A Figure of Modeling

by Elizabeth Grace Smith

Figure in Motion, 1913 
by Robert Henri

I thought I was fearless when it came to my figure. I'm comfortable in sports bras. I lounge in lingerie, and I've engaged in a game of strip poker or two. But, as I anxiously anticipated my first nude modeling session, I felt as vulnerable as a mythical maiden chained to a rock. On the eve of my session, I sleep naked, to get used to the vulnerability. I worry what if I become aroused? Will the artists notice? In the shower, I trim for the first time since puberty. I even clean the lint out of my bellybutton.

Later, I experiment with poses. I wonder if I can hold still long enough. If I choose to smile, will I have to hold it? It might look frozen. I should probably remain expressionless. Impossible. And then a slew of irrational fears: What if I shiver? What if I unwittingly get a piece of toilet paper stuck to my butt? What if the model before me has crabs? I can't think about it.

The next morning, my first stop is the restroom. The possibility of clenching my bladder for an audience horrifies me. I reapply lipstick, hoping to compensate for any inadequacies on my lower end. I've begun to quiver with nerves. I sense an aberration arousal. I wonder if I might have underlying exhibitionistic tendencies. As I go beneath the gauntlet, I confess I've eaten a mere kiwi for breakfast. I wonder if the artists' flow is ever interrupted by the sound of the model's stomach growling.

The professor welcomes me enthusiastically, and has me observe the current model. I am slightly disappointed. I wanted to get it over with - at least the initial moment of revelation. As she debriefs me on the details, today's model flounces by us confidently to assume her position on the mat. I am relieved. A plain girl, her thighs are curvaceous and her belly hangs low and round. But in her naked vivacity, and the intense creative ambiance of the room, she seems exquisite. Buoyed, I sign my federal formalities and am scheduled the upcoming week. I hope I won't lose my nerve or get my period, but the instructor reassures me the students are used to tampon strings, and on those days I can assume close-legged positions. I should bring a robe and sandals, so I can move about on breaks, and an even bigger relief, I will have my own sheet, which they will launder periodically.

After an anxiety-ridden week of distraction from my upcoming foray into nakedness, I perform another toilette and briefly manicure my nether region. In the studio, I peek through a crack in the door as students trickle in and adjust their easels. My first ten poses will last only one minute each. I am to do something from yoga, athletics, or dance. Music is playing. Aretha Franklin fuels my courage. I am given the cue to disrobe. Removing the robe is as excruciating as diving into Alaskan ice. But afterwards, I am just naked, liberatingly, matter-of-factly, mercifully naked, and then, I am dancing. And it is actually pleasurable. "Switch!" yells the professor. I am a tree!" "Switch!" I am a letter of the alphabet. "Switch." I am a ballerina. "Switch!" I am bent over backwards. "Switch!" I am flopped on a chair. "Switch!" I am an Amazon warrior! "Switch!" I'm a goddess madonna! The segment is soon finished.

But I don't want to stop. I have felt a momentum I have a body! I am uncertain of protocol on breaks. Should I mingle with the students or avoid them? A bowl of fruit doesn't have this dilemma. I don my robe and chat with the one student I know. We ignore the fact that she has just drawn my crotch. The break is soon over, and I assume a new position. Lounging prone, I focus on a distant spot on the wall. The instructor tapes around me so I can resume this same position after breaks. For the next hour and a half, I am a setpiece. I am acutely conscious of my diaphragm's rhythmic undulation. Surely they expect me to breathe. My arm is already asleep; I should not have chosen to flex my toe. As I concentrate on the back wall, I am surreptitiously observing these artists, and seeing myself from their vantage point. Exposed, I can't fight the temptation to glance and notice that my breasts are strangely supple, as are my athletic tummy and curvaceous hips. I can hear the students drawing like mad, but I am the one gaining perspective. As I stare silently ahead, I tune in to the soundtrack of the room. Music and scribbling. The instructor talks about elements of my figure with reverence and encourages the students to do them justice. Occasionally, I find myself unable to stifle amusement as she banters with them. They are struggling to draw my face; she asks if I would pose for a portrait next session. "You don't even have to take your clothes off." I am actually disappointed. In this hour and a half of public solitude, I have come to an invaluable realization: I have a body.

Once the allotted time is up, I reluctantly rerobe and change into street clothes. It is a letdown. In its nudity, my body has been objectified in reverse into a truthful sequence of shapes, and lines, and contours, and shadows quantitative angles of divergence from the Greek ideal.

Before I leave, the instructor solicits my feedback. The turnover is so high that many models quit after the first session. For many of her prior models, the confrontation with their own bodies has been overpowering, and they never return. Not me, I assure her. I will definitely be back. I am a body.

Liz Smith is currently pursuing a graduate degree in theatre. As an actress, she frequently encounters stabs of body consciousness, but her experience modeling has helped her to overcome their sting. To date, her proudest byline is in Moxie's 2001 print edition, Ties that Bind, Bindings that Break. She has had other pieces published on Fabula online as well as College Bound. She is grateful to Moxie for giving voice to authors and subjects that are often kept under wraps.

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