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Nude Modeling as Empowerment

I am someone who thinks a lot about the way my body is looked at. This is because, quite frankly, my body is looked at. 

I remember the first time I became aware of this. I was on the train. A man, not a boy, came up to me, looked at my chest, and asked me to be his girlfriend. I ignored him but he kept pushing. “You’re so gorgeous. I’ve never seen anyone like you.” 

I was nine. 

I say this not to garner sympathy, but to state a fact. The feminine body is objectified from a very young age. Just as people worship the curvy body, for many others the underdeveloped body is ideal – skinny, small and vulnerable. 

Just last year, I was looking for a job on campus. I didn’t have something specific in mind as many of the jobs had been filled, when I came across an ad for nude modeling. I had never thought nude modeling before but something drew me to the listing like a beetle to sap. I emailed the supervisor without even thinking. I doubted the opportunity would actually come through. I was wrong. 

Within a day, I received an email from the professor. It was straightforward and very professional, just like the correspondence for any job I’ve applied for. We set up an interview time and met over zoom a few days later. He went over the basics of the job description. I would have to be available for the full three-hour class. Each hour there would be a short break. We would start small with some quick fifteen-second poses, then move up from one minute to five to ten. If I was up for it, we would try some twenty to thirty minute poses and maybe even a full hour. Throughout the interview, he emphasized how above everything my comfort was the most important thing. 

After describing the work, he asked me why I wanted to model for the class which quite honestly, I didn’t know. I couldn’t quite articulate why. I love art but I’m not good at it. I want to be a part of it in any way that I can. Plus, the idea of someone drawing me was exciting. 

We ended the meeting and for a few weeks, I heard nothing more. I didn’t think much of it until one morning, I woke up to a message in my inbox. “The model I scheduled for tomorrow just canceled. Would you like to work tomorrow?” 

Suddenly, it’s the next day and I’m walking into the Wright Museum with a robe and a pair of leopard-print slippers. I got there ten minutes early as I was told to. I met the professor I’d been emailing with and we talked for a few minutes. He then took me to a changing room, which wasn’t much more than a glorified closet. But hey! It was still nice. I closed the door and it wasn’t until I was fully naked in my robe that I realized, Holy sh*t. All of these people, maybe even some that I know, are going to see my completely naked body. I had a moment of panic. Could I leave right now? What could I say? I’m sorry but I can’t do it. I’m feeling sick. I’m just not comfortable. 

But I didn’t do that. Once I commit to something I do it. I walked out of the closet and into the classroom, my heart beating so loudly I was scared you could hear it from across the room. There were a few students already there chatting amongst themselves. I said hi even though I didn’t know them. The professor came up to me yet again and we continued talking. Not about how I was about to get naked, just about life, how classes were going, how I was handling the Wisconsin weather being from out of state. It was nice. Comfortable. When the class was about to begin we got down to business. He prepped a sheet on the platform on which I was to stand or sit. My choice. He then plugged in a space heater and told me to let him know if I was too hot or too cold. Then he let me know his policy. When my robe came off, the doors would shut, no exceptions. They would not be opened until the hour was up. If a student was just one minute late, that was too bad, they’d have to wait the full hour. 

Then he closed the doors. 

The students took their places in front of easels. He introduced us and then asked me if I wanted to pick the music. His policy was that the model always gets first choice when it comes to music. I obliged and queued some Frankie Cosmos, my comfort music. 

Then he looked at me and asked, “You ready?” I didn’t think, I just took off my robe and got onto the platform. I didn’t look at a single person in front of me, I just put one arm above my head, thrust my hip to the side and struck a pose. 

Fifteen seconds passed and he asked me to strike another, then another, and then another. This went on for a few minutes like a dance. Pose, pose, pose, pose. 

“We’re gonna get into some longer poses.” 

Okay. Very quickly I realized I couldn’t hold my arms out for more than five minutes and that if I put too much pressure on my feet they would fall asleep. Standing felt nice, but I had to remain neutral. I could look around with my eyes but I couldn’t move my head. 

I realized I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I was naked. 

Of course, this realization then got me thinking about it, but not in a way that was unpleasant. I didn’t care what my body looked like or that people were staring at it even though it was being observed more closely than ever before. I caught someone staring right at my chest but it was because they wanted to get the shading of my boobs right, not because they wanted to swallow me whole. They looked troubled, trying to properly measure the space between my nipple and my belly button. Watching them watch me, I was at ease. I was being stared at as an object, but not one of desire, one of art.   

When the first hour was up, I put my robe back on. The students turned their drawings out for review and I was suddenly looking at ten different me’s. I was connected to them and I wasn’t connected to them at all. The figure in these drawings was raw and real and a little bit shorter than they thought they were. This figure had stomach rolls and saggy boobs, but I wasn’t looking at the figures, I was looking at the drawings. They were beautiful. 

I was seeing my body removed from the way I see it. These drawings felt completely honest. They did not look like the body I pretend to have, nor the body I contort myself into when my friend snaps a picture of me, nor the body I feel trapped in when a man sizes me up and down as I’m crossing the street. 

Everyone’s experience with nude modeling will be different. But for me, having my body on display in this way felt incredibly good. I was looked at so closely, but not in the prying way it felt so many years back on the subway. For those thinking about applying to be a nude model, I say do it no hesitation. Don’t let yourself think about doing it or you won’t. 
I cannot promise that you’ll magically feel comfortable in your skin, but I can state the objective facts. Your naked body will be stared at and studied to an extent more full than you’ve likely ever had it looked at. Everything you want to crawl out of will be on display. Once you take the robe off, everyone has seen your body, even if you choose not to continue. But there will not be a single person looking at you that hates your body — except maybe you. Your comfort is prioritized above all else. Nobody stares at your thighs and wishes they were smaller, nor do they want your penis to be bigger or your boobs to be perkier. If anything, they’re just puzzling over how your body is taking to the light. People are not thinking of you as a sexual being, you are simply the object of their art. Nude modeling is not for everyone but if you need the push out of your comfort zone, let this be that push.

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