I used to hate being naked. Every time I took a shower, I quickly threw a towel around myself just to avoid looking at my wet, marshmallowy body. I wouldn’t dare to keep the lights on during some late night hanky-panky. I was one step away from being Tobias in his “never nude” shorts from Arrested Development. How could I feel comfortable being naked in front of a significant other if I couldn’t even feel comfortable being naked in front of myself? Summer sucked the most, especially living in a state where all we ever do is go to the lake. I wouldn’t have been caught dead in a bikini. I wanted so badly to feel good about my body, but it was impossible to make myself really believe it.
I was a college senior in 2016 when I was short on cash and heard the art department paid $8 an hour for drawing models… but they paid 10 for naked models. College is all about experimenting and learning new things, right? And I definitely could have used that extra $2. So I bucked up and signed the W-2 form for “unclad model” with the adorable secretary in the art and design office. The day that I stripped down and stood on a lighted stage in front of a class of 15 students and a professor was the day that I grew a whole new view of myself.
The experience was liberating. First, the professor talked to his class while I stood at the back of the room, a breeze wafting up under my dress to remind me that I had nothing underneath it besides my own chunky, pale, earth suit. A few of the young freshmen students looked back at me, wondering who I could be, until the professor gestured back and said, “This is our model today. Come on up!”
In my dress and large sweater, I approached the stage and stood in the center, the class wondering what trick I was meant to perform. “Just so we’re on the same page,” the professor said, “I requested an unclad model, you good with that?”
“Right,” I squeaked with a fake confidence, for whatever reason expecting some kind of pomp and circumstance art class ritual for stripping down. There wasn’t, so I just pulled off my dress and sweater and threw them on the ground and stood there in my birthday suit waiting for something to happen. In the back of my head, I imagined the students laughing or heckling or throwing money at me like a stripper; that “being naked in front of the class” nightmare we all had was coming true. But they didn’t react at all. Nobody was even staring.
The professor had everyone look at me and describe the geometry of my figure. A triangle from shoulder to shoulder to belly button. How many heads I was tall and wide. How I fit inside of a rectangle. I wasn’t a woman with tits and an ass on that stage, I was a jumble of shapes to be deciphered on paper like a math equation. And that’s about when I realized that a body is just made out of shapes. How dumb is it to believe that a square is better than a circle? That a hexagon has more worth than a rectangle? No geometric shape is superior to another -- just different. Apples to oranges. Thin to full-figured. Those shapes don’t have personalities, and neither do ours. If you only define yourself based on the shapes that create you, you aren’t really much of a person at all. Just a still life bowl of fruit for someone to paint. While art students only look at you as shapes, you and the rest of the world don’t have to see yourself that way. Yes, an art student will draw something that looks like a pear with banana-shaped legs and a circle for a head and some boobs, but that shape is only an interpretation of me -- not actually me. Sort of like the old “this is not a pipe” argument -- you can draw a pipe, but it’s not actually a pipe. They can draw me, but they can’t draw me. My shape does not define who I am.
In the end, the entire experience was very professional. Nobody got a weird boner like I had expected, and I still haven’t found any nude pictures of me floating around the internet. I was never once bothered by my nakedness, mostly distracted by the fact that my calves were on fire after holding a lung for ten minutes.
If you think my “shapes don’t have personality” argument is a big pile of crap and you believe your body shape is an important part of your identity, just remember that Michelangelo and the rest of the Renaissance gang LOVED drawing us fatties because lumpy, curvy shapes are fun and challenging to draw.
Several years after retiring as a nude model, everything I learned about body positivity still sticks with me. My value is more than a collection of shapes. I don’t feel like I have to cling to a towel after my shower as if my life depended on it. I learned to keep the lights on during sex. I even wear a bikini at the beach now, all 210 pounds of me running across the sand in beautiful slow motion like a scene from Baywatch. I jiggle… therefore, I am. Even if you don’t believe you are beautiful or good-looking or handsome (which you totally are), an artist out there loves those shapes.