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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Modeling Again

Fair warning, this post is gonna be super boring. Sorry audience, I wasn’t writing for you this time (oops)!

So last night was my first night figure modeling since… April? That sounds about right. It’s been a while at any rate, and as always I had to readjust to the, you know… nakedness.

I think it’s pretty needless to say that being naked immediately puts you in a position of vulnerability. It’s not that I ever feel threatened by being around any of the students or professors while modeling — after all, they are there to practice skills that they can’t really practice anywhere else. It’s just that being naked always digs up body image problems and self-image concerns which can really make the whole experience unpleasant. Thankfully, the longer I do this, the easier it gets, and the better I feel about my body. I was actually able to see a marked change in my body this session, based on how I’d been drawn in other sessions. In other words, I could tell that I’ve lost some weight and gotten a lot more toned (fuck yeah free weights!). When you can see something as superficial as that in a picture of yourself, it can be a huge confidence boost. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t suddenly gotten skinny and fit, I just started feeling more comfortable in my own skin.

A lot of friends ask if (or just assume) it’s awkward to be naked in front of people who I know. Generally the answer is no, which often comes as a surprise to them. I knew a couple of the artists drawing last night, one being a sorority sister, another the little brother of a different sister (that one was a tad more awkward for me, considering I’d never modeled for him before). Knowing people in the room well enough to trust them can really help a model overcome some of the initial fear she (or he) may have when the robe comes off for the first time.

The whole point of starting this blog was to talk about the random crap that floats into my head during my modeling sessions. Last night, I thought extensively about how I can choose my friends. Just like any romantic relationship, if a friendship goes sour and doesn’t seem to be healthy, then you have to cut ties. I have this terrible habit of hanging on to friendships that have ended in the hopes that maybe something meaningful can be rekindled. Much like learning how to let go and feel comfortable dropping my robe at the beginning of a modeling session, I have to start feeling comfortable dropping the dead weight of people who don’t actually give a shit about me. That doesn’t make them a bad person, it just means that we aren’t exactly compatible with one another on a platonic level. Sometimes that realization hurts. But sometimes it’s exactly the thing to set you free from an unhealthy tangle of emotions.

Just… let go. Sometimes it’s simply easier that way.

Motionless

During my time in college I’ve spent several semesters as a nude model for the art department. Consequently, I’ve been allowed an inordinate amount of time to sit and do nothing but think. Many art models recommend using meditation as a means of enduring the challenge of remaining motionless for extended periods of time. I, however, am not so accomplished at centering my mind. Frankly, I’m just too anxiety-ridden to relax. More often than not I leave my sessions with tense muscles and sleeping limbs.

I’ve modeled for life drawing classes, sculpting classes, and independent studies. Each has offered a different perspective on the human form and the considerations that a model must take into account when sitting for a session. Regardless of the class though, there’s something entirely liberating about taking one’s clothes off in front of strangers. Of course, the first time you’re handed a wad of cash after a session can make you feel cheap. But don’t we only feel cheap because as women we are taught by society to be ashamed of our bodies? “Society” as I use it refers specifically to American culture (or lack thereof) and to some extent Western Civilization.

Now, I have as many, or perhaps more, body image issues as the next girl. I want perfection in the form of a skinny waist, modest breasts, mile-long legs, and baby-making hips. Pair those attributes with long hair, Cupid’s bow lips, and baby-blue eyes, you’ve got the perfect girl-next-door. But who the fuck is the girl-next-door? Is she your sister? Your girlfriend? Your mom back in the day?

I bet you’re saying to yourself, “She’s certainly not me!”

And therein lies the problem. We’ll never have the confidence to claim that role for ourselves. We can never be that flawless girl (again, defined as flawless by convention, not truth). No matter your image of perfect beauty, you can never attain it, because true perfection simply doesn’t exist. Humans are creatures constantly evolving to better themselves, not morally, but physically and mentally to better carry on their genes to the next generation. That’s what evolution IS, so it only follows that we cannot ever be 100% psychologically happy with ourselves.

HOWEVER, evolution doesn’t, and shouldn’t, determine our sole perspective on the world. Perfection needs to be separated from the ideal, and the only way we can do this is through mental shift.

Nude art, model in most poses is Miss Dorothy Lees

Nude art, model in most poses is Miss Dorothy Lees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nude art, model in most poses is Miss Dorothy Lees

Nude art, model in most poses is Miss Dorothy Lees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s take a look at this model, for example: I think she’s gorgeous, her body captured in its true perfection by the artists. She is both feminine and strong. Her musculature curves with a subtle beauty that is anything but artificially constructed. You may not agree with me, but that’s ok. We’re all looking through different eyes. One day I hope to look on this woman’s body, or any woman’s body and feel appreciation, rather than jealously. But until then, I endeavor to improve not just my body to fit my personal view of perfection, but my perspectives.

Please feel free to comment and discuss. I’m excited at the prospect of perspectives on body image that I haven’t heard before!

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