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 have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."