Suki the life-modelArt & Life5. Would you employ an anorexic as a life-model?

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5. Would you employ an anorexic as a life-model? — 1 Comment

  1. These were the 39 Responses from the original blog. They have been copied here to the newly revised website. However, unfortunately some of the original comments contained images that have sadly been lost. It is possible to add further comments below.

    1. Jane Fielder says:
    May 24, 2012 at 11:37 pm
    It is not irritating at all. I look forward to your blog. The theme tune is so stirring too. I am happy to draw anyone who is happy to be drawn. So …yes I would employ an anorexic model but I probably wouldn’t be much good at drawing him/ her if I felt very worried about them as to draw well requires absolute total concentration…no room for worried thoughts.
    Reply
    2. Nic Carlyle says:
    May 25, 2012 at 2:55 am
    It is so very, very difficult – there’s so much in the topic that one needs to unpick.
    On the one hand, the artist / model is akin to any employer / employee shell. If they are well enough to do their job… But working with someone means developing a relationship, and I would have thought an artist, over a number of sitting would be peculiarly sensitive to noting a decline. It’s all a bit ‘A La Boheme’ – the dying muse complex.
    As to drawing a (known) anorexic. I’m not drawn to favouring one body shape over another. Hell no, the opportunity for me to draw ANY life model is too good to pass up (Just my situation, complicated), and I like the skin tones of fat people.
    But an artist response is for me part of my approach to life. I wish I could have drawn the child who died from cholera while being photographed in a Mogadishu ‘hospital’: their contorted body, with every ounce of life wracked from it, is a most arresting image. But one just cannot present to a callous world. (How did I see the photograph – well, aid agencies, etc often carry all sorts of disturbing photo shoots etc , which they are apt use tactically when talking to funders, Western government officials, etc. But that’s a very different story.) Likewise, I’m in the midst of a family crisis, and my reaction is to not only help with the physical and stressful demands on my brother and sisters, but to take my sketchbook and draw my mum whilst I can. The artist in me does respond to pain, and my natural response to record, to create is not, in the widest sense, always the most sensitive response.
    As an anthropologist, having worked among starving populations, I have a very iconoclastic approach to Western eating disorders. Wise Sue, Suki’s shadowy muse and mentor, has diplomatically ironed out a long parody I sent her via email of the cultural accretions attached to Western eating disorders (and she didn’t get the joke, either). But I was truly intrigued about the book that sees the illness as a ghost. Now that does link in with African anxieties about eating disorders. It ties in with commonalities abounding in African witchcraft traditions and discourse, all tied with being stalked and haunted.
    But in short, I’d have no qualms drawing an anorexic person: I too would not like to do so knowingly and with immediate concern about their health. And I’d be happy to paint absolutely anyone.
    Reply
    3. Gavin Pollock says:
    May 25, 2012 at 7:57 am
    I’m happy enough to draw anyone, regardless of body shape, but I have my preferences. An anorexic model wouldn’t be one of my favourites and I hope the modeling isn’t encouraging her in her illness. One of the great things I find about modeling is that we really do get to “see ourselves as others see us” and I’d hope that the shock of being rendered looking skeletal would make someone rush out and eat a bacon sandwich.
    Reply
    4. Suki says:
    May 25, 2012 at 9:24 am
    Thanks for these comments, Jane, Nic and Gavin. The thing is, Gavin, anorexics don’t do bacon sandwiches. Nic, I find that really moving that you are drawing your mother as a means of responding to the situation. I see this in my mind’s eye, you beside her with your sketchbook observing her so very closely; its a variation on hand-holding, the intimacy of it. Thinking of you.
    Jane – I promised Lee Tappin (singer) I will pass on all the positive comments so yours is the first!
    Reply
    5. Gavin Pollock says:
    May 25, 2012 at 11:05 am
    Egon Schiele’s last drawing was of his wife on her deathbed. He died the next day in the same flu epidemic that killed her, so there’s a precedent for drawing as a means of coping.
    And, yes, Suki. I realise I’m probably not cut out to be a counselor for anorexics. There are an awful amount of things people do that I simply do not understand, including watching football, being religious, homosexuality, organising street parties for the jubilee, collecting stamps and starving themselves. But neither do I judge anyone for any of them.
    Reply
    ◦ Suki says:
    May 25, 2012 at 10:43 pm
    Thanks for this example, Gavin, of ‘drawing as a means of coping’. As for not understanding homosexuality: it’s when two people of the same sex are attracted to each other. Anything else? Nope. That’s all it is. What is there to not understand? I think this is because you’re in Cumbria. My ex-girlfriend lived there for a year after we split, but I think being treated (as an ‘out’ lesbian) as though she had two heads was the final straw that made her despair and leave the UK.
    Sorry, the above is a bit snippy. You pressed a button. However you and I are totally at one re: not understanding a) watching football, b) jubilee parties, c) stamp collecting.
    Reply
    ▪ Gavin Pollock says:
    May 26, 2012 at 9:22 am
    My apologies for any offense;) My sister is gay and I certainly didn’t mean it in any pejorative sense. I sometimes think people feel they have to “understand” things to accept them. I’m quite happy to admit that I don’t understand, but that doesn’t mean I don’t accept. If that makes any sense.
    I should have probably chosen a better example, but I’d just been reading about the latest arguments about the “causes” of homosexuality. It made me realise I don’t know what “causes” it and don’t really care anyway, because it doesn’t hurt anyone. As you say, two people in love.
    Reply
    • Suki says:
    May 26, 2012 at 7:32 pm
    O phew, Gavin, I had been thinking today whilst out (sitting on a stall at Bradford Pride, actually) about what I had written to you and I thought – god I am so offensive and brittle, I don’t deserve to have any blog respondents. I am so relieved you didn’t just think, well she can eff off then.
    “Causes” of homosexuality. In fact, I don’t understand that really. I don’t totally understand myself and how I came to be the way I am. In different phases of my life I have declared differing sexual orientations for myself – I wonder how common that is? We’ve got genetic predispositions, we’ve got socialisation, we’ve got unique personalities that we come out of the womb with, we’ve got environmental factors, we’ve got cultural influences. What makes a person “homosexual”? Or an avid stamp collector? Aren’t we just products of a boiling pot? Random?
    Reply
    ◦ Gavin Pollock says:
    May 27, 2012 at 10:54 am
    No worries. I didn’t really explain myself too well;) I tend to type whatever comes into my head and then try to explain it later!
    Reply
    6. kate stewart says:
    May 25, 2012 at 3:51 pm
    I think this is a very interesting conversation. Like Jane I would worry about drawing someone with anorexia – my other hat (family therapist) would go on and I would wonder if she/he was getting the right kind of help. That might inhibit my drawiing but it might become more personal – I like to look at portraits where I know that the artist has had a personal relationship with the sitter – Stanley Spencer’s paintings of his wife for example but again we might be seeing the effects of the artist liking or loving the model. What happens if the artist doesn’t like the model ?
    This whole blog could be seen as an experiment in what happens to our drawings after we have got to know Suki better and like her more. But then who is Suki?
    Reply
    ◦ admin says:
    May 25, 2012 at 11:25 pm
    SUKI SAYS:
    Um
    Reply
    7. David Thomas says:
    May 25, 2012 at 8:06 pm
    I agree this opens up whole areas of concern- I would certainly baulk at drawing an anorexic model if i thought that the artist model relationship was exacerbating her situation but as to the aesthetics of it, well, any life drawing is difficult.
    One of Euan Uglow’s models said that she liked the way that she was treated as an object to be painted because Euan treated all his subjects with the same reverence whether they were a pear or a person and I think that is the correct way to approach the world as a human being, let alone an artist.
    For myself I always find that a good drawing seems to depend on the personality of the model more than how they look.
    A model who comes across as self conscious or conceited or vain iI find less attractive to draw than due to any body shape. Mind you there was one male model I used to have trouble with who looked like a sausage with a stick on each corner…
    Reply
    8. marilyn brophy says:
    May 25, 2012 at 8:23 pm
    would anyone who was anorexic really want to be a life model baring all? I thought anorexic people had a low opinion of themselves but especially their bodies. If that were the case and yet the individual was modelling that begs the question, why? I’ve been studying life models for over 20 years, on and off, and ‘yes’ some are more relaxed than others but I can say with certainty that I have never been in the presence of a model who felt really uncomfortable for whatever reason. If that were ever the case I don’t think I could study them for very long without feeling that I was abusing them rather than just using them as part of an agreed commercial transaction
    Reply
    9. Suki says:
    May 25, 2012 at 11:24 pm
    It is gratifying to be treated with the reverence due to a pear (Schiele), or the reverence due to every living thing (Dave Thomas), but to be ‘just used as part of an agreed commercial transaction’ Marilyn… Eek!
    Although I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I am not religious, I still maintain that my soul is in the life room, not just the commodity of my body. Sorry Marilyn, this was probably not quite your intended meaning (-: I think I see your point, which is that there must be mutual agreement, or in other words, an equal balance of power, between artist and model, rather than the model feeling vulnerable vis-a-vis her draw-ers.
    There really is an anorexic life model on the circuit. And there must surely be loads of fashion models who are anorexic/bulimic. How come they are comfortable with parading their skin-and bone forms, when some people actually find the sight of this quite disturbing? I have something more to say about this. I’ll say it next week.
    Reply
    10. Bruce Barnes says:
    May 26, 2012 at 11:44 am
    Last week, I saw the Lucien Freud exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, so my thoughts are still much influenced by that. What I found so unconventional and fascinating about his paintings, I won’t call them nudes as that’s too prescriptive, is his apparent desire to paint something underneath the body shape that reflects both the personality of the sitter and a little of our common humanity. His painting of the body seems inside out, disregarding the innards of course. When I first saw individual paintings 20-3O years ago, I saw them as voyeuristic, with me and the painter participants, but having seen more of them and a show devoted to his work, I’m far more comfortable. I can see now the slow conversation that takes place in the sitting and the painting.
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    11. Suki says:
    May 26, 2012 at 8:01 pm
    Thankyou Bruce and Gerard, Bradford poet and Aberdeen poet respectively. This blog is my food! I just had a dispiriting day, but coming home to this is wonderful. One of Freud’s more recent subjects, art critic Martin Gayford, effectively wrote down, in book form, the ‘slow conversation [non-verbal] that takes place in the sitting and the painting’, as you so well describe it, Bruce. You might have read it: ‘Man in the blue scarf’?
    Unlike a photograph perhaps clandestinely taken, I can’t see how it’s possible for a painting to be genuinely voyeuristic, since the model MUST be there, being looked at at length, by consent rather than being unknowingly observed. However, the pose might be set up to appear voyeuristic, e.g. for erotic effect.
    Yes Gerard, painting an anorexic model might be akin to being a war-zone photographer intent on recording someone being shot rather than leaping onto the guy with the gun.
    Reply
    ◦ gerard says:
    May 28, 2012 at 8:19 am
    are writers and artists natural voyeurs ? the voyeurism is present because the people we observe are unaware of the thoughts and feelings they arouse in us? remember the mental subtitles in annie Hall !
    Reply
    12. admin says:
    May 26, 2012 at 8:11 pm
    EVA SOMMER SAYS:
    [I am cutting and pasting this for Suki’s friend Eva, an old China friend, because Eva emailed her response to Suki rather than putting it on the blog]
    Maybe the following episode is nicely fitting in: with a former Chinese colleague, who is near by in Bremen since years, with a family consisting of German husband and two bilingual small daughters: I met her in Bremen last weekend and we visited, with the younger daughter (about 8 years old), the Paula-Modersohn-Becker Museum (you know the Worpswede painters), not because we were especially “bildungshungrig”, but because the little girl made the proposal just when we passed the museum´s entrance in Böttcher-strasse. And wandering from painting to painting, looking at the pictures with the unknown name “Akt” [this means nude], she put the question to us, whether it is allowed (!) to paint people in “naked outfit”. I was happy to tell her that I know someone who poses as a model and willingly. She was impressed and started another tour around the pictures to look at the “models”. Good wishes from the Nordlicht-population, being a little bit behind in the art scene?!
    Reply
    13. gerard says:
    May 26, 2012 at 7:15 pm
    paint an anorexic model? well yes. but, because this is a slow suicide that can be avoided, could the artist just be an artist lke a nature documentary film-maker who does not intervene to save the giselle from the lion? i have written a poem about seeing my brother dying but i knew everything possible was being done to save him. there is a fine series of self portraits by a contemporary scottish artist, his name escapes me, (john byrne?) which he did in hospital to record his liver transplant. an artist does not censor the work but may withold it to protect someone’s feelings. suki asks questions which always have complex answers requiring a whole paper or book to do justice to them . and that is good! keep challenging us.
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    ◦ gerard says:
    May 28, 2012 at 8:05 am
    the artist was JOHN BELLANY not john byrne , two great contemporary scottish artists.
    Reply
    14. Suki says:
    May 26, 2012 at 9:25 pm
    Thanks for further clarifying, Marilyn. You have set me off thinking about what a model would be like who was purely doing it for the money, with no other interest. As with any kind of work that’s done with that attitude, I would expect the work to be done badly. If you’re stuffing chickens on minimum wage however I sort of don’t mind that attitude, nor a job badly done. But life modelling can be double minimum wage. Personally I am grateful for that rate of pay, compared to all the crap day-jobs I’ve had over the years. And it is certainly a job in which one’s attitude – demeanour – is crucial. I guess that someone with a poor/uninterested attitude would gradually end up just not getting bookings.
    Reply
    ◦ Gavin Pollock says:
    May 27, 2012 at 11:00 am
    I’ve met very few models who just see it as a way to make a few quid. You do occasionally get the ones who will just turn up, fall asleep and then wake up for the biscuits. And, of course, any model can have an off day when they just don’t feel like working.
    Most seem to see it as their own artform, though, or are doing it for very personal reasons to do with their body image, or because they’re naturists sometimes.
    Reply
    15. marilyn brophy says:
    May 26, 2012 at 8:47 pm
    so sorry Sue I did phrase that very badly. I have been known to get very angry with hospital doctors and nurses some years ago when they clearly thought that only my body was in the bed for them to do with as they pleased rather than a whole human being – me. I know you bring the whole of you to your work and, of course, life modelling done well, is as much an art as anything we produce.
    I brought the commercial aspect in because I would be very uncomfortable studying a model who didn’t really want to be there but who was doing it only to earn much needed money. You’re right it is the balance of power thing, that and two-way interest and respect
    Reply
    16. Nic Carlyle says:
    May 27, 2012 at 8:17 am
    Probably why I lasted three months. LOL
    Reply
    ◦ Suki says:
    May 27, 2012 at 5:15 pm
    Gavin – biscuits? Wot biscuits?
    About 5% of groups do biscuits. It is so lovely to be given a biscuit. Cups of tea are a bit more common (and I love that too: being looked after) but most groups in my experience don’t have refreshments, they just literally take a short breather and skulk round the room looking at each other’s work for a few minutes. Some groups can hardly bear to do a break whatsoever, they are so engrossed. Yet that is also a wonderful thing that I appreciate. I love to witness this rapt, utterly focussed, single-minded drive. It’s so impressive.
    So I am not in it for the biscuits. And I had a recent conversation with a male life model that corroborates what you say Gavin, re life models doing it for reasons to do with their body image. Mr X said he has low self esteem re his body and finds it really difficult to e.g. go into an all-male changing room or shower, however the life modelling helps to build his confidence – I suppose because it is generally an appreciative and respectful group, whatever the model’s body shape.
    How this relates, however, to anorexia – whether life-modelling exacerbates this disorder, or has anything to do with it – is still the big open question. And there is a gender consideration here too: might there be such a thing as an anorexic male life-model, and would the same underlying issues be there, or different ones?
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    ▪ Gavin Pollock says:
    May 28, 2012 at 7:59 am
    I can see a danger in that most artists draw what is beautiful, or, in creating a drawing, make something that’s beautiful. Durer’s picture of his mother is astonishingly so, but, let’s be honest, Mummy Durer probably wasn’t much of a head turner.
    I think the parameters of what counts as beautiful are much wider than those in the media, but there are conditions such as anorexia or extreme obesity which are life threatening. We should have a greater range of body types on display, as it were, but I don’t want to go down the route of telling 30 stone people they look great as they are and shouldn’t change a thing. And maybe the life class does that to some extent. I’d happily draw a 30 stone model!
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    17. gerard says:
    May 28, 2012 at 8:03 am
    the artist who recorded his condition in hospital was of course John Bellany not John Byrne. Two very fine artists.
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    18. Lois Brothwell says:
    May 28, 2012 at 12:54 pm
    Hiring an anorexic model would carry a bonus insofar as less X-ray vision is required to “see the skeleton” – a critical requirement of drawing – and I suspect that some artists would hire an anorexic for this reason and beef up what goes down on the page. The skeleton afterall is exquisite, and observing it in its naturally-articulated state as opposed to stuck together mechanically on a post would be fascinating – not to mention its dynamics in posing.
    There’s no denying Schiele’s romance with the skeleton was passionate and his work glorious because of it.
    However, most of us who are artists, or trying to be or doing art primarily for enjoyment must resign to the fact that a Schiele we just ain’t nor ever will be.
    But God are we thankful that the sight of an undernourished waif breaks our hearts.
    Reply
    19. Lois Brothwell says:
    May 28, 2012 at 4:39 pm
    less X-ray vision “would be required” not “is required”.
    Talk about flaunting my illiteracy.
    Reply
    ◦ Suki says:
    May 29, 2012 at 9:35 pm
    Grainne Smith who wrote the book that spooked me about ‘Anorexia’ – she spoke of it as a ‘person’ – has just emailed me this response coz she couldn’t work out how to put it on the blog (I was like that about 6 months ago. Which side of the brain is it that we haven’t got?) Here is her comment:
    “Thanks for mentioning my book in your blog … yes, I totally agree that anorexia and bulimia are frightening conditions – as you note, one in five die from the physical consequences, e.g. very low potassium can lead to heart failure; sometimes from depression leading to suicide. And yes, I found Anorexia and Bulimia very frightening characters when they moved in, took over my daughter’s life, and for a long time I couldn’t recognise Jay as the girl I loved, lived with, brought up.
    Thankfully the Jay I knew is back, working full time, independent, enjoying life again – she’s well and looks fantastic rather than the skeleton figure of those nightmare years (esp those when she refused treatment and I struggled to find any practical information at all to help me support Jay.)
    I’ve had wonderful feedback over the years on my book ‘Anorexia and Bulimia in the Family’, pub 2004, John Wiley and Sons…amazing that over the last few years I’ve seen it on shelves in London, Boston and Seattle, know it can be ordered through bookshops as well as Amazon. At least our experiences, leading to my explorations and research etc etc, plus my writing, have helped a lot of other people…and all the royalties go to support Professor Janet Treasure’s research. (More details on my website http://www.grainnesmith.co.uk)”
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    20. chris murray says:
    June 3, 2012 at 7:30 pm
    I would draw any body presented to me; the more variety the better. You may be aware of the remarkably good drawings of concentration camp horrors, by the incumbents. The beauty of the drawing brings me closer to the horror.
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    21. Suki says:
    June 4, 2012 at 7:48 pm
    Thanks Chris for another of your intense contributions.
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    22. Bel says:
    June 6, 2013 at 11:32 pm
    On the Noticeboard of A SMALL LIFE this week Suki started a discussion about Ashley Karrell’s exhibition ‘Expressions of You, The Divine Feminine’. I had already written a few words on my own blog. At the exhibition I think I may have been as outspoken as Feisty Frauline J. I recollect the words pretentious, arrogant, manipulative and worrying passing my lips. In other words – it was great. I’ve been arguing about it regularly since. What more can you want from an art exhibition?
    One of my concerns was about the body image of some of the women being photographed.
    The exhibition claims to reveal the stories behind the images – a search for “women’s Truths”. The women had chosen how to present themselves. Many chose to present themselves naked. That is fine. However of those, most chose to present themselves in a style reminiscent of glamour or fashion magazines. It was as if they were aiming for the fame and glamour they perceived to be obtained through the media. Their ‘Truth’ seemed to be that they wanted to be perceived in that way, as media objects.
    To me it was as disturbing as the discussion above about anorexic models. Some of those commenting above have baulked at the idea of drawing an anorexic model. However, anorexic models are photographed every day: it is called ‘fashion photography’.
    Why do we women want to be perceived in such ways? Have we allowed others to define how we should look – or do we do it to ourselves? Or – back to the exhibition – is that how Ashley Karrell perceives women’s ‘Truths’?
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    23. Lois Brothwell says:
    June 8, 2013 at 9:33 pm
    I love images of women who appear to have stories behind them – whether or not the narrative has anything to do with their “truths”.
    The work of the supremely gifted Chantal Joffe – a painter of mainly girls and women, and who apparently likes the way fashion models look – is unrivalled in this, I reckon.

    Reply
    24. Francis says:
    August 5, 2013 at 11:05 pm
    On the main topic I can’t say much as I’m an occasional model who can’t draw very well, I have tried but now I accept that it’s just not me. The thought that crosses is my mind is exploitation. If I were an artist hiring a model with such an issue then I would have to convince myself, I hope, that I was not exploiting him or her. I have never encountered anorexia up close, the first example that comes to mind is Karen Carpenter. And that was long ago, though of course tragic.
    More of an interest here for me is that of sexuality. I’m heterosexual, it’s not a choice it’s what I am. I have two sons, one heterosexual, one homosexual. They had the same nurture but they are different, they don’t have the same nature. I don’t try to ‘understand’ why it is so, I simply accept that that is how it is. C’est comme ça.
    Given the choice I wouldn’t choose homosexuality for my son who is homosexual as he seems to inhabit a challenging promiscuous world, he has found it impossible, so far, to have a long-term relationship, try though he may. But curiously my other heterosexual son was in a long-term relationship and chose to end it, quit his job, sell his ‘stuff’ and travel halfway round the globe to start a new job. Again, although I miss him, a lot, I find it best just to accept. He can explain as and when he is ready. Why try to understand? Again that is how it is. Encore une fois c’est comme ça, c’est la vie.
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    ◦ Suki says:
    August 6, 2013 at 6:49 am
    Thanks Francis. Yes, both sons bring their own worries don’t they…
    I don’t have children. I obviously miss a lot, but one octagenarian friend who is a parent said, sort of wistfully, and with ambivalence re: his choice in favour of parenthood: ‘one never stops worrying’.
    Nobody who has suffered from an eating disorder has so far responded to this post – although it is really very common. Ad increasingly so among young males.
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    25. Francis says:
    August 6, 2013 at 4:39 pm
    I think worrying about others is part of the human condition.
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    26. Bea says:
    November 13, 2014 at 11:17 pm
    Why we model nude is a question I used to ask myself, and after over 40 years can only answer by saying that for me, I consider it to be performance art, the audience being the artists who find it a suitable subject to draw or paint.
    Why do I enjoy posing nude in front of strangers, when most people find it impossible to even consider, why nude?
    I have not come up with any definitive answer. All I know is that I love it! Why are some people gay, or bisexual? Psychologists etc have debated the subject with no definitive answer. I can’t see why anyone would ‘choose’ to be gay or bisexual or to change gender as a result of gender dysphoria knowing the stigma that unfortunately still exists amongst a lot of people. All I know is that being ME is what matters most to me. This has to apply surely to whatever other people do also. Live and let live…
    Fortunately I have found that colleges now are educating youngsters without prejudice as to what the facts are.
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    ◦ Suki says:
    November 14, 2014 at 1:49 am
    Thanks for your comment Bea.
    Life-modelling is Liberation! It’s joie de vivre. It’s fearlessness in the face of our fellow-humans. It’s a supreme act of faith in human nature. Free yourselves! Share your used, unbeautiful and yet beautiful body with others. It’s only a body. It’s not your soul. Trust that others will be as generous towards it as you are. I am certain that they will be.

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