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.
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.