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

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
81 new cases of COVID-19 detected in Interior Health Friday

One additional staff member at Kelowna long-term care home tests positive, no new deaths

Interior Health says Salmo’s COVID-19 cases have been contained. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Interior Health: Salmo’s COVID-19 cases are contained

Every person who tested positive has recovered

Pitchfork Eatery’s staff pose with its two Burger Month trophies. L-R: Tao Measures, Michael Hall, head chef Josh Mateschitz, Prabh Gill, John Rutherford, Ben Handly. Photo: Laura Gellatly
Pitchfork Eatery, Kurama Sushi voted Burger Month winners

Pitchfork won two awards while Kurama won Most Original

Nelson schools have stopped recycling anything except cardboard because they are unable to separate recycling to the satisfaction of Waste Management Inc., the contractor that picks up and ships recycling. Photo: School District 8
Nelson schools cut back on recycling

Recycling pick-up contractor says there is too much contamination in the bins

The Village of Salmo has told Cody Puckett and Ashley Nelson that clearing land at this property doesn’t constitute building a property according to a bylaw. Photo: Submitted
Work in progress? Salmo family, village at odds over property construction

Cody Puckett says he’s being evicted from his own land, which the village disputes

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither can we’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

Victoria-based driving instructors are concerned for their own and the community’s safety with the continued number of residents from COVID hotspots in the Lower Mainland coming to the city to take their driving road tests. (Black Press Media file photo)
Students from COVID hotspots travel to Vancouver Island for driving tests

Union leader calls on government to institute stronger travel ban

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PHSA bought faulty respirators; spent money on catering, renovations: Dix

Such spending included ‘unnecessary, unbudgeted renovations’ to the authority’s headquarters in Vancouver

Most Read