I got naked for 20 strangers in a pub – and then they drew me

Let me set the scene.

I’m lying naked on the cold floor of a pub in south London, with 20 strangers sitting around me in a circle, staring intensely at my body – they’re studying every line, curve and dip.

The bright lights above illuminate my skin. I am fully exposed, there is nowhere to hide. 

I’m not allowed to move and so have no choice but to let them get an eye-full of my breasts, vulva, legs – the whole shebang.

Earlier this week, I volunteered to be a nude model for Brixton Life Drawing, which was launched in 2019 and is run by two lovely women who host a weekly class at the Hope & Anchor, among other events.

I did it for you, dear reader, but also for myself. 

As someone who loves life drawing, I’ve always wondered what it’s like to offer your body as artistic inspiration for others. I wanted to push my boundaries and see if I was brave enough to take this step.

So I emailed the organisers, Anya Gomulski and Bex Dagless, and they immediately booked me in.

I’ve stripped off in public settings before; at sex clubs, nudist resorts and even once during naked speed dating. 

But in those scenarios, everyone is naked, which takes the pressure off. You’re on equal ground.

I’ve never been the only naked person in a crowded room before.

And, although I am comfortable in my own skin, I was very aware of the fact that I would get to see the pieces that these artists created, meaning I’d be faced with someone else’s view of my body. 

Being a curvy woman who has struggled with her weight in the past, my main concern was that I would ‘look’ fat or that their version of me wouldn’t match my own.

With a few days to go, I got into gear – getting a wax, getting my nails done and making sure to moisturise my skin.

I’d been told I would choose my own poses, so I also spent a considerable amount of time in front of the bathroom mirror standing and sitting in various positions, trying to imagine how the angles would appear to the artists.

Here’s the thing: I needn’t have worried about any of this. But we’ll get to that.

On the big day, I had a brief chat with Anya and Bex, before familiarising myself with the venue. Having originally met while working in design, the friends – who are both local – first started running the classes four years ago. 

Anya and Bex encourage an inclusive space; welcoming people of all sexualities, genders and ages as guests and models, and they also work closely with various charities.

Apparently, they’ve even had a celeb get in touch once, though they won’t tell me who it is. 

I had a double whiskey to calm my nerves and the guests began arriving. Before I knew it, I was being introduced and it was time to take the robe off. 

That was the most terrifying moment of the evening. 

I’d been to the bathroom twice to make sure I looked okay and to wipe off any sweat, and my nerves were in full swing.

I didn’t even dare look at the group as I walked into the middle of the circle, which consisted of mostly women and a few men, the majority of the people appearing to be in their 20s and 30s.

I quickly got into position, focusing on my breathing while staring at the busy pattern of the wallpaper on the far wall.

It was a two-minute standing pose and it was over in what felt like seconds and an eternity at the same time. 

Surprisingly, any embarrassment I initially felt disappeared after the first two poses.

I looked up and realised these people weren’t bothered about any of my so-called imperfections; in this room, these are part of a bigger picture and you can’t create that picture without all the parts.

A strange zen feeling settled over me and I started to enjoy myself. I straightened my back, stopped thinking about my stomach (the area of my body I usually worry about) and went into a meditative state.

At one point, I simply stared at the dots on a woman’s socks for minutes, thinking of absolutely nothing but to hold still and breathe.

I felt powerful and at peace.  

Until the muscle cramp set in, that is. First for a sitting pose, then for a standing pose that would last eight minutes.

‘S**t, you chose the wrong damn stance. Don’t move, don’t move, don’t move, you idiot’, I thought to myself as my legs shook. 

I focused harder on the weird wallpaper, praying I wouldn’t fall over. Which, thankfully, I didn’t. 

There was a break in the middle, where I wore my robe and walked around looking at the recreations of my body and face. 

This felt more awkward than being naked because I was conscious of the artists watching me while I did so, gauging my reactions.

But the overwhelming majority of the drawings made me feel beautiful. And there were so many interpretations.

As the model, you’re asked to keep turning during each pose, so that the group can see you from different angles.

One woman had captured the curve of my stomach and chest with glorious colours. I was so entranced by how it made me feel – proud and pretty – that the artist gave it to me to take home. 

Once framed, it’s going up on my bedroom wall.

One woman jokingly told me I had ‘great breasts’ – I’ll take that compliment. Others had chosen to focus on my face, legs or various shapes of my curves.

After the break, it was time for a 15-minute pose so I opted for lying down on the floor, hoping my muscles would object less. It was definitely easier.

There was one particularly memorable moment, in this final pose, where I was staring up into a disco ball attached to the ceiling and could vaguely see my reflection. I felt so relaxed I probably could have taken a nap.

And I didn’t feel naked. As strange as it may sound, it felt completely natural to me that these people were studying my body.

Overall, this experience was incredible. 

When the class finished, several people thanked me for taking part. 

To them, I wasn’t a naked woman, I was a subject willing to put myself on display for them to practice their skills. 

They didn’t see nipples, toes or genitals because in art, that’s not what a body is. It’s triangles (a method of drawing), shadows, lines. 

Basically, I was a pretty fruit bowl – and I say that with pride.

My biggest takeaway from doing this is that you can want to change things about your body (we all have hang-ups) but you can love it all the same. 

And while you should always focus on your self-view – your opinion is the only one that matters – seeing yourself through others’ eyes can also make you feel incredibly beautiful.

For that, I’m grateful. And I’d definitely do it again.

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