In my last semester of college, I decided to become a nude model for an art class. I was only taking a few credit hours and worked evenings at a liquor store, but I was looking for another part-time job during the day to make some extra cash.
I stumbled upon an opening for a nude model for a Life Drawing class. It fit with my schedule and paid $11 an hour. So I signed up, not realizing how I would be getting a lot more from this experience than just a paycheck.
A few years prior I finally went to a counselor at my university to talk about my anxiety issues that I have had for a long time, but always ignored. My anxiety stems from my insecurity and the way people perceive me. Either I'm open to the point it's excessive, or I am so closed off that nobody gets in – both defense mechanisms for my anxiety. I was afraid of letting people see the real me and know me. Often times, in my most stressful and anxious nightmares, I was naked, fully exposed.
Naturally, I decided to make my nightmares come true, and be a nude model. In the end, the decision helped me understand my anxiety and how to control it.
1. Being naked is the most natural state of a human being.
I went into the studio, changed into a robe behind a screen, and then waited for class to begin. As I'm waiting, Kathleen comes in. Kathleen, an elderly woman with blue hair, was the second model. I didn't know there would be a second model, but the instructor got excited there were two of us and had to rearrange the platform. Once we were ready, Kathleen walks right up to the platform, takes off her robe with ease, and sits on the box. I quickly took off my robe and leaned against the box she was sitting on. To my surprise, I didn't get red and blotchy like I do when I get nervous.
Immediately, as people looked at me to draw, I started to think about what I wanted to write, and I forgot that eyes were on me. We took a five-minute break every twenty minutes for about three hours. During the second twenty-minute session, I started to forget I was naked. During the breaks, we put our robes back on because as the coordinator said, "It's easy to go from being a nude model to a naked person in the room." Even so, walking around in a robe or sitting naked felt so natural. I felt no shame, no discomfort, none of that. I actually felt proud of myself, and it makes sense, because being naked is so natural.
2. Nudity and art go hand in hand.
A bunch of eyes were on me. And yet, I wasn't looked at sexually or critically, which is how nudity is so commonly viewed. I was a piece of art, and it's pretty cool to be a piece of art. I didn't feel objectified either because art is more than just objects. The class is meant to focus on the human body and shape. In reality, you can probably get the body and shape fine in certain pieces of clothing, but art captures the naturalness, and that's what the artists in this class did. They actually made me feel good, and their work turned out to be remarkable, which in turn made me feel remarkable.
3. I am in control of my body.
As someone who is not the most muscular, I had to sit still in the same position for three hours, with only a few breaks every twenty minutes. I've stood for longer than twenty minutes, but being still for that long was something that worried me. I realized how in control of my body I actually was. I didn't feel any strain. The only time something hurt was when I was on one knee for a three minute sketch and there was nothing under to support it. Overall, my body posed with ease.
4. Time to think is time to meditate.
I felt good after the whole class period the first day for different reasons, but one reason specifically was since I couldn't do anything except for sit, I had plenty of time to think. It was like meditation. I had time to think about all the things I had to do for that week, when and how I was going to do those things. I thought about the things that were worrying me and managed to calm my nerves about them. I also had time to brainstorm and think out my ideas for the fiction stories that I am writing. At the end, I felt refreshed and ready for the whole week.
Every stretch mark, every roll or extra curve, every blemish, every wild hair – were all new and interesting details to draw for the artists.
5. My imperfections are artistic.
Every stretch mark, every roll or extra curve, every blemish, every wild hair - were all new and interesting details to draw for the artists. They didn't look at me to judge me. They looked at me to create me on paper. After the session, I looked at some of the work and even though they may have drawn stomach rolls or my messy hair, it didn't look bad. I didn't look bad. These imperfections were just more to the drawing, and more to me as well. It made me realize that these imperfections weren't imperfections at all. They're just a part of who I am, and without them what would the artist have to draw?
6. Nudity is beautiful at any age.
Having the second model Kathleen there made me much more comfortable, but she also made me realize nudity isn't only for young people. As I said about imperfections above, every mark or line on us is just another detail and tells another part of us. The pieces that focused on Kathleen more were stunning, and the personality that Kathleen gave showed how being confident in yourself can really work wonders the older you get.
7. Being naked and feeling naked are very different.
I think everyone gets the feeling that they're "naked," or where they feel exposed in some sort of way. Feeling naked and being naked are different. Feeling naked can happen when you're not naked at all; it's this feeling that someone is seeing something that you don't want them to see. That feeling can also, of course, happen when someone is naked. If someone is peeping in a bedroom window then that's voyeurism, and it's not consensual because the person in that room did not give consent to being looked at.
I was comfortable. I realized I was comfortable with being naked because I gave consent to be naked.
I was expecting to feel naked and get all red and embarrassed. However, I didn't. I was comfortable. I realized I was comfortable with being naked because I gave consent to be naked. So often we label nudity as taboo and that it be a private matter, but I let those artists see me naked and it was perfectly okay. It really emphasized how important consent is and I wanted to reiterate that in this article because comfort is crucial.
8. I can overcome my anxiety.
As I said above, I made my anxiety-fueled nightmares come true by being a nude model. It's obviously different in real life, but nonetheless, it really put my anxieties into perspective. I've made a lot of progress already with my mental health, but by confronting the physical representation of my mental fears, it ended up helping me realize that it's okay if people know things about me, see my vulnerable side, and see my imperfections - because what is an imperfection to me might actually just be another fine detail to someone else.
Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl
There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.
So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.
I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.
For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.
Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.
Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.
"My Lifelong Partner"
Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."
While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.
This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.
In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.
Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.
The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.
Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.
So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.
Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.
Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.
Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.
Being powerful is a big responsibility.
To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.
While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.
© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019