Admired by the shy and disapproved of by the uncomfortable, posing nude is an experience I recently accepted and embraced with an initial goal of learning about the artistic process that later grew into a significant challenge of my sense of self and concept of beauty.
Women are taught to conceal our skin from prying and/or admiring eyes and keep our private parts...well...private. And, of course, that's perfectly logical -- we all have fluctuating levels of comfort when it comes to our bodies.
However, it's important to examine the root of that sentiment to assure our weariness is derived from our own judgment and not that of others around us.
For many women, this apprehension to reveal "too much" stems less from the desire to keep the "goods" away from the undeserving and more from fear of what our audience might think, say or do -- heaven forbid they disapprove of or criticize what they see.
Which is precisely why being painted nude can be a life-changing, perception-altering experience for not just the model but every set of eyeballs that fall on the final piece.
It's an honor to be asked, and I accepted the offer before my brain had a chance to question it. Little did I know that three days later I'd find myself kneeling naked on a couch an hour after the sudden end of my relationship.
It's easy to confuse depicting the angles and curves of the human form as an erotic experience. And for some it can be, providing the model an opportunity to express her sexuality with an exhibitionist slant and the artist a chance to convey that physical response on paper.
But the artist for whom I was about to pose instead captures a moment and its accompanying emotion as quickly as it comes, often completing a painting within 20 minutes and quickly swapping it out for fresh parchment on which to catch whatever the model sends next.
So I found myself sitting, drinking the last of a cappuccino, and wearing a silk robe that had draped the curves of more than a few women before me. I calmly waited for the cue to remove it and feel on my skin the effects of the studio's cool air and the chill manner in which my (ex)boyfriend had abruptly said, "Goodbye."
Earlier that morning I had eaten a giant muffin to feed my appetite and growing anxiety, knowing and accepting the imminent bloat that would later be captured forever in paint. But the tummy bulge in which I, a Los Angeleno who agonizes over body image, saw sabotage, the artist saw femininity, which he later pointed out unabashedly and appreciatively as he squiggled a line to represent the belly fold then accentuated by my seated position.
Soon I was no longer concerned that the artist would illustrate the doughiness that months of an unhealthy relationship had left on my ass and thighs. Because when he did, it was depicted with the curve of his charcoal or sweep of his brush as a simple celebration of the -- my -- female form having provided him another unique shape to capture.
And what resulted was a collection of five simple paintings showcasing five very different poses with a surprising lack of nudity. The folds, lumps, arcs and dangly bits that the artist consciously chose to feature -- and leave out -- varied in each, and the angles on which he focused challenged what I, and likely many of you, would traditionally consider beautiful.
But most importantly the artist recognized the conflicting feelings of grief, disbelief and relief that radiated from my eyes, skin and mouth as I (unsuccessfully) attempted to maintain a neutral, peaceful demeanor throughout.
And that was the point. It didn't matter if my breasts fell in perfect symmetry or that my hips formed a proper S-curve. The artist paints to seize irreplicable moments in time while challenging the expectations of the viewer, and that's precisely what he did.
I traveled home a day later, and in place of my now former lover's hand I held a large tube that contained our session's final painting, which depicted a pose we decided to portray on a whim before he packed up his supplies and I put back on the silk robe.
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On my knees, bent at the waist, head hanging, hands clutching opposite arms. To the naked eye, a position like this easily represents surrender, despair, fatigue. But the artist simply titled it, "Strength."
It's true what they say, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But so are fortitude, certainty and spirituality, and it doesn't matter whether or not you believe you're capable of manifesting any or all of the above.
Because when you're the muse or model, the above-mentioned beholder is the artist for whom you're posing. Just be prepared for the unexpected.
Want to see more? Admire the artist's gallery at BrunoArt.ca.