Objectification for the Sake of Art (Or Vice Versa)

I haven’t written about figure modeling in a while. I just finished up my only scheduling of the semester (hence the lack of material to write about…), which was for a color composition class. Pretty simple schedule, gesture poses for a few minutes at the beginning, then a long pose for the remaining two and half hours. Easy peasy.

But this was the first time I ever actually felt uncomfortable posing for a class. Actually, not the class as a whole, just one particular student. No he didn’t leer at me or say anything inappropriate or try to take a picture (I mean, you can be expelled for that shit). No… he just made me feel… weird. Maybe it was the fact that I was laying down, one knee bent and vertical, the other bent and laying flat on the model stand. And this kid, his scrawny self with a bushy beard (hey I don’t have anything against beards, I have lots of friends made more manly by copious amounts of facial hair) sat himself directly at my feet.

Now, I’m about to talk about vaginas, so gentlemen feel free to look away.

You’d think as a figure model I’d have no problem with an artist looking at, or consequently drawing, my hoohah. But this time it just felt weird. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I didn’t even realize he was at that angle until after my first stretch break… Awko Taco… if ya know what I mean.

So I spent the next two hours feeling tense and uncomfortable, which really detracts from the whole experience. I mean, modeling isn’t exactly like laying on a bed of clouds; your limbs fall asleep and your hips and neck start aching long before your 25-45 minutes are up. Tight muscles and anxiety really don’t help.

So both days I’m feeling weird about this guy drawing me, especially when I sneak a glance at his paper and see how awkwardly and overtly sexual of an angle it’s at. It also doesn’t help that every time I get up to stretch he opens the door to outside to go smoke a cigarette. Cause he was a hipster of course. Did you know it was 45°F today? Yeah, not so cool man, I’m fucking naked. Not gonna lie, one of my toes went numb.

Yes I know I should have said something, especially about being cold. If you’re cold – or even tense – you’re more likely to move, which is not good for the artists. #1 rule of modeling? Don’t. Fucking. Move. I was extremely flattered when at the end of the session today one of the artists thanked me and said I was one of the only models on campus who could stay still for more than five minutes. That’s a really great feeling… but then again, I’ve been doing this for almost three years, if I hadn’t learned to stay still by this point, well, let’s just say I’d be a bit of a failure.

I don’t feel like I’ve ever mentioned the awkward parts of modeling, other than the simple act of taking your clothes off. Vagina aside, there are other parts of my body I really don’t feel comfortable with looking at in the mirror, much less showing other people. We all have those areas of our bodies that we don’t like, or that we wish could be more toned, less flabby, more attractive. If I’ve learned one thing from the artists though, it’s that the size and shape of your body matters much less to them than your ability to hold a pose. There is beauty in every curve, in every fold, in every inch of skin and muscle and bone. When a professor tells the students to emphasize the bony landmarks of my body (the sternum, the hips, shoulders, clavicles) to help create proper proportions, or to notice the curve of muscles in my back as I twist, or a myriad of other dynamic points of interest on my body, I feel respected as an object.

Yes, it’s strange to hear that a woman, especially a woman with generally feminist views, enjoys being viewed as an object, but I think you misunderstand. I’m not a sexual object, I’m an artistic object. Something to be viewed with curiosity, interest, and a desire to learn something about form, shadow, value, proportion, or temperature. I’m not an artist by any stretch of the imagination and I love listening to the discussions the students have with the professor and the advice he/she gives.

So I admit, I sometimes feel sexually objectified when I model, such as during this last session. I don’t like it, it doesn’t flatter me, and it definitely doesn’t make me feel attractive. But on the other hand, there are many times that I feel that my body has become an object of learning. A pathway on which students can develop a sense of their own artistic ability and talent. It’s not an altruistic feeling, just one that permeates my attitude toward the job (because yes, it is a job) and makes getting naked in front of strangers that much easier. I really hope that I can avoid situations where I feel uncomfortable with the artists drawing me. I’ve had one that snapped at my for wiggling my toes so my foot wouldn’t fall asleep (she was just a bitch, whatever), another who asked if she could take a picture with her phone because she hadn’t been in class for the first session (yeah… no.), and the guy this time. Perhaps I’m being to sensitive, but I honestly didn’t feel comfortable around him, even though I didn’t feel threatened.

Here’s to hoping my next session will be one of pure art and not one of sexualization for the sake of “art.” There’s far more that can be said on this topic, but I think I’ve rambled on enough and I should probably quit my bitchin’ for the day. Until next time!

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