Every couple of weeks, more than 100 people scroll through their Instagram feeds and see a penciled sketch of a woman’s body accompanied by a short description about body positivity by user takeback_thenude.
Sarah Krause, a junior studying studio arts and social work, started something last May called The Nudity Project. The project involves Krause drawing nudes of women who submit photographs to her instagram page in an attempt to return bodily autonomy to women and foster a better attitude toward the female body.
“Women voluntarily take nude photos of themselves, send them to me and then I draw them,” Krause said.
Krause posts these drawings — intricate black and white pencil sketches — on a Facebook and Instagram page for the project, where she adds words that come from the subjects of the drawings themselves.
“[The subjects] have the opportunity to write a caption — a chance to share their story and talk about their relationship with their body and their thoughts on nudity,” Krause said.
The idea is to give women the bodily autonomy Krause said is so often taken from them. She also said it’s a shame when there are online leaks of women’s nude photos without their consent because they have no control over such situations.
“[My project] is giving women the opportunity to reclaim their nude photos,” Krause said.
Krause’s drawings are markedly different than the immediate connotation of a nude — there is nothing sexualised about her drawings. Krause aims to separate the ideas of bodies and sexuality — the women participating in the project are making the decision to take and share the photos for themselves, not for men.
Kaylee Williams, a junior studying molecular biology, said she participated in the project because it takes a stance against the male gaze and the general hypersexualization of women’s bodies. Williams said sending her photo to Krause was definitely out of her comfort zone, but that she saw it as an important step for her in separating nudity from sexuality.
“I enjoyed getting to see my body from a new perspective, one that allowed me to forget the societal pressures I had felt and remember my body’s role as a complex machine and a home,” Williams said.
Williams heard about the project through Krause’s art Instagram account and knew she wanted to participate because of her past struggles with body acceptance. Krause posted the first drawing May 12 and has since posted 19 nudes.
The project was borne out of Krause drawing her own nude photos as a way to practice her technical skills and better draw the human form. She said she took nude photos of herself for the first time this summer because she didn’t have access to naked models in school. The experience helped her with body image, and she wanted other women to feel what she had felt.
Krause draws each piece in three stages. On day one, she draws the basic form of the subject, spending an hour to get the proportions just right. On day two, Krause spends a few hours shading in the darkest shadows. The finer details are refined on day three, when she spends up to another hour making sure the drawing is exactly how she wants it.
To help Krause kick off the project, her roommate Chelsea Flower sent in nude photos of herself. Flower saw it as a way not only to help out her friend, but to also exercise self love.
“[It] gave me the opportunity to experience my body as one whole entity,” Flower said. “It is a functioning unit and a piece of art in its natural form.”
Flower said she has struggled with her body image since third grade and she wanted to be vulnerable and honest in her story for other women to know they aren’t alone.
Krause has received responses from a variety of people — some friends, some acquaintances and even some complete strangers. After receiving one negative reaction at its inception, her project has since elicited only positive feedback.
About 30 people have expressed interest in participating in the project, and about 25 have gone all the way through with it, sending Krause their photos to draw along with their stories. Moving forward, Krause has some ideas for expanding and progressing the project.
“Right now, it has been all white women, and I want it to be more inclusive,” Krause said.
Krause wants to portray the diversity of all women and has reached out to try to make this a reality. Specifically, she has been in touch with the Black Action Society on campus as part of this effort. Another move she considers going forward is to draw men as well.
“Beauty standards affect men, too,” Krause said. “Although they manifest themselves in different ways [than they do for women].”
Krause is interested in exploring the different societal views of nudity in men and women, without trying to equate the two. Krause said a few women shared stories about eating disorders they had struggled with for their entire lives.
“I knew the statistics,” Krause said. “But I’d never realized how many people [around me] this affected.”
Krause hopes these stories can help women learn they’re never alone in their struggle with body image — something Williams understood.
“It was […] very refreshing to see and read what other participants had to post pertaining to their bodies,” Williams said. “I saw women with bodies that I had once thought of as a dream body for myself saying that they too had issues with self image.”
Williams said she had difficulty sending a nude photo at first — that she had to learn to be okay with submitting a photo that wasn’t perfectly staged. To her, the project is about celebrating bodies in all forms, oftentimes in positions that aren’t considered traditionally flattering.
“It was very telling to me that society’s expectations of women affected women of all body types in some way,” Williams said.
Krause said reading the captions the women write can truly be eye opening for her and for anyone else reading. A lot of the women shared specific moments in their lives that had an impact on how they viewed their own bodies.
“My body is a home to my thoughts and individuality, and I love it,” Flower said. “I have the nude that Sarah drew of me hanging in my room to remind me of this.”
Krause’s project is ongoing, and though it’s suspended at the moment while she focuses on school, she would love for people willing to participate to reach out to her at any time.
“The female body is art, not a sexual object,” Krause said.