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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5 Things I Really Wish I Knew ~Before~ Losing My Virginity

Advice to our younger selves.
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Everyone has a first time. We're all at different stages of our lives when it happens, which impacts how we approach the situation and how we feel about it immediately after and in reflections. Some people idealize their first time, some people regret it, some people feel nothing about it. I agonized over my virginity.

I wanted nothing more than to throw it at the first willing participant. I felt that it made me someone inferior to my friends who had already had sex, like somehow I was missing out on some great secret of life or somehow I was less mature than them. I spent a lot of time wishing it would just happen, and then one day, it did when I wasn't expecting it. I don't regret my first time, but because I had wished for it to happen for so long, I had built up this image in my head of how it would be that was completely unrealistic.

So, this is for those girls like me whose imaginations get the best of them. Here are some tips to ease your worries and prepare you for what it's really going to be like.

1. It's going to be awkward.

Not just the first time, every time. No matter how much porn or how many blogs or erotic fiction you read, you will not have any idea what you're doing. The other person probably won't, either. There are too many variables, and you're both so concerned with doing it well, you'll be focused on too many things to properly control your limbs.

2. Don't think about your body.

The angles that are required for things to work leave both participants in awkward positions with limbs in strange places. Don't look at your body; don't even think about where your limbs are. Just keep your eyes and mind on the other person and what they're doing and how you're feeling. If you're feeling bad, let them know, so you can change it. If you're feeling good, enjoy it.

3. Don't do it drunk.

Not even a little tipsy, at least not for the first few times. Alcohol throws in another variable and another reason your limbs are flailing listlessly on top of other unforeseen complications. Just wait until you've had a little practice to introduce alcohol into the mix. You want to actually remember your first time and understand what's going on.

4. You're not going to feel any different after.

I expected to feel a weight being lifted or some newfound maturity, but I really didn't feel any different at all. That's because I really was just the same girl as before. Finally having lost this imaginary flower didn't make me physically any different at all.

5. You're going to feel something.

There wasn't some profound emotional release afterward, either, but I did feel a little different. Again, not in the sense that something had actually change, but I felt different because I had placed so much importance on this, on having sex, and now it had happened. I wanted there to be some big release or celebratory moment, but really, I just felt the same. I didn't even feel a little more mature or experienced. I was positive that if I ever did it again, I would still have absolutely no idea what to do (which was true).

Cover Image Credit: Seventeen

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7 Messy Things Everyone Is Guilty Of Saying After A Rough Breakup

These unhealthy (but common) habits can lead to unhealthy mindsets.

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Sometimes building the right relationship can be hard, and it is incredibly discouraging when you find yourself in a pattern of failed attempts. Throughout the process of meeting someone, it is important to not pretend to be someone else, act like you care less than you do or even blame yourself if things don't end up working out. Here are seven things that people say about relationships that--in the end--can be detrimental.

Instead, we should try to be honest with ourselves about how we feel, what we deserve and who we want to be. The best types of relationships stem from a level of vulnerability and an effort to improve and love oneself instead of relying on other people to determine your worth.

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