THE BLOG
01/06/2015 12:49 BST | Updated 01/06/2016 06:59 BST

How Showing My Body Helped Change My Mind

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You show me yours, I'll show you mine.

Mine, as it were, is about six inches long, pale and oddly shaped, and was recently on show in all its questionable glory to a bunch of perfect strangers in a well-lit village hall.

My scar is part of me. Rather, it is part of Old Paula; Paula before Commonwealth sports, everyday adventures and trying harder had entered this anxious introvert's lexicon. But New Paula, while braver, calmer, and probably a little more interesting, still wears the scar of a scalding accident of thirty years ago, from chest to belly button and all the way through. It stuck with me during a timid childhood and bullied adolescence, through a breakdown in nerves and confidence, to an acceptance that fear was just in my very nature. As I grew, from toddler to teenager and beyond, its relative size reduced and, although the metaphor was not lost on me, the effect unfortunately was. I spent years, no, decades, hiding it from view, crushing it beneath layers and embarrassment, perpetuating the myth that individualities, those things that give us character and shape, are best buried and despised.

Things have changed beyond measure in the place I call life, but somehow that scar and all the hurt it represents has travelled along with me, stowed away in the baggage of its own creation. I always knew, for me to burn that bridge between now and then, I would need a bloody big match. And that match finally blazed as I stood barefoot and sick to the stomach, in the beautiful setting of a local village hall, ready to be a nude life model for the first time.

Frankly, adopting the position in the centre of a circle of artists, waiting to capture your every crook and nanny, was nothing short of terrifying. No amount of hot air from the carefully positioned heaters was enough to quash the chill of panic at that do-or-die moment when clinging to a thin but beloved layer of cotton was no longer an option, and the unceremonious words, 'okay, let's start', heralded my fate.

And there I was. Naked. In a room full of people. Sometimes nightmares just don't live up to reality.

Twelve two-minute poses later and I could scramble back into a robe, and try desperately to conceal a dignity long since lost. But then, what's the point in dignity if all it does is hold you back? It's the worst kind of bully; pushing you to the floor then convincing you it's better down there. So the next time I had to bear my soul (yes, soul), there was a little less hesitation, a little more purpose. I won't pretend it was enough that anyone outside my all-too-exposed body would have noticed, but by the time my fellow model had joined me in the circle of doom, everyone on my inside had at least felt the change.

Maybe it was the thrill of revealing all to a captive audience, maybe it was being called a miniature Degas by one of the artists, but something about that two hours in the spotlight enlightened me. Of course, I'm not saying that wobbling gracelessly into awkward positions, while sixteen kind souls pretended that my hind-end had hidden depths, has forever rid me of introversion or body confidence issues that run deeper than a ground swell. While I appreciate naivety, I don't act on its recommendations. But I do see a difference in myself, another step towards a healthier, less encumbered me.

That scar was the last vestiges of a person I no longer recognise in the smile that greets me in the mirror or the vibrancy of the over two hundred sketches that now exist of my once-loathed body. It was the secret of a self-hater, the shame of an outsider.

And now, it's the pride of an adventurer.