If you ever feel uncomfortable in your own skin, or for whatever reason, you start to believe you are not beautiful, I suggest taking a life drawing class, or seeing a life drawing exhibit.

Life drawing is a form of sketch work where a group of artists come together to draw living models.

These aren’t your typical models like the ones photoshopped in magazines, or used in commercials, (not usually at least). These are everyday people stripped down to the suit they were born in, leaving themselves to the artists to capture ever curve and crevasse. Some may model to recapture their body and build confidence, while others may do it to show the world they love their skin. Artists do this to build their skills and to better their talents, while learning how to capture unique shapes for future projects. This can be a scary, intimate, and yet, beautiful experience for all those involved.

At least, that’s what I felt when viewing the exhibit during one of my volunteering experiences at TAP Centre of Creativity (formally known as The ARTS Project).

For the longest time I’ve felt like an alien in my skin.

I believe a lot of people feel this way, where your body changes during your teens into something you don’t recognize. You lose control over how you look or feel; fighting with weight change in places that hadn’t changed before. It has been a constant battle in my head of too big here, not thin there. My boobs weren’t right, my hair wasn’t right… there were always issues with what I saw in the mirror. For a time I restricted my food, starving myself to become an image the media told me I should be. My family consisted of various sizes and shapes, while I was a mix of all and none of them.

Blame it on the bullying when during my formative years, or the comments family would make at gatherings (not meaning them to hurt as much as they did). Blame it on the movies watched, or magazines read. It doesn’t matter now, the damage was done long ago. The confidence I had in my body was gone and I hated the skin I was in.

Standing in front of the mirror at sixteen, I remember pushing up my boobs wanting them to be bigger. Walking by the displays in the mall, I remember thinking to myself how I would need to lose weight to look good in those jeans at seventeen. At twenty-one, I remember sitting on the beach in Spain watching all the women flaunting their naked bodies with little concern of what other’s thought while I was covered, afraid what others would think of my love handles and thick thighs.

At age twenty-two, I had no energy. I was eating one meal a day and hadn’t lost any weight. I was a steady 145 pounds, and had been for years, yet I starved myself because it was the only thing about my body I could control. At age twenty-four, I was losing my hair and was pale. I couldn’t climb the stairs without holding onto the railing and everything hurt. At age twenty-five, I was unhealthy and depressed. I knew something had to change and so, I finally decide enough was enough.

For nine years I hated my body and either I was going to learn to love this skin suit or I was going to go on hating it for the remainder of my life. No one else had issues with how I looked. My partner loved and supported me. My family loved and supported me. The issues were with me and had to stop with me.

So, I started to eat. 

This may not sound like a challenge but for those who have gone, or are going through this, you’ll understand that with each meal comes its challenges.

Those voices in your head get louder and your resolve has to get stronger. I started with breakfasts, which I hadn’t had consistently since high school. The voice of my cousin insulting my boobs during a dress fitting echoed in my mind. Then I moved on to adding lunches. A friend’s voice mentioning how my uniform was getting a little tight began to get louder. Then after consistent meals of breakfast, lunch, and dinner I looked in the mirror and heard the voices of the girls from my middle school days insulting my arms and my cheeks. The voices got louder, but my resolve had to drown them out. Whenever I heard them I would try thinking of all the nice things people had said. My hair was nice, my smile made their day, that shirt fit me well, that I’m lucky how easily I tan – repeating these to myself until it was all I could hear.

Now, I’m twenty-seven. I’ve joined a gym, changed to a healthier diet, bought new clothes, but my journey to loving my body is far from over.

Seeing myself in the mirror is still a challenge. Every curve and bulge I nit-pick. For a moment I’m sixteen again, hating how my body is changing/ or has changed. Those thoughts of wanting to stop eating return and those voices come back with a vengeance. I pull on the places I hate, wanting them to go away… but that’s not how things work.

Funny how this exhibit came at the perfect time in my journey. 

In a room of white walls plastered with newsprint of charcoal and pencil I was in awe. Lines of differing colours and shapes captured these models that posed in ways some would call unflattering, yet to me were beautifully confident. They were large, small, young, old, flat chested and large chested, feminine and masculine and those in-between, positioned like wallpaper for every inch of the eye to see. For years I had been forcing my body to be something it wasn’t. I was wanting my body to be thin even though the structure of my form would never let me. I was desiring pieces of me to be different, although my DNA dictated that this would be who I am. These people, these models, didn’t hide their flaws but embraced them and shared them with absolute strangers.

No body was the same. All were unique. All were beautiful.

And with that realization, I, for the first time in years, felt free.