After following directions down gravel roads in Maine, the picturesque house nestled in the woods almost looked out of place. This house had perfectly manicured flower beds weaving around the lawn, beckoning people to come closer. No cars could be heard from the nearby roads so the soundtrack was only of nature. The song birds were singing their stereotypical pretty songs as I parked my car behind other cars and walked into the house.
The door was open and a friendly voice called me into the living room where people were setting up. Up and up the narrow staircase went as my feet carried me to the bathroom door. Once inside, I could hear and see the workmen dotting the backyard with their tools and ladders. The bathroom door locked with a ‘click’ and I began to disrobe. Naked inside the beautifully decorated bathroom, there was a moment of hesitation. The insecurities of my body tried to bubble up to the surface but were quickly muted by the draping of my silk robe over my body.
Down and down the narrow stairs my bare feet carried me back to the living room where I was expected. Placing my purse by the draped chaise lounge, a purse which had the important things like my car keys and my clothes, the only thing left to do was lose the robe. With all eyes on me, I removed my robe and reclined into the gorgeous piece of furniture in the center of everyone.
“Your left elbow was higher.”
“The head was a little more to the right. Yes, there.”
“That foot does not look right.”
“Can someone move those books of the table, they are blocking me.”
“Your hair was… oh yes… like that.”
“Is everyone good? Let’s go for 20. Okay?”
Hearing the ticking of the egg timer, I focused my eyes on a grand antique clock directly in front of me as every muscle in my body began to try to relax. The sound of papers, pencils, paints, canvas, easels, and water blocked out the pounding noise of the workmen just feet away. Never making eye contact, I scanned the room as people fell into their own rhythm.
So began my first nude modeling session.
Growing up with an artist for a mother, modeling started before learning to walk. She would take photos and create drawings based on those pictures. Being the first born, I had a baby book with hand drawn pictures of me being an adorable child. When I became old enough to understand the phrase “don’t move” my mother upgraded to sketching me directly. Lounging in a way I felt comfortable looked ‘artistic’ or ‘stylized’ so more and more the sketchbook would come out. The only downside to modeling would be the occasions I’d read a book and come to the end of it when my mother had just begun to sketch.
During the difficult time of battling the forces of darkness, my father, the sketching stopped. If someone compiled all the sketches my mother has ever done of me there would be a sharp transition from a chubby cheeked blonde child to a tall red headed 20 year old; the cheeks and eyes always stayed the same. Unlike child stars, I was fortunate enough to go through puberty without it being recorded in any way. My hiatus from modeling ended midway through college. My mother, the one who started me years before, was the restart of my modeling. Her drawing groups were in need of models and I was in need of cash. She had been an artist model before and thought I would be perfect for the position.
My hesitation came from the nudity part of the job. I’ve never been modest, truth be told, but those were situations with others in various states of undress. Nude modeling requires being naked while fully clothed people look at every detail of your body. I worried about imperfections like scars or blemishes or bruises. What would they think of me? It was the nakedness, being vulnerable in a room of strangers or peers, that terrified me.
I was terrified before I ever booked my first session.
My mother reassured me that artists care more about the model not moving than some physical attributes I thought important. They were not looking at my unshaven legs or if my roots were showing. They only wanted a model who would not move at all, which is surprisingly tricky for those who have never done it before. I was a form, an image for them to draw and nothing more. It didn’t matter if it was a bowl of fruit or a cat or a nude, the artists were trying to capture an image.
She was right, of course.
My body was a flesh colored bowl of fruit.
Since restarting modeling, my opinion of the human body has…shifted. The body is a beautiful thing. It is a vessel we have control over, for the most part. Our bodies tell our life story in pictures, shapes, and contours. You can tell a lot about a person by their body. It is not just what the body looks like, but how it moves and how it rests. The beauty of the stripped form has nothing to do with sexuality, it is just raw human essence. Across centuries and cultures, the human form connects all individuals who have lived or who ever will live. In a world where everyone is separate and distinct, it is so amazing that we share a basic template of appearance.
So many different combinations! It really is amazing if you stop to think about it.
The vulnerability of being nude never really hit me. Yes, I have been nude in rooms of strangers dozens of times so far but I have never been truly naked in those situations. My body is inspiration, a blueprint if you will. Some of the art created looks nothing like me because the artists made the choice to use a different face or different hair. I’m fine with nudity, but nakedness is something else entirely.
There were four of us in the car driving southbound on Interstate 95 in the evening after preforming in a show together. The car was warm with laughter and conversation between good friends. We all knew each other well and I considered these women sisters in my crazy Vaudeville life. We did not just get the social niceties afforded for passing acquaintances, we took interest in each others lives and shared the bond only other artists can have. The bond connecting the type of people who value beauty in the world and actively seek out ways to bring more beauty into the world. Artists who take 9-5 jobs to be able to live sequin dreams instead of only seeing others while wondering “What if”.
After a good show and in the privacy of the darkness, also after a nice Rum, I talked.
My strongest medium so far is not with oils or with watercolor, but words.
So I talked about my father and I talked about myself.
The story I’ve told so many times, I sometimes forget it belongs to me and not someone else.
In a world where silence gives power to secrets it always was my mission to reclaim the power.
I wrap myself in stories, both good and bad, to cover my body. Some stories show my smile, in my eyes or with my mouth. Other stories let you see the scars, never noticed until pointed out. My modesty does kick in at times because not every can see me naked, most people I can’t trust to see me like that. Some have run from my nakedness as they are startled to realize their own nakedness. Others become angry and think my nakedness vulgar. I take no offense as I redress before them. Nakedness is not for everyone.
The reason for my nakedness or nudity is the same; to give inspiration to others.
My friend reached over to hug me after I finished talking. The car was silent as the passengers in the front thanked me for sharing a piece of me. My hug continued as my friend had no words strong enough to give, but needing to let me know she felt my words. We drove on the fog covered roads towards our homes. There we would undress alone or with partners or with pets; our own stories written on our skin and in our movements.
Well I fell asleep in my bed wearing the same clothes I had preformed in and still wearing my makeup.
It was too cold to sleep naked that night.