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The Telegraph

What I learned when I posed for a naked ‘pandemic portrait’

It was late on a Saturday morning in early December when I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer; I’d have to get naked. To take a nude selfie – my first ever – and send it someone I had never met. Above my bed sits Modigliani’s painting ‘Female Nude’ so I found myself looking to her for guidance on how to pose. The sitter’s peace with her body is reassuring. But I didn’t want to be sleepily passive in how I presented my body, but rather completely awake and in control. Why was I doing this at all? I blame my sister. After I saw her post her own nude portrait on Instagram (by artist @inthebuff), I had texted to say how much I loved it. Not just the Hockney-esque electric blue and pink, but her confidence in saying to the world “this is my body”. It reminded me of the Sex and the City episode in which Samantha Jones announces that she is going to get naked portraits taken. There’s a stunned silence. “Isn’t that a little narcissistic? asks Miranda. It’s been nearly 20 years since that first aired and the conversation has most certainly changed. Like many women, I have a complicated relationship with my body. As a teen, I just wanted to be as tiny as Audrey Hepburn or Carrie Bradshaw, and controlled how many calories I ate. By the age of 17, I was so underweight – a doctor told me – that I was only having one period a year.It was a pivotal moment. I didn’t want to be so thin that I was doing my body damage. It would be some years yet before my relationship with food normalised and oddly enough, it was during the first lockdown when I noticed that it had relaxed. The pandemic acted as a bit of a reality check. And a part of me wanted to commemorate that shift in paint. And so, after much humming and haahing on my part, I decided to press ahead with my own naked portrait; taking selfie after naked selfie to send to the artist. Shirt on, shirt off; jeans on, jeans off…turns out that taking nude photographs for yourself isn’t half as nerve-racking as it might be for a lover. There was no need for posturing, pouting, or saucy thrusting. Flicking through the photos, seeing what worked and what didn’t, I slowly found myself growing accustomed to my own body. It turned out to be far more of a psychological process than I had anticipated; in confronting myself over and over, I stopped looking for flaws. Why had it taken me so long to do this? I hadn’t realised that I had been hiding from my body until now. That I hadn’t been kind or respectful to it, and that I may have given it to people who were undeserving. This portrait, I realised, would be both a love letter and an apology to myself. When I sent artist Franchi Webb, my photos, however, I was still concerned that they weren’t “right”. “They’re gorgeous! I am so happy to do any of them,” she wrote back. Two women complicit in acknowledging a body from a purely objective standpoint is a powerful thing. “Painting nudes and helping people on their journey to loving themselves and their bodies is massively inspiring,” Webb told me.

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