Nude Modeling Helped Me Take My Body Back

Nude Modeling Helped Me Take My Body Back

I saw myself through someone else's eyes.
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For two years, I worked for my university’s art department as a nude model for drawing and painting classes. It truly wasn't glamorous — my hair would be in a messy bun, or greasy from sleeping, I never wore make up and maybe I shaved my legs. It was part-time work, usually early in the morning. For college students, 7:30 a.m. is really early.

I had recently transferred and a friend I knew from high school told me the art department was hiring models. Broke and with time, I had nothing to lose if I applied. I remember the mint green form that I filled out to apply for the position, with two check boxes at the top that read, “Interested in:__ nude modeling __clothed modeling.” I could see the receptionist smirking because she knew exactly what I was looking at. Almost as if to gauge whether or not each applicant knew what they were getting themselves into. Did my friend mention nude modeling? How many vodka sodas did I have that night?

One part of me was absolutely terrified. Another part of me wanted to take a chance. Being in a new place, at a new school, I was feeling freer than usual. I walked around campus with my head held higher. No one knew me. Up until that point, I was losing sight of what I thought I knew about me. This was my moment to reintroduce me to myself.

Nude modeling, sign me up.

I gripped that mint green form tighter in my hand as I walked it over to the receptionist. Maybe if I squeezed the paper hard enough, the “X” would jump from one box to the other. One foot in front of the other, I got really nervous approaching the desk and blurted, “I’ll be a naked one!” Oh jeez. I handed her the form with my eyes on the floor; she fought back laughter with her toothy grin. I would have laughed at me, too. She thanked me for filling it out and she told me that I would be contacted to set up my work schedule.

I walked out of the art department immediately asking myself, “What did you just do?”

Two months before was the first time that I vocalized that I needed help with my eating disorder. I was at the forefront of a battle over my body and my mind. Half of me desperate to get out of the trap that was my skin, flesh and bones – needing something, anything, to make me love myself again. The other half of me telling me that my sacrifice, my strict diet and dedicated workout routines would eventually make me love me again.

The first time I stepped up onto that podium, completely vulnerable, I actually felt comfort from the eyes watching me. I stood under three large lights, brushing warmth onto my shoulders. 12 students set up in a circle around me, with easels seasoned with paint spots and canvas stretched around wood frames. 24 eyes traced the lines my skin created. No instructions outlined quite yet, and the room patiently waited for the professor.

I was introduced and each person in the room shared a nod or small gesture of politeness with me. The professor thanked me for my time and then explained to the students what he expected of them.

What he expected from them.

Not me. For once.

Painting by unknown student from Western Washington University

Halfway through the three-hour session, we took a 15-minute break. The artist had the opportunity to clean out their brushes and I had a moment to shake out my limbs. In a robe I brought with me, I walked the perimeter of the studio circle. I spent a few minutes at each canvas, examining the shape of each body on the canvas. At first I was afraid of what I would see. I was afraid I was going to see my worst self, my ugliest – but I wasn’t looking in a mirror.

Instead, I saw collections of colors that danced together to paint the picture of a woman reborn. This was the first time I saw myself through someone else's eyes. I saw myself portrayed with grace and not hate. I moved from canvas to canvas like the hour hand from a clock moves from number to number: slower than the other hands. I stood behind each canvas, taking in the new me. I peered over each canvas to place myself back up on the podium and I saw a woman sitting taller and stronger. This was more powerful than any mirror.

After I left my first shift, I cried in the bathroom on the basement level of the library. I was overwhelmed by the kindness I felt from absolute strangers. I was seeing my body in its reality for the first time in years, and it was nothing to be ashamed of. I was completely floored from finally being free from my fantasy of everyone else's expectations of my body. I felt love and acceptance from people whose names I didn’t know.

I want to reach out to my readers and ask for your help. It's been a couple of years since I've posed on that podium; the artists that I worked with have most likely graduated and moved forward with their lives. I am desperate to give credit to the artist that helped me through a dark period in my life. I would like to thank them for the freedom that I gained through their work. I never spent much time talking to the artist due to social anxieties associated with my struggles. I only ever asked for their permission to take these photos and never made honest connections or friendships. If you or anyone you know was ever a part of the Western Washington University Art Department, please help me find the artist in any way you can so I can credit them for their empowering work.

Cover Image Credit: Ashley-Nichole Holland

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An Open Letter To The Girl Trying To Get Healthy Again

"I see you eating whatever you want and not exercising" - Pants
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Dear girl trying to get back in shape,

I know it's hard. I know the hardest thing you may do all day is walk into the gym. I know how easy it is to want to give up and go eat Chicken McNuggets, but don't do it. I know it feels like you work so hard and get no where. I know how frustrating it is to see that person across the table from you eat a Big Mac every day while you eat your carrots and still be half of your size. I know that awful feeling where you don't want to go to the gym because you know how out of shape you are. Trust me, I know.

SEE ALSO: To The Girl Trying To Lose Weight In College


The important thing is you are doing something about it. I'm sure you get mad at yourself for letting your body get this out of shape, but life happens. You have made a huge accomplishment by not having a soda in over a month, and those small changes are huge. I understand how hard it is, I understand how frustrating it is to not see results and I understand why you want to give up. Being healthy and fit takes so much time. As much as I wish you could wake up the day after a good workout with the 6 pack of your dreams, that just isn't the reality. If being healthy was easy, everyone would do it, and it wouldn't feel so good when you got there.

Remember how last January your resolution was to get back in the gym and get healthy again? Think about how incredible you would look right now if you would have stuck with it. The great thing is that you can start any time, and you can prove yourself wrong.

Tired of starting over? Then don't give up.

You are only as strong as your mind. You will get there one day. Just be patient and keep working.

Nothing worth having comes easy. If you want abs more than anything, and one day you woke up with them, it wouldn't be nearly as satisfying as watching your body get stronger.

Mental toughness is half the battle. If you think you are strong, and believe you are strong, you will be strong. Soon, when you look back on the struggle and these hard days, you will be so thankful you didn't give up.

Don't forget that weight is just a number. What is really important is how you feel, and that you like how you look. But girl, shout out to you for working on loving your body, because that shit is hard.

To the girl trying to get healthy again, I am so proud of you. It won't be easy, it will take time. But keep working out, eating right, and just be patient. You will be amazed with what your body is capable of doing.

Cover Image Credit: Stock Snap

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Dealing With Self-Harm And Overcoming It

Mental health matters and overcoming it is possible.

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Recently, there has been a controversy over whether mental illness is a real illness or not. After dealing with depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts since I was 13, I can give my opinion that mental illness IS, in fact, an illness.

This past Monday, I reached an extensive milestone in my life. I am now one year clean of self-harm. Whenever my issue first arose, I never believed I would be able to pass it. I believed that it would be something I dealt with for the rest of my life. Mental illness is not something that you choose. It pops up out of the blue one day and takes control of your life. You let it manipulate you and take advantage of your weaknesses and hold power over you. I let it hold power over me for six years. Finally, I found the courage to break out of that manipulation and take control of my own life again.

Self-harm was a part of my routine for such a long time that I never expected it to go away. It was there in my times of sadness, my times of anger, and my times of need. I believed it to be my only source of comfort. I believed that it would solve all of my problems. In the end, I found out I was wrong. Hurting and damaging myself and leaving behind scars was not going to help me out of this state of mind, even if it felt like my only option. I had to hide underneath sweaters and jackets and cardigans for so long that I didn't want to do it anymore. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and hoodies in the dead of summer and being asked why I was wearing them never got easier. I figured the first step in starting my recovery was to stop hiding who I was and to let my scars be free.

Being free was what I decided to do. I let my scars be seen, which was completely terrifying at first. I thought that everyone around me would notice them and have something to say about me. I expected to be called a freak. Luckily, no one even noticed. That was almost comforting to me–to realize that I didn't need to hide what wouldn't be noticed. After a while, though, those closest to me took notice. They asked me "Why would you do this to yourself?" over and over again with tears in their eyes. I told them that I felt like it was my only solution to deal with all the hurt and the pain I had collected over the years. That's when I noticed I wasn't hurting just myself. That was when I decided to try becoming a happier and healthier person.

Now here I am, one year later: No self-harm, no thoughts of suicide, and feeling less depressed and anxious. I took back control of my own life. Being public about my problems was something I never believed I would do, but I realized that it actually helped me grow as a person. It was freeing to be able to share my experiences and not be embarrassed. Sure, every once in a while I had a few mental breakdowns, but I held back the "need" to harm myself to make the pain go away.

I turned to another thing to make the pain go away: My friends. I never realized how much love I had around me. I always pushed it away. I had someone to listen to me and help get me through my tough time. I didn't need to keep everything bottled up and harm myself to make it feel better. I had love and comfort–two of the strongest things in the world. I had finally started on the road to health and happiness and I wasn't making any pit stops along the way.

Mental illness occurs more often than you think and signs are being shown everywhere. If you know someone suffering, don't be afraid to reach out and give them some help or just a shoulder to cry on. If you or a person you know is having suicidal thoughts, please don't be afraid to call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

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