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Life modelling made me feel complete

Claire shares how her experience as a life model has helped her accept her body after surgery.

Claire will be sharing how her experience as a life model has helped her accept her body after surgery in a life modelling performance, Truth is Beauty. 

Funny how the first thing I was asked to decide, on learning I had breast cancer, was whether I wanted breast reconstruction ‘sooner, or later?’

Not if but when. Funny, not funny. So why was that? How come the most urgent concern presented to me was not about not dying, but about how I would look not dead? What has happened to us that means we are so preoccupied with how we appear rather how we are? And, while I’m asking questions, why am I exposing my single-breasted self to you? What’s life modelling got to do with it?

I began as a life model. Staying still, seeing how art students negotiated my body, I realised I was more in tune with how my body was perceived than how I experienced it from within: I knew that by organising my limbs in a certain way, I could create a certain effect. It wasn’t about me; I was a stand-in. A mermaid. A myth. Returning to the life room following a mastectomy, life modelling has had the opposite effect: despite the pressures to hide and disguise, I see the evidence that I am whole and complete.

I am still a complex series of planes and surfaces, light and shade. And that’s down to you. Please, draw what you see.

From Truth is Beauty, a single-breasted life modelling monologue written and performed by Claire Collison and co-hosted by Esther Bunting of Spirited Bodies. Join Claire to draw, listen or be part of the conversation in Peterborough on 5 October and Liverpool on 19 October. Find out more and sign up for Truth is Beauty at

Supported by Arts Council England and part of The Big Draw.

Find out more about body image after breast cancer.

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