This is a personal essay from Louisville junior Erin Miller, a nude model for WKU’s figure-drawing class. Her essay is a reflection on the experience of standing naked in a room full of strangers and an explanation of why she chose to model.
I let a room full of people see me naked for the first time when I was 19 years old. Round-ass, small-tits, long-legs, full-hips naked.
At first I was hesitant.
“And I take everything off?”
It was a Wednesday in the middle of September and the weather was in some type of limbo between the climate extremes. And yet, the temperature of an art studio was a consistent feel of cold marble while the smell of oil pastels and paint swallowed the clean air. Under my bare feet was a concrete floor. Walking numbed my toes and chilled my spine. I was naked under my blue robe except for the goosebumps.
Sets of canvases were strategically placed around an altar-like display of bowls of fruit and other shit that beginning art students were forced to draw to practice still life. There were skeletons to practice anatomy, but I was in front of them — still a skeleton but with skin and movement in my bones — and I was there to be placed on paper. I stood before my audience, and I began to think.
I thought of the winter when I was 10 years old that I spent praying to the top of my windowsill, ‘Please, please, please let me have a B-cup by June.’ No boy or girl would see me naked that summer, but I so desperately wanted my shirts to fit tighter around my chest.
I thought of the hair on my legs that grew dark, grew coarse and grew noticeable and the enduring pleas to my mother to let me slice them off at their roots with a disposable razor.
I thought of my first year of high school when I took a shower for two hours too long because I was caught up in counting each freckle on my body, becoming more horrified with each double-digit, each triple-digit number and how ugly of a pair my pale skin and brown circles seemed to be.
I thought of my drive to my junior prom. My posture was so damn perfect because my date was not allowed to see any ounce of my stomach resting just slightly over my seat belt and God forbid he notice the expansion of my thighs against the leather seat and — shit — I forgot how long my nose looked from his point of view and I swear I did not run a single red light.
I thought of how, in an apartment overlooking South 4th Street, standing on hardwood floors two months after my 18th birthday, I stood as naked as a Renaissance painting while my body was drawn by the eyes of someone new and his kisses on my bare stomach pressed themselves into my hippocampus and when I thought of the home that is my skin, this memory melted out of my mouth.
Being naked meant taking off my blue robe in a roomful of hands clutching pencils and watching their eyes absorb me. There were artists that immediately began to draw, and most began with my skull.
Then there were those that took a step back and outlined their path: the freckle on my left toe, the freckle on my right hip, the freckle on the left side of my nose and the freckle under my left tit. If my body were a seek and find, the freckles were the words. If my body were a seek and find, my thighs wouldn’t fit.
I watched a spot on the wall while their eyes watched my diaphragm and the woman sitting to my right drew the curve of my elbow drowning in my hair and the pencil in her hand created my hand muscles.
I found the boy in front of me surveying the angle of my hips and with his pencil he measured the width of my abdomen to fit the width of his paper and for once, the eyes on my pelvic bone weren’t hungry.
I liked thinking of how my nose was constructed when it was reconstructed in the mind of someone else because my paper nose weighed less and meant less without my skin.
I liked watching the folds of my flesh overlap while someone’s wrist deciphered the petals within my pale skin.
Sometimes I forgot that I was naked.
Sometimes I held a pose too long and sat on my two feet to let them fall asleep. My arms fell to my side and all the blood sat in my fingertips, but pencils couldn’t recognize the sensation.
I have felt more naked with clothes on and a mouth full of “I’m sorry” than in a room full of strangers etching my bones.