Nude Modelling: This Is How I Feel Lying Cold and Naked On The Floor

I walked up the carpeted set of stairs to her apartment in Downtown Hamilton, Ontario. She greeted me warmly, and quickly assessed my body as she moved to the side to let me in. Her home was full of ceramic knick-knacks, partially completed crafting projects, and gnarly potted plants that completely consumed entire window spaces. She asked me to get into my robe that I had brought, and then join her in the living room. I couldn’t help but draw parallels to various fantasies I had had as a teenager — ones of polite coercion that I was never quite comfortable enough to express.

I sat cross-legged on a wide cushioned foot stool, mindful of potentially exposing my vagina to this new person. We weren’t quite there yet. She handed me a booklet printed from her desktop computer that hummed impatiently nearby. It was titled “The Basics of Nude Modelling”. First she let me in on the basics of hygiene, and how you don’t want to smell bad or drip with sweat, or god forbid, leak period blood down your leg. Always bring extra tampons, la la la. Then she gave me a breakdown of a typical modelling session. She continued flipping through her notes, skipping over things she must have thought were too stupid to mention (i.e. have a glass of water handy, because you’ll get thirsty). You could see that she too was questioning her credentials. I mean, there’s nothing quite like teaching someone how to be naked in front of other people. I had boyfriends for that shit.

I took my robe off just like I would if I were getting into the shower. I threw it off to the side. She looked at me and said “okay”. She, fully clothed, started moving into various positions that I dutifully copied like a mirror. It wasn’t very different from my first yoga class, except the positions we were doing were much easier to hold. She sat down and told me to “do my thing” and she pretended to draw me. This whole session wrapped up an hour later and I handed her $90 and off I went. Ugh. Why.

Because the art studio I wanted to model for said that I had to take the course to ensure that I was serious about modelling. And when I’m not experiencing crippling anxiety, I often seek out lots of types of experiences because sometimes they push me to new places and give me things to talk about with friends. I’m a Leo, if that helps.

I don’t remember my first real nude modelling session so there’s no point in me trying to sum it up. For the first few months, I couldn’t hide my excitement over my new side job. I modelled mostly for middle-aged women and men on Saturday Mornings. They all knew each other and joked around about their wives or their jobs. It was a peaceful little environment. We had cookies and tea at break and at first people would treat me like I was invisible, but eventually I realized they were treating me like a young girl they just saw naked. I would stuff No-Name Oreos down my throat, and casually converse about what program I was taking in school and whether I too were an artist. I got paid $20 an hour, and I thought at the time that I was ballin’.

The most difficult thing to master at first is timing. You usually time your own poses. Sometimes the group wanted ten 1-minute poses, five 3-minutes poses followed by two half hour poses and a final one hour pose. Sometimes it would be just one 3-hour pose. Instead of thinking too much about what my body was doing or whether it looked horrendous from that guy’s easel over there, I kept counting to keep track of poses. The lights were too bright and hot, and I would sweat. I was already breaking the rules when it came to being a “good” model. My body would naturally want to shift in floor poses because it hurt so bad sometimes. If you move slowly enough, they didn’t seem to notice. Be the mouse. Play dead. Ease into death on your back.

Nude modelling is a constant battle between comfort and pain, like I imagined it would be. It’s horribly difficult to sit in even the most comfortable position for an hour, let alone trying to be a tad inventive and resting your forearm on your head or curling a leg in towards your body. One woman who privately hired me would make me stand for 3-hour poses. She would curse quietly at her painting of me, and say things like “oops, I think I made your thighs too big”. The sketches and paintings often portrayed me much larger than I am. A few of the artists would draw me thinner, but that felt equally as strange. Sometimes my boobs were drawn bigger and rounder. Most people were spot on when it came to drawing my hips. Some of the beginners would rip their sketches from their pads and shove them into bags before I could see them. Fortunately, I have cultivated pretty sound body politics.

My relationship with my boyfriend at the time was dwindling into a friendship, and we were avoiding conflict at all costs. I couldn’t help but entertain the glory of being looked at by some of the young men in the room who had signed up for classes. It would startle me when a new guy would walk into the class late. I would be so joyously overwhelmed by what appeared to be, out of the corner of my eye, a semi-maintained beard on a friendly face connected to a tall figure. I could feel my body change, like a flash of lightning hit the floor. I would rotate around in poses, keeping my confidence even though I felt vulnerable with the presence of young men around. This wasn’t new to them though. They had seen lots of naked women before doing the same things. They gazed upon me like I was a bowl of fruit.

I remember feeling anxious before a session one evening, as I stuffed a CocoRosie album into my bag and rushed out the door. I was feeling sad because winter was dragging its sorry bum, and because I was graduating and had no idea what I wanted to do or whether I could stay true to my plan of moving to Nova Scotia with my boyfriend at the time. I remember my stomach dealing with the stress that I kept swallowing, and my bowels grumbling from the cheese pizza I had sampled earlier on campus.

This session took place in the very intimate setting of a friend’s living room. I hugged a few friends who showed up, drank tea and attempted to tap into their high school art talent. I sat down for my first half-hour pose of the evening, feeling weak in my knees and like I couldn’t bare to stand for the longer poses. I floated in and out of conversation and listened closely to the lyrics of one of the songs from the Cocorosie album that was playing in the background. Sierra Casady sang about wanting to be a good wife, cooking and cleaning, and being faithful to her husband. It was in the processing of these lyrics — echoing the loud tennis match of guilt/indecision surrounding my relationship — that I felt the panicked urgency to go to the bathroom. But I was stuck in this pose. I was frozen in time. I was on the clock, with a dozen pair of eyes haunting the edges and creases of my body. My breathing quickened. I squinted at the watches of those nearby to check the time. 20 more minutes in this pose until break. I didn’t know if I was capable of lasting that long. I didn’t want to be on display anymore. I didn’t want to be admired or noticed or captured anymore. Small beads of sweat collected behind my knees and all I wanted to do was cry in someone’s bathtub and have my mom tell me again that the best days are yet to come.

That was the last time I modelled. It’s incredible how one distressing experience led me to become phobic of the entire thing. Being stuck in that pose in that frame of mind was totally paralyzing. I couldn’t seem to call upon the gods of meditation or positive self talk. They weren’t answering.
Over the course of my nude modelling “career”, I noticed a gradual decline in my mental health. Being stuck in poses, convinced that I had very little agency, forced me to come to face-to-face with many of my most distressing thoughts and fears. I couldn’t express them, or go for a quick jog, or scroll through Facebook to calm myself. And so nude modelling started to feel like self-induced therapy sessions where I sat, anxious, with tape over my mouth. My obsessive thinking took me to new grounds. I discovered that the relentless anxiety I had experienced in high-school sitting in my deadly quiet math class was in essence the same feeling of being “stuck” that I experienced while modelling. It turns out that escapism is my most valued safety mechanism and that doesn’t correlate well to being a living statue.

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