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Lessons From A Nude Figure Model

The longer the class went on, the less embodied, but more myself, I felt.

June 24, 2020

Sarah Simon
Dainis Graveris

started nude modeling in college. What a typical time to begin a job with this uniform. It found root in a friend’s simple art project: she had just switched from math to art major. She was trying to justify why she did it, to her professors and to herself, and started scouting bodies for a nude photo project.

I was one of her friendly, easy-going guinea pigs, and had been recovering from an eating disorder (you can read about this poetic process, which doesn’t end here by the way). It all sounded like a good challenge to me at the time—she was helping us make art of and find the beauty in this otherwise disordered body.

A photo I took of myself a little while after participating in this friend’s project. I can’t get in contact with her to ask for permission to use her photos, so I won’t. But this photo is all mine, inspired by the experience she helped me have.

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Friend’s photo project, done. Me, my body — being naked in front of a camera and someone telling me what to do––done, exhilarating. Freeing. I tried not to look at the photos when they came out, as if to avoid superseding the physical and emotional experience with their physical product.

I still try not to look.

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Upon turning in her project, that friend was stopped by her professor, who wanted to ask her something. All of a sudden, I was the word-of-mouth in this little closet-disguised-as-office in the campus arts building. The figure drawing professor needed a nude model for his upcoming courses, and wanted my body for them.

And that was it. That hard-to-find, part-time job, would be standing naked in a room for 1.5 hours, twice a week.

The pay was decent. Much more than what I earned at my other part-time job, making soft-shelled and half-hearted tacos. Watery guacamole on top to adorn? That’s extra.

Lesson 1: Your body can be the least personal thing

We sometimes grow to look at our bodies as the most precious piece of fine ass on this Earth––or as a threat, or as a danger to our lives. But they don’t have to be, to be well-taken care of (we’re working on that as a society right now).

Our bodies and how they look are what we have least control over––and that’s considering that much of our personality and emotional tendencies are not exactly in our control, either.

(There’s always plastic surgery or eating disorders, though.)
(Please take that sarcastically.)

When I would stand up there, watching people watch me, draw me, scratch me out and start anew, get angry and tear me up, I realized it wasn’t me. The longer the class went on, the less embodied, but more myself, I felt.

This was strange — we often talk about feeling connected to ourselves in our bodies. But no. These moments proved to me that I have something more valuable than that, something that finds convenience in my body as its home.

Lesson 2: The “ugliest” parts can hold beauty for others

When the professor made comments about my angles, my nose, the shadows cast by my hips––I took the facts he was pointing out as insults. I was flabbergasted by his commentary on my, well, flabby parts. On the too-angular parts. He was so adept at drawing his students’ attention to every detail on my body that I was self-conscious about.

At times, I thought this was a psychological experiment to humiliate me, like the one supposedly done to the Unibomber. He was so in tune with the parts of my physical self that I tried to hide, convincing myself they weren’t there.

But no. They were. Did I think I could keep hiding them up there?

And this professor barked at my strong features, and this bone popping out here, at this stomach roll there, as marvels of the beauty of existence. As the genuine analog of genetic mathematics. I started taking his comments as external psychological inputs, as other ways I could make me look at myself. A sort of objective beauty.

My nose––I often still find it unappealing. So I tell myself, in some version of his words: “Look at that bone hill in the middle of the face, balancing out the peripheral features, offering shadow to the glimmer in her eye.” It all helps me think of myself less personally, and from some omniscient point of view.

Much of body judgement is determined by the society, but within a spectrum. You can rewire your own body thoughts by listening to other people’s thoughts on your body. Being a figure drawing model offers this rare and difficult, but potentially rewarding, experience.

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// Annie Spratt

Lesson 3: People build you into the structure of their mind

This is often said as, “How people treat you tells you more about them than about you.”

Standing on the podium, I knew I was working to represent the human form (18 bucks an hour. Not bad, right?). But naturally, the students began to interpret me based on their own past experiences.

I don’t want to guess all the interpretations. But sadly, for one student, I began to represent a romantic interest. When he would see me walking around campus, he would try to flirt. Maybe he thought my job gave him some sort of in, since he had already seen me naked and all.

This leads me to the last lesson.

Lesson 4: When others are profiting from you in a vulnerable space, vocalize your needs and boundaries.

I want to think the above goes without saying, but if the people putting you in a vulnerable position don’t listen to you––that you need water, that you need to sit down and rest, that your leg is turning to sand and falling asleep, it’s cold, please help me tilt the fan in another direction––then you need to get out.

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