the room and stripped naked before realising the only other people who were so far naked were the Spirited Bodies cast! When audience participation actually started, unencumbered by clothes as she was, she was first on stage. Waiting for the rest of us to peel off the layers, she described seeing “a line of naked amazingness proudly walking on stage.”
And it was a proud feeling. A slightly out of body feeling, but also proud. Looking into the audience there was a sea of smiling faces and a ripple of applause. Looking around the other volunteers I noted that we were all wearing the same slightly dappy grins as we looked to the more experienced models for direction. It struck me that everyone’s face was open and warm and full of anticipation. I didn’t know any of these women but it felt safe.
We settled self-consciously into our first pose. “We’re going for a drink after this,” I muttered not very quietly. A collective chuckle and quick agreement. Later, in the bar, three of us who posed chatted to Patsy, one of the artists. She commented on how nice it was seeing the camaraderie that existed amongst those of us on stage. I am glad the audience could see that because up there it felt really tangible. While the segment on trauma and violence was an incredibly powerful and emotional experience, at times it was also really bloody funny.
“I have cramp in my thumb.” “What?!”
“My thighs are really sweaty.”
“I was paranoid my period was going to arrive.” “So was I!”
“Farting would have been the worst thing to happen!”
But most of all it was humbling and uplifting. On stage were a group of amazing women of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities, trusting the women in the audience. And in the audience were women using the trust we put in them to find their own meditative space as they sketched. There was no judgement in the room, just a heady mixture of solitude and solidarity.
Thank you to Spirited Bodies for an amazing experience – I hope our paths cross again. Thank you to the artists for your work – I have credited those of you whose names I know, but please do get in touch if I haven’t and you want a link back to your site or Twitter.