Seeing my body as art somehow made me accept it. It wasn't just something I moved around in, it was art that people were buying. There it was, not going anywhere anytime soon. At the exhibition openings there were no whispers about the model having an unusual body. Hearing how the artist talked about other models' bodies made a difference too. I was going to the gym fairly often for a while, and the artist I pose for joked that he'd have to get someone new because he didn't want me to be muscular. He also didn't want models that were much bigger than me, because drawings and sculptures of them lack angles. It had nothing to do with them not looking good enough for him, it was to do with his style. He's seen a fair few people naked, so it just wasn't a big deal to him.
I think the only thing holding me back from modelling for groups of people is the risk of spotting familiar faces in the crowd. It's not so much that I don't want to, more that it could be uncomfortable for them.
I talked to a few other women about what it's like being naked in front of strangers.
VICE: Hi Audrey. How do you think figure modelling has changed your relationship with your body?
**Audrey: **I think that it's helped me think about it more objectively and it helps me look at my body and appreciate it as a tool and not just an extension of myself. When I first started getting naked in public I would psych myself up like, If people are judging my body then they're dicks, I don't care what they thin_k. The mantras worked but it's also like, it's a body, everyone's got one and once you've had a class full of people staring at your body I feel less self conscious about it in general. I mean, I'm not immune to thinking, "ugh, it'd be great if these pants still fitted_," but I don't think I fall victim as much to the body shaming that is surrounding us everyday.
What's it like, being someone's muse?
Well, you know, I've got an ego so I enjoy it. I guess for me it's interesting because I am an artist that uses my own body in my practice, it's quite an interesting thing when other people are using my body in life modelling. I wouldn't model for someone that was using my body and my image in a way I don't agree with. For example, I met up with this artist and I thought he was going to do some life drawing sessions with me. Then he wanted to take semi-erotic photos and was like "Actually…uh, no." There's quite a vast difference between those things.
What do you like about posing naked for people?
I really appreciate the stillness of modelling. I had my first life modelling session of the year last night actually and god I've missed it. Even though I'm being stared at by a room full of people I'm totally alone with my thoughts and I love it and there's a real value in that I don't seem to find anywhere else. I guess I'm a lot better at sitting still than I thought I'd ever be. All of my anxieties go away when I life model, it's a place that I really enjoy—almost need.
Has figure modelling made you more comfortable in your own skin?
I've always really liked my body so it was just getting over the initial idea of being naked in front of people. I used to get really good feedback about being a great model and the students loved drawing me because I was really comfortable being in the nude. I think it's partly to do with being European, coming from a different background where nudity isn't associated with sexuality, which it seems to be here in New Zealand quite a bit unfortunately. I'm going to be 60 this year and I do feel different about my body now than I did a while ago, and I have to say I'm not totally enjoying the changes that come with age.
How do you feel about becoming art?
I love it. Yeah, Sam Harrison made a sculpture of me, a life-sized sculpture. I loved seeing the whole process of starting with chicken wire and putting plaster on then for it to actually look like me and then to see the finished sculpture, I love it. I'm not comfortable with having photos taken of me naked. I don't like the idea that without my consent I could be on some weird website that I don't want to be on. In the past it was always a consensual thing, it was very official and you had to sign a contract and I got the negatives when the student finished their work.
Have you learnt anything about yourself through figure modelling?
It's taught me that even though people see me naked, I'm actually quite a private person. That may be bizarre to you but just because someone knows what I look like naked doesn't mean they really know anything about me and I quite like that. It's a revealing thing to do, but all I'm revealing is the outside of my skin.
Has the way you see yourself changed much since you started?
Definitely. My body goes through a lot of changes all the time but I'm kind of comfortable at any stage now. It took me a couple of years before trying burlesque actually, because I thought I wasn't the right body type for it and I couldn't do it. But it changed into "I can do, because I'm confident and I'm happy to be up here." So figure modelling wasn't much of a transition to be honest, I was like "Yep, here I am, this is how it is."
Do you like seeing how people translate your body into their art?
I find it quite fascinating, because of the way different people interpret it. It's fascinating seeing what goes on in other people's minds, just a snapshot on a bit of paper. You never really actually see yourself at any time during your life, so it's this opportunity to see how people see you.
What has it taught you about yourself?
That's a hard one. It's taught be to have a little bit more self confidence. It surprises me that people want to draw me. It sort of broke the stereotypes that I had in my head about it, it taught me to question those. Now I question stereotypes about bodies. All types of bodies. That's what it taught me, in a nutshell.
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VICE is hosting a series of three Open Late nights__ fo__r The Body Laid Bare: Masterpieces From the Taite, a major exhibition on now __at Auckland Art Gallery. The first after dark event is on _April 4, featuring SoccerPractise live__, a special DJ set from Peach Milk and entry to the exhibition. _