The Musings of a Nude Model

I wasn’t exactly scared, or I was— but I was also committed. 

As soon as I saw Amber’s words on Facebook “we need a model,” I wrote back “I’ll do it.” A wine-emboldened midnight declaration, but I knew I meant it. When I woke up the next morning, I asked fear to subside so the commitment could carry us. 

Let yes be the vessel, and fear a passenger. 

On the afternoon of Women, Whisky, and Nudes, a friend drove me there. As we approached the studio we cranked up “This is Me.” We’ve watched the rehearsal video so many times, we could see Keala Settle pushing the music stand aside and stepping out into the room. I’d memorized her move to remember what it looks like when someone gets out of their own way for something greater to come through. 

“You’re brave.” said my friend as we walked through the door. ”I’m pretending to be brave.” I answered. 

I’d committed to a total of forty minutes of art modeling. In the Bible, the word forty isn’t literal. Forty means too many to count, or a long period of testing or trial, or the same thing it means in naked minutes. 

I went to the bathroom to don a robe, and considered how I obtained permission to dare this particular test. I’d given it to myself, of course, which I learned how to do from others. I recalled Lucille Clifton reading Homage to my Hips, replayed Maya reading Still I Rise. I thought of Erin Geesaman inviting me to place a hand on my own soft belly in gesture of self-friendship. Once again, I leaned on these teachers. I listened for the echoes of their voices; I felt for the ground they stood on. 

Once robed, I imagined myself a boxer, preparing for the ring. “Let this be the last round” I sighed, recollecting other rounds. I was attempting to finish some business with a mighty champion of a lie— for forty years, from fifth grade through the age of fifty, the lie had pummeled me in one way or another. The lie isn’t gentle.

Recently my favorite cousin and childhood pen pal returned a letter I had written to her on Holly Hobby stationary when I was eleven. In the letter, I’m already telling the lie to myself. “I’m getting ready to go to San Francisco with my dance company. I am so excited.” I wrote. “I need to lose 15 pounds first, so I’ll look good enough in my leotard.” 

I was an average, active prepubescent girl. Like all girls, I was already good enough. Losing fifteen pounds, a significant percentage of my body weight, wasn’t wise. But I believed this lie: you will be good enough to do X, when you lose Y. 

Over the next four decades the number of pounds I believed I had to loose to be seen without shame, to swim, to wear clothes I liked, to look in a mirror without cringing, to love freely or be well-loved, or to dance when I wanted to dance, varied. The consistent thing about the number was it was never enough. The lie is an agile fighter. Whenever I lost five or ten or twenty pounds, I gained them back or the lie just moved the mark again. Turns out, the lie doesn’t actually care what you look like as long as you loathe yourself. 

Eventually I heard enough truth to lessen its power, to at least act as if I believed it wasn’t true. I swam, and loved, and danced again. I started winning some rounds. Last summer, I blessed my varicose veins with my own hands and started to wear sundresses. “Enjoy the summer!” I said to myself and then I did. The lie didn’t like that at all.

Waiting to disrobe, I sipped Elisa’s perfect Pisco Sour—yellow and lemony and not at all sweet. I liked the egg white foam on top and the way it was served in nipple-shaped glass. I was glad it wasn’t sweet.

“Are you the model?” someone asked. “I am.” I replied, trying not to flinch.Then I emptied my drink and considered licking the glass. 

Finally I disrobed with the hope that I could finish the fight. Roughly six months beforehand I had scrawled in notebook “I would like to model, after I lose 10 pounds.” A written witness to a recent round with the lie. I wasn't pleased to find it, and yet there I was modeling without first losing a single pound.

Perhaps at last I had the upper hand. 

Seated in an armchair facing the light from a Southern window in front of a dozen women with pencils, brushes, pastels, and pens—there was no place to hide, no place to be but in my body. Slowly, I surrendered to it. I felt for my animal self, the embodied self that can be still when out of harm’s way. Naked as I was, I felt safe and warm. Beyond that, I felt another energy, some comfort or buoyancy I couldn’t name.

Ten minutes in one pose, a slight shift, then ten in another. 

In the first pose, I noticed my obsession with my left hand. Frozen half on and half off the arm of the chair, it felt unnatural, but the artists were drawing already and my only task was stillness, so I kept it in place. I did not fret about my exposed low-hanging breasts or generous belly, my plentitude of stretch marks or untamed pubic hair. Instead I spent most of my worry on my dangling fingers and the awkward bend in my wrist. 

I also worried about my face which I hoped appeared serene, or even slightly angelic, but my considerable effort at serenity left me with doubt… is there such a  thing as resting angel face?

At the end of the second ten minutes I scanned for my grey silk bathrobe which I had shed to the right of the chair. It was there, to the right, but somehow well out of arm’s reach. Out of arm’s reach is a long way in naked distance. “Damn,” I muttered, rising casually from the chair trying to appear as if walking across a room naked in front of a dozen people was something I’ve done before. 

“Could you feel our love?” an artist asked during the break. “Ah, that’s what that was” I thought. “I did” I said, “it was palpable.”  

Between the sessions, I snacked on Manchego and a fistful of Prosciutto. I felt hungry, as if I had been weeding the garden or turning the soil. Amber handed me a Caipirinha made with plenty of lime and raw sugar. This time I was glad for both the brightness and the sweetness. Thirsty too. 

When we began again I sat on a piano bench with my back to the artists, my hands at ease in my lap. I rested. There was nothing left to fret about, no need to be brave or pretend. The fight felt finished.

For the final pose, I stayed on the bench, but placed my left hand on my right knee and turned my face so that they could see my profile. Listening to pens scratch paper in an otherwise quiet room, I felt not only love, but something else—perhaps reverence. Welling up inside me, coming from them, flowing between us— tenderness everywhere. Near the end of the last ten minutes, a single tear slid down my right cheek. I did not try to wipe it away or hide it. 

By then I was devoted to being not only still, but visible. 

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