Art modeling reframes body image, desexualizes nudity

8656076709_9079cfcfe8_kWhen considering campus employment options, the jobs which might seem most appealing are those which require the least amount of work for the most profit. Given those criteria, working as an art model, on the surface, could be said to fit the bill—at $10 an hour, it is among the highest paid work study jobs. However, like most things, it’s harder than it looks.

Not only does the job require students to be comfortable being nude in front of their peers, it requires the ability to remain still for an extended amount of time. Not the easiest of tasks, said model Rocky Schwartz ’15.

“I don’t think people realize that it actually is hard work and can be very painful or physically exhausting,” she wrote in an emailed statement.

Joel Auerbach ‘15, another model, agreed, stating, “This job requires someone who is comfortable spending a great deal of time immobile, in occasionally difficult positions, alone with their own thoughts.”

Though the discipline the job requires can be tiring, Schwartz knew what she was getting into—she had previously modeled, clothed, for art classes in high school. Nonetheless, for Schwartz, the job is not without its occasional surprises.

She recounted, “During an admitted students weekend, I was modeling nude for two students in one of the Ely studios, with the door closed. I heard what I assume was a prospective student’s mother getting a tour of Ely from a Vassar student, just the two of them. I thought I was in the clear when they walked past the room I was in and into the other studio. My back was to the door, but I was facing a mirror. I watched in the mirror as suddenly the door knob turned and I heard the mother gasp as the student, out of my line of vision, said ‘Oh, sorry, Rocky!’ and closed the door. I still have no idea who the student was, but she knew me!”

Another day, Shwartz came to work only to find there was a male student scheduled to model with her that she didn’t know about. “I got over it quickly,” Schwartz said.

While some might deem these encounters awkward, both Schwartz and Auerbach maintained that baring all for your classmates is not as uncomfortable as one would think. Part of the misconception is that nudity is always a sexual matter, Auerbach said. “Some people might think of it in a hypersexualized way, but for the most part that’s their own problem. The atmosphere of the class is such that no one is reacting to you as if you’re naked at all, and I never encountered any untoward behavior or attitudes in class,” he stated.

Alexandra Bowditch ’15, an art student, echoed these sentiments, saying that she has never had any issues when it came to reframing nudity for an artistic setting—and neither did her peers.“My first experience drawing nude models was at Vassar; I didn’t have any reservations about it and I have known a couple of the models personally. People are always mature about it,” she said, mentioning there has never been any awkwardness when she saw the students who had modeled for her class outside of the studio.

“I have never experienced any uncomfortability seeing people I’ve modeled for. Some of them have become good friends,” said Auerbach, adding, “Nothing like being forced to stare at someone naked for two hours to bring people together.”

For Schwartz, encountering students she’s modeled for outside of the studio is only as uncomfortable as they make it. She said, “The students and I became so familiar with each other we would smile and wave when we saw each other around. At the end of the semester, a lot of that class was in Hair, so I like to think it all evened out.”

Being an art model turned out to be not just an opportunity to become intimately familiar with her peers, but also as a way to become more familiar with her body.

“Sometimes I’ll be in one position for hours. In a way, I consider it a form of meditation. I am hyperaware of how my body feels, but also aware of how unaware of it I am. I’ve learned that any itch will go away if you wait long enough…I’ve learned how long it takes for blood to come back to a numb limb and how to stand so I don’t feel faint. It has been incredibly informative,” said Schwartz.

Schwartz added that she thinks modeling is not only any excellent way to appreciate the limits one’s own body, but also an effective way to combat much larger issues, “…Our culture attaches significance to our bodies that may not reflect our experiences and then uses that to control what our bodies should look like, how we should cover them, who has access to them, etc. I see art modeling as the first step in breaking from this,” she said, emphasizing that fighting body insecurities is a great perk of the job. Schwartz said, “Having a room full of people looking at what makes you insecure and then depicting it in beautiful works of art is a very good way to get over body image issues.”

As an artist, Bowditch said she had a very similar experience. “I think drawing the naked body is a great, classic way to learn to draw people. It’s really helped me to improve in my drawings and it’s also made me appreciate all different body types and has made me more comfortable with the body,” she said.

In fact, the wider range of body types, the more opportunity there is for an artist to grow, Bowditch stated. “Studying different bodies makes it easier to render different types of people rather than making ideal, iconic or symbolic figures—for example, making people look less cartoony more realistic. Definitely more unique [bodies] are more interesting to draw!” she said. Bowditch concluded, “It’s really just a great way to appreciate the human body for what it is and hopefully translate that appreciation into a beautiful rendering of art.”

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