Zoe Hannan had always wanted to do it . . . .
And when she finally plucked up the courage to stand naked in front of a room full of strangers, the 40-year-old mum from Preston confessed: “It was the most liberating moment of my life.”
Now her debut session as a life drawing model has inspired other slimmers to celebrate who they are and how they look.
“I’ve got scars from having an emergency C-section and other surgeries,” explained Zoe, who lost six stone after pregnancy.
“I’ve got loose skin from losing so much weight. I wanted that to be shown in the drawings – and it was.
“But when I looked at the pictures afterwards it made me realise that everyone sees us differently to how we see ourselves.
“Doing that has completely changed the impression I have of myself.”
Zoe runs a LighterLife weight loss group in the city and many of the people she helps have volunteered to follow her example and shed their inhibitions as well as their clothes.
They are planning a mass strip off for the Preston Life Drawing group on October 30, and even Zoe’s mum has agreed to join in.
“They are all at different stages of their weight loss journey and I’m hoping they find it just as liberating and empowering as I did,” she said at home in Lea Town.
“It was just amazing. I can’t explain just how it felt. I was very much in control, which sounds strange. But I was.”
Zoe is on another kind of journey right now, leaving the armed forces after 22 years serving Queen and country. She is departing the Royal Air Force on medical grounds, after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Tours of duty to some of the world’s troublespots have taken their toll. But her condition has more to do with the traumatic birth of her son Oscar than serving in war zones.
She now owns a LighterLife franchise in Preston and is hoping to make it her full-time career.
“It’s a new life for me and I’m really looking forward to it,” said Flight Sergeant Zoe, whose 22 years in the forces took her to places including Bosnia, Afghanistan and the Falkland Islands.
“Getting up every morning and looking forward to my day – I don’t think I’ve ever had that.
“I don’t really think I’m employable right now due to my mental and physical health, so I really need to work from home.
“My clients are all amazing people. We have group meetings and I do one-to-one sessions. I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
Zoe is hoping her own weight loss – she is now lighter than when she was in high school – can be an inspiration to other members of her group.
Twice in the past 11 years she has slimmed down by more than five stone, and is now a dress size 8 compared to a size 22.
Her weight first ballooned when she joined the RAF at the age of 18 weighing just 9st 13lbs.
“By the time I returned from my first tour of Bosnia in 1999 I was almost 15 stone,” she said. “I remember my mum telling me how fat I’d got and that I needed to lose weight.
“I put my weight gain down to the drinking culture and desk-based work. The more my mum mentioned my weight, the more rebellious I became. My fuller figure became my new normal.”
Years later Zoe saw her best friend lose six stone in six months with LighterLife – something she described as a “light bulb” moment in her life.
“I’d always thought she was a lot larger than me, but I was taken aback when I found out she had been a similar dress size.
“Seeing her transformation inspired me to start my own journey to lose five stone. She was amazing and she looked so happy.”
The weight “give or take a stone” stayed off for a decade. But when she became pregnant with Oscar in 2017 she piled all five stone back on.
But after becoming a mum it all came off again – plus another stone - as soon as she stopped breastfeeding and went back onto her weight loss programme.
Zoe is proud of her new trimmer look – she has even featured in the national women’s magazine Bella talking about her slimming transformation. Her ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures showed the difference a year can make.
From 14st 10lbs and size 22, she dropped to 9st 6lbs and size 8. She is even lighter now and that new body confidence led to her finally realising her dream to pose nude for an art class.
“For some reason it’s always been on my bucket list,” she said. “I think it came from when I watched the film Titanic when I was young and there was a scene in it where he (Leonardo DiCaprio) sketches her (Kate Winslet). It must have stemmed from that.
“It has always been in the back of my mind, but I’d never been confident enough to do it.
“It’s to do with body confidence and having lost so much weight must have given me that confidence.
“So one day I thought I just had to do it, so I looked on Google for life drawing groups, found one in Preston and rang them up.
“I went along one evening and there they were. Men and women and all of them total strangers.
“It was terrifying. I went into the room with a robe on, got into a pose and just took it off. When the robe came off I thought: ‘My goodness, here we go.’ But it was brilliant.
“I did three different poses, one for 20 minutes, one for 30 and the third for 50. And I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.
“I hadn’t gone just to see what their sketches would be like, but when I saw them I realised they had all seen me differently.
“I’m taking some students in my LighterLife group there next month. I’m happy to pose again, although only if someone drops out. My mum, bless her, says she will do it as well.
“I’m not intending to make it a regular thing. For a start I don’t have the time. But also I’ve ticked it off my bucket list now and I think maybe that’s enough.”
Zoe’s departure from the RAF is underway, although she won’t be officially on Civvy Street for a while longer.
“I’m being medically discharged,” she explained. “I’m waiting for an exit date which I expect will be at the end of this year or the beginning of next.
“After 22 years I’m ready to leave - but I honestly didn’t expect to be leaving in this manner.
“If I can work full-time in weight loss after the RAF then I’ll be delighted. Let’s face it, it’s a bit different to what I’ve been doing.
“But I’m working with a programme which works. I know that because I am proof it does. I’ve lost six stone and all of that in less than a year. I tell people that they can lose the weight that is holding them back and they can start living their life to the full again.
“Look at me, not only do I now look healthier than before, but I feel it too. During my weight-loss journey, I realised that food wasn’t just my indulgence or escape, it had become an addiction. When you come to that realisation it’s hard to know what to do next.
“Being a healthy parent for my son is the best gift I’ve ever given myself. Losing weight isn’t just about how you look, it’s about how you feel inside, and that positivity just radiates to those around you.
“If I can stand up in front of a room full of strangers and take my clothes off then that tells you how inspiring weight loss can be.”