I took all my clothes off, hung them on the hook on the back of the door and headed toward the center of the classroom.
Walking around naked in a roomful of people wasn’t new to me. I had been modeling ever since I’d had a conversation with a massage therapist at a hot springs resort in Northern California two years before. He told me he was in charge of scheduling models for his figure drawing classes and asked if I would I like to model for one of them.
“You’d be fun to draw,” he said.
Fun to draw? Me? With my big fat ass?
The idea tantalized me and boosted my ego. But I didn’t live in California. I lived in Arizona.
He explained that if I was interested, all I had to do when I got home was call up the local community college and sign up. They always wanted new models.
Maybe they wouldn’t care that I was a 60-something-old-lady, I thought. Maybe they, too, would think that I would be fun to draw, big fat ass and all.
I told my husband what the massage therapist had said and it turned out that he himself had modeled when he was in college to help pay for tuition.
“You could give it a try,” he told me. “You’re enough of a happy exhibitionist to like it. Besides you’ve been looking for part-time work.”
Simple as that, I ended up being a live-artists model at my local Community College as well as at other artists’ venues.
People often asked me how I could take my clothes off in front of strangers, but I would tell them that taking my clothes off wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was holding the pose for 25 to 45 minutes without moving a muscle (not even your eyes)–-that was what separated the men from the models, so to speak.
There was a particular modeling session however, in which something quite different than usual occurred.
The class was conducted by one of my favorite instructors and was held in a small, windowless, overly air-conditioned room that seated about 20 young aspiring artists. There were no props for the model—just a plywood platform in the middle of the space with a rug thrown down over it.
After I had taken all my clothes off I climbed up on the platform and lay down as usual. For leverage, I wedged the meditation cushion I brought with me between my upper back and the floor, put one hand behind my head in what I hoped looked more or less like a woman relaxing by the pool and, to give the pose some élan, raised one bent knee higher than the other.
The instructor turned out the lights and shone two spotlights on me. She put classical music on the CD player and turned the timer to 45 minutes, instructing the students to concentrate and remain silent during the sitting.
I found my focus point on the wall in front of me and prepared myself to remain motionless until the timer went off.
To capture the light the students pushed themselves and their easels up around the platform. In their hunger for the pose they were so close I could have reached out and touched them
As the timer wore on I could see their heads in my peripheral vision looking up at me, then looking down at their easels and then looking back up at me. With the closeness of the small room the tension built easily and I began to perspire. I could smell me and I could smell the students. I could hear the scritch, scritch of their charcoal and could even hear them breathing.
Then, at some point soon after the session began, when I was deep into my concentration, my mind drifted away from the classroom/modeling reality and another reality began to replace it.
I felt myself lying as if on a velvety forest floor. There were no harsh spotlights shining on me but instead a glowing sun was pouring down in golden shafts through the branches of trees. The students became ferns, drawing and painting with their waving leaves. I felt an alchemy taking place and in my mind’s eye I gradually stepped away from the scene all together and looked back at myself and my naked body.
Instead of a thing to be exercised, starved, shrunken or compared, I saw all 200 curvaceous, zaftig pounds of me through the eyes of the artists who were surrounding me and I watched mesmerized, as they made of my form a lovely, natural creature of the forest.
Surrendering to the magic of the moment I allowed myself to be carried away by the thick air in the room. Tears of gratitude for the beauty of it all—for the intimacy of it all—began to spill onto my breasts, onto the rug and onto the platform on which I was lying.
I couldn’t move and couldn’t hide my emotions as I remained in the pose, silently weeping while the students continued to draw me.
They drew my pose, they drew the light around the pose, and they drew my tears.
When the timer went off. Nobody moved. The instructor had to tap on her desk to break the spell.
Today, at 74 years of age, I no longer work as an artists’ model and, when I take my clothes off and look in the mirror I am, of course, flabbier and dimplier than when I was over 15 years ago.
But an older, more flabby and more dimply self if not what I see.
What I see is the great indelible truth that was revealed to me in that junior college classroom.
I see that at any age, in any shape and at any weight; I am something beautiful to look at, to appreciate and to cherish.
I see that I am not merely a human body. I am a magical form that lives in a velvety forest with the sun shining down on me.
Finally, I see that exactly as I am, I am a perfect work of art.
And just like any other perfect work of art, I always will be.