We do so much fat hating in our culture, don’t we?
Like seeing a fat person at McDonald’s and thinking, “well you wouldn’t choose a salad bar, would you?” or sitting beside a fat person on an airplane when they’re taking up the armrest. I think on a long flight even a Buddhist thinks, “that fat, arm-resting fucker.”
I used to be 40 kilograms heavier. I was Rubenesque.
I was also, at the time, a life model: a job where you take your clothes off for people to paint pictures of you. I decided to give it a try when my skinny life model friend bemoaned their use of her straight-lined body as their ‘masculine’ model. They asked if she knew any curvy women willing to pose. Curves, I thought? I have 47 of those. I think they mean me.
Watch this TEDx talk on what it’s like being a plus-size model. (Post continues after video.)
I preened for my first session, trying to make myself hairless, scar-less, spotless. I arrived expecting that ‘Titanic’ scene. Chaise lounge, heart of the ocean. “Draw me like one of your French girls”. I found myself in a community hall. Summer. No air-con. A few milk crates. One bright spot was the sponge cake and cups laid out for morning tea. The artists watched me impatiently.
I disrobed and stood naked in a room of strangers for the first time since my birth. And, like that day, my nakedness now had no one batting an eyelid. They weren’t giggling at the exposure of my bum. They were studying it with appreciation.
I balanced myself on the crates. The realisation that I had to hold this pose for three hours drove out every thought about being starkers. Two hours in, we broke for morning tea. I was last to the sponge because my paralysed legs had to be taught how to walk again. Looking around miserably for cake scraps, I was taken aback by comments like “thank you for coming”, “your body is marvelous”, “we never get to draw voluptuous women”. The artists were animated. They wanted me to see their paintings. They could barely fit me on their canvases. I saw myself glorified. A thing of beauty. By the end, I had five more bookings for future jobs. I had found my niche.
Because, in that world, I was viewed as totally beautiful. Ample. Luscious. Feminine. My body was enveloped in fat that spilled like a waterfall. I could twist and turn my rolls into a sensational spectacle.
I was booked up months in advance. Hot property. Artistry real estate. Not just the house on the lake but the double-storey house with the large extension at the back.
I became so comfortable and languid in my body. I didn’t preen like that first time. Hair grew where it wanted. If I had a mark, it could stay. It just gave the artists more to draw.
I am lucky to own many pieces of art based on my plump body. My favourite is from a session where I held this incredibly creative position for an hour. But when the artist turned his painting, it was just of my pubes. I loved it. I recognised myself instantly. It captured the essence of me. Visitors to my house comment on my Bob Marley abstract… But I know it’s my bush.
Celebrity, though, has its downside. One job was posing for university students. Two models were present during these sessions. Marco would only ever draw me. He became obsessed with me. He would wait for me in the car park to walk me to class and wait for me while I got changed to walk me back. Then he would wait for me in unrelated places, like outside my local shop.
One night, I finished modelling late. It was dark. I walked toward my lone car. He was waiting for me, leaning against the passenger door. I made a wide berth and got into the driver’s side. He tried to get in too. I started the engine and put my foot down. Marco had to jump aside… In fact, I don’t know that he did. I was a large lady in a small car. I didn’t feel a thing.
This incident didn’t put me off. It might have put Marco off because I never saw him again.
After years of modelling and loving my rotund body, something changed. I changed. I started to lose those 40 successful kilograms. As the weight came off, I got fewer bookings.
When I look back on my former self, I refuse to criticise that person. I refuse to feel sorry for her because she had something I don’t. She was adored by people who live for beauty and for art.
The fat haters will never get what the artists do. And I will never know that glory again.
Sinéad Bevan was one of the short-listed writers on MWN and HarperCollinsPublishing’s 2015 Writers’ Competition.
Sinéad is an Australian with an Irish mammy, a Queenslander daddy, and one cheeky sister. She grew up in the Northern Territory and relocated to Perth in her teens. Now, she is a high school English teacher, a makeup artist, an actress, a writer. Sinéad and her girlfriend just finished living in Italy, where she started my tongue-in-cheek blog ‘Read My Lips’.