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.
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.