My art teacher clearly knew what he was doing. He was not surprised by our awkward giggles and lost gazes. Repeatedly, he reminded us of the etiquette: no phones, no photography and treat the model like a person with proper feelings. Sure I was nervous and uncomfortable, but I bet she was feeling much more so. It occurred to me that the model frozen in the spotlight might have the same feeling as a lab rat waiting to get dissected.
Our first instruction was to objectify the body. "Ignore the figure and draw the shapes, shadows, mid-tones and highlights," our teacher said. Easier said than done, I tried to shift into my artistic mood, seeing the body as an assortment of contours, folds and curves, instead of a physique I would want to physically engage with. As my eyes ran down the model's body so did my piece of charcoal on the paper. I could feel my creativity flooding in as my moral values towards nudity got fundamentally challenged. There I was, staring at this extreme bareness, dedicated to students in the name of art.
Occasionally I would stumble at the sight of some parts of the model's body. I learned to come to grips with this by convincing myself that "art is what artists do". Towards the end of the class, I felt much more at ease and my lines flowed more confidently and decisively.
My advice for anyone about to start life-drawing is to keep an open mind, and don't let the shock factor overtake you. Go with the flow. Don't let your imagination wander, but record what you honestly see instead of what you think you see.