That day I was a life model

That day I was a life model

I tell myself I feel okay about others seeing my naked body

  • Mar. 30, 2020 7:30 a.m.

– Illustration by Sierra Lundy

Should I shave? I flip this question over in my mind a dozen times. I know Zoe does, and he’s seen her before. Then again, she says he’s in his 70s, and a natural bush was a given back when he would have been around women my age. Also, a bit of hair might provide just the slightest means of protection, even if it’s only an illusion. I throw the razor in my bag just in case.

I’m heading to meet my stepsister, who is taking me to my first ever life-modelling gig. There, I will pose nude for the sake of art. Drawing me will be a single client, Charles, and Zoe, who I’ve insisted come along. She’s modelled for him before, and has arranged this session at my inclination of interest.

Nudity is a strangely loaded concept. The various attitudes and implications related to exposing one’s body are beyond contradictory, and the lines between empowerment, exploitation and exhibitionism are muddy at best. But nudity is universal! Everybody has a body and why shouldn’t we feel casual about seeing them and having them seen by others? Women’s figures are beautiful and deserve to occupy more than just sexual spaces. I tell myself I feel okay about others seeing my naked body, but I know that I am lying to some degree.

This is where Charles comes in. Charles participates in a weekly life-drawing class, where a group of people gather around a nude model and draw for two hours. I’m hoping that his interest in the human figure in a desexualized context, and my participation in this exchange, will be a way to confront my own internalized taboos and insecurities. I want to be confident in nakedness, I want to feel good about my body in a platonic “here I am, no big deal” kind of way.

So I set out, flipping between anxiety and confidence, excitement and dread. I meet up with Zoe and we debrief. She reassures me. She tells me that the hardest part is coming up with and holding new poses. I suddenly realize I haven’t considered the logistics of this. Shoot. I don’t know a single pose. But Zoe says it’ll be fine, that they just come naturally and there are no wrong positions. She says to twist; twists are interesting.

I mull over her advice as we hop into the car. In the back is a pile of clothes that she tells me to look over. I pull out a like-new super-soft sweater — high quality and in black. It’s like it was made for me.

“Have it!” she says. I stuff it in my bag, and am distracted from our destination just long enough to feel minor relief.

Eventually, we park at the base of Charles’s driveway and the moment of “is it too late to turn around?” hits. It is. The dread takes over and fills my feet as we trudge up the driveway. Charles’s door is bright red. I am pulsing with anxiety as Zoe knocks on it.

Charles opens the door. He is a small man with grey hair and a black beard. We head up to the kitchen and his wife, Sally, jumps right into the conversation. She offers us Girl Guide cookies. I can’t believe what we’re here for. I can’t believe I’m doing this.

The studio is impressive. There are work tables easels, shelves of materials, drawers of different paper sheets, toolboxes of charcoals, and jars of sketching pencils. A grey paper backdrop hangs from a roller on one wall and onto the floor, making a stage. It is illuminated by a menacing spotlight. I am thankful for the professionalism it portends. Also intimidated.

Charles says there’s a robe for me to wear in the bathroom whenever I decide to get ready. I follow his direction and head to “change.” This doesn’t seem like the right word when there’s nothing to change into — but “strip” is worse.

I begin undressing.

My body and I are on relatively amicable terms. I don’t fall too far outside of the desirable norm. But puberty brought large, heavy, wideset breasts to my otherwise petite frame. This is supposedly a good thing, according to almost everyone I complain to. To me, it has always been a source of deep insecurity.

I struggle to get the cuffs of my jeans over my ankles and realize I’ve left my socks on last. How unsexy. Is that a good thing? I avoid looking down at myself as I slip into the robe. It is silk. As I step back into the room, they are still setting up their things and I stand waiting, unsure of when to take the robe off. I’m anxious to get it over with.

Charles explains that we will start with a few one-minute poses, then move onto two minutes, then a couple of fives, and finish with one or two long holds. “Whenever you’re ready,” he prompts.

I slip the silk off and drop it in a pile to the side. Zoe is smiling at me. I feel surprisingly relaxed now that I’m actually just naked. Yet I am certainly aware of the shallowness of my breathing.

I move into the spotlight and decide to start facing backwards. I raise one arm over my head and twist my torso. They both remark that this is a great position.

So it begins. One minute seems longer than it usually does. Then it’s done and I twist a different way.

“You’re a natural!” Charles says. He is engaged in polite conversation with Zoe.

I listen to the scritch-scratch of their pencils. I examine Charles’s studio meticulously. It’s almost boring. Now the five minutes. Time ticks away ever so slowly. I realize that I am so focused on staying still that the whole naked thing isn’t really a thing. Finally Charles calls time and tells me I can take a break and stretch. I again become acutely aware of my nakedness and pull my arms across my chest. I feel my body’s awkward posture outside of a deliberate position. The break is the longest part yet. I am relieved when we start again.

We do a long pose and I read every single title on Charles’s bookshelf. They are organized by subject. Suddenly the session is over; I slip back into the robe and briskly head for the bathroom. Jeans have never felt so comforting.

When I emerge, Charles and Zoe are comparing drawings as Sally gushes over them. They all applaud me as well, and I don’t know how to take the compliments. We say our goodbyes and I run down the driveway.

“So, how did that feel?” Zoe asks excitedly.

“I don’t know. Fine, I think.” It’s the truth. I’m not quite sure how I feel. I’m glad I went through with it and I’m glad it’s done with. I still feel nothing as we part ways. But later, as I travel back home, I am suddenly struck with shame. I can’t quite place its source but I find myself pushing the memory of the day out of my mind, avoiding reflection, not ready to process it.

Was I expecting something bigger? I don’t feel empowered. I don’t feel exposed. I don’t feel a new confidence in my body. I just feel weird about requesting an arrangement to stand naked in a stranger’s basement.

I carry Zoe’s sketches, rolled up with two elastic bands, under my arm as I wait to transfer busses. It’s late. It’s cold now, and I remember the sweater Zoe has given me. I put it on under my bomber jacket and I’m instantly warm. I think of our relationship and how great it is to have a sister who knows me, who sees me, who reminds me I exist beyond skin. Our closeness has nothing to do with our physical bodies.

When I get home I unroll the three pages and show my girlfriend the drawings.

“Whoa. She got your tits perfectly,” she says.

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

ArtLifestyle

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(File)
Overwhelming support for Vernon businesses this holiday season: Chamber

Vernon chamber urges shoppers to keep dollars local amid pandemic with #voteVernon campaign

Vernon Fire Rescue Services responded to reports of a structure fire on Valleyview Place Jan. 26, 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Vernon Morning Star)
Fire snuffed in Vernon home

No visible smoke, flames from area of reported structure fire

Vernon’s Noric House long-term care facility is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Another death linked to COVID-19 outbreak at Vernon care home

It’s the sixth death at Noric House related to the virus to date

Design rendering for the proposed Coldstream Community Centre. An advisory committee will make a decision on the latest site plan Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (Sahuri & Associates rendering)
Coldstream committee to review latest designs for new community centre

Design renderings have been released for the centre that would add 84 local child care spaces

A sign indicating a COVID-19 testing site is displayed inside a parking garage in West Nyack, N.Y., Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. The site was only open to students and staff of Rockland County schools in an effort to test enough people to keep the schools open for in-person learning. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
4 more deaths, 54 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

This brings the total to 66 deaths in the region

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

Kevin Lee Barrett pleaded guilty to the aggravated assault of his mother Eleanor Holmes on Tuesday, Jan. 26. (File)
West Kelowna man who beat his mom could be sentenced up to 9 years

Kevin Barrett entered a surprise guilty plea to the lesser charge of aggravated assault on Tuesday morning

Interior Health reported two more COVID-19 deaths at Sunnybank Retirement Center in Oliver Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (File photo)
COVID-19 claims lives of two more South Okanagan care home residents

Five residents of the Oliver care home have died since the outbreak was first declared

11 more cases of COVID-19 have been linked to a cluster on Big White Mountain. Pictured above is TELUS park at Big White Ski Resort, Jan. 26. (Big White Ski Resort)
11 more cases of COVID-19 linked to Big White cluster

This brings the total case count to 225, according to health authorities in a Tuesday update

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

Oliver Elementary School
Former Oliver PAC treasurer charged with fraud returns to court

Belinda Yorke will be in court to fix a date for trial in February

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Most Read