Jesse Donoghue opens the door to a room filled with more than 50 artists. She walks up to the platform, drops her robe and holds her pose.
This is the first time Jesse has life modelled. She had recently separated from her abusive partner through the domestic violence court process and had suffered from an eating disorder.
“I was feeling really unable to find direction and motivation and confidence and strength and all of those things at the same time,” she said.
“I think there’s a lot of people who experience domestic violence who can emotionally identify with that.
“It doesn’t just take away your power, in one sense, it takes away your identity, it really affects what you think about yourself, so I was in a really bad place.
“I had an eating disorder from the age of 15, so I had a lot of body image issues, the eating disorder really was a symptom of all of those beliefs about my body and the feeling that I had about my body.”
“I felt like there was a war going on between me and my body.”
But in that moment, when Jesse holds her naked body in a powerful pose in front of a room filled with strangers, she feels peace.
“I was very, very nervous and thought maybe this is like skydiving, you just have to psych yourself up and you do it and get through it,” she said.
“But it was quite different, I was very nervous to start with and instead of suppressing that emotion through the whole experience, I tried to use it and accept it and work with it.
“I actually ended up feeling quite calm once the peak of anxiety really passed and I was starting to feel quite positive about it.
“That was an absolute surprise to me, I thought the whole experience was going to be a test of endurance.”
Jesse had tried multiple forms of therapy including counsellors and psychologists, but until life modelling, she had never felt any lasting benefits.
“This happened in a couple of stages,” she said.
“First was the initial surprise when I was up there and I didn’t feel terror, I actually felt this sense of peace. The second part is when we had a break and I was able to go round and look at the artworks that were being produced by the artists.
“The first thought in my head was ‘oh wow, that is beautiful’, and the second thought in my head was ‘that’s you’.
“Combining the concept of beautiful and me in the same sentence was just something I’d never done before; it fundamentally changed what I thought was possible about my body.”
Bobby-Leah Napier had also suffered from mental health issues and domestic violence. Bobby has been life modelling for 12 years and said her coincidental meeting with Jesse sparked the birth of the program Sketch Marks.
“We met each other in a very beautiful, serendipitous way,” she said.
“I was modelling one night and there was a gorgeous young artist in the room who came up and introduced herself to me and said ‘thanks for your poses, they’re really beautiful’.”
On the same night, another artist approached Bobby and began to make negative comments about her body and poses.
“She asked me to make sure that you couldn’t see my vagina as I was posing,” she said.
“She said a few things that made me aware that she was sort of ashamed of her own body and she sort of put some of that shame onto me.
“Whilst she was talking to me through that interaction, she kept saying the model last week was just as bad.”
After ending the conversation, Bobby decided to action one of her long-time dreams.
“I’d been wanting to start my own life drawing classes for years but after this interaction I thought ‘right, I really want to do this and it’s going to be more about acknowledging and appreciating the models that pose’,” she said.
Bobby later discovered the lovely young artist who had approached her earlier was the model from the previous week — Jesse. Another artist showed Bobby sketches of Jesse’s poses.
“I saw these strong poses and I literally thought, ‘I am a woman, hear me roar’,” Bobby said.
“I thought right, I need to meet this model, I want her to come and model for my class, this is what it’s going to be about.
“It’s going to be about appreciating the female body in all its forms and diverse ways.”
A coffee date was arranged.
“We ended up having cocktails,” Bobby said.
“We clinked our glasses, Sketch Marks was born and we’ve both just been as committed and dedicated to it ever since.”
Sketch Marks is a four-week self-development program for women involving weekly meetups and skype call check-ins. Participants are given exercises to complete during the week and are kept accountable. At the end of each program a graduation night, debut drawing session, photo shoot and celebration breakfast are held.
Sketch Marks graduate Lauren Hilton said she joined the program to become a life model, but was surprised by the transformation she experienced.
“There was a marked difference in my self-confidence and how I engaged with the world and people in my life,” she said.
“It was like I had tapped into this different kind of energy that I now bring out into the world and life has been really different since.”
Bobby and Jesse have seen incredible results from their pilot program and will be running another program at the end of this month. A psychologist, counsellor and GP are embedded in the program to ensure all of the women are adequately supported.
“What I’ve learnt through the pilot program is that life drawing and life modelling are really a vehicle for us to assist people in their self-development,” Jesse said.
The program is open to any women over 18. If you’d like to sign up you can get in contact with Bobby and Jesse via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can find out more info at https://www.facebook.com/sketchmarksgc/.
If you or someone you care about needs support, contact the following organisations:
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
beyondblue support service email or chat online at http://www.beyondblue.org.au
SANE Australia Helpline 1800 18 SANE (7263) http://www.sane.org
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples: Social and Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health Services http://www.sewbmh.org.au
Culturally and linguistically diverse background: Mental Health in Multicultural Australia http://www.mhima.org.au
LGBTI, other sexuality, sex and gender diverse people: MindOUT! http://www.lgbthealth.org.au/mindout QLife line 1800 184 527
Veterans: Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service 1800 011 046