I used to make a bit of money from stripping and from figure modeling when I was young. I can’t imagine anyone wanting me to do a pole dance these days but figure modeling is an option at any age. Art classes are about drawing the human body in all of its conditions, not just the young and the beautiful. I might take it up again. While stripping for a divorce party (they are a thing) calls for a complete lack of inhibition, modeling for an art class requires great control and decorum. It can be quite prudish.
Maybe this story has nothing to do with the problems of aging. Maybe it’s derelict memories of an almost-old man percolating up. Maybe the figure modeling experience of young-adult-me is TMI. Given the other posts I’ve made, I can’t imagine it would be so.
So this has some nude images in it of me as a younger man, 45 years ago. Some quasi-sexual content (I’m sure someone will see it as a sexual fantasy. Feel free.) But it is as true as my memory can be. At the time it was a horrible experience. It turned into a personal triumph, if an odd one.
You’ve been warned. Slightly NSFW.
End of rant.
As a child I had always loved nudity. I would have been the kid who wouldn’t keep his clothes on except for the extremely conservative nature of my community and my family. I think it was one of the aspects of my Asperger’s. Or perhaps I hated the feel of textiles on my skin. Or perhaps I was really obsessed with freedom, honesty, and acceptance. We are the freest and most visually honest when we are naked. If you aren’t accepted naked, you really aren’t accepted.
I also knew it was a very serious taboo with some very painful consequences.
I have read that many Aspies dislike the texture of fabric against their skin. I have also read that it is not rare for those whose autism is slightly more pronounced to simply remove all their clothing at inopportune times. OTOH there are Aspies who are positively phobic about nudity.
“My mind was constantly whirring with thoughts, worries, and concerns. The time spent with my obsession was the only time in which I had a clear mind – it gave me that much sought-after relaxation.”
Young person with Asperger syndrome,
I had two great obsessions in my life. One was nudity. That one goes back to my very earliest memories. The other was science. They both gave me a clear mind and a relaxed state. Science as a career was lost to me when I found myself psychologically incapable of pursuing the required curriculum at the age when I needed to do it but my interest never abandoned me.
When I got old enough to drive, I became an accomplished streaker. 😉
As an 18-year-old freshman, I went to Oakland U, in Michigan. I failed miserably in the classes I took. I was depressed and unable to focus and even had to fight a bully in the dorm. My very closest brush with suicide was sitting in a window on the 9th floor, debating the idea. I also met a 27-year-old art student. We fell in love with each other and I moved in with her – which may well have saved my life.
I had a lot of “firsts” that year. First time of being completely free of parental control. First science fiction convention. First (and only) time of being chased by cops for streaking. (I got away.) First time smashing drunk, first time used psychedelic drugs stronger than pot. The second semester was my first nude theater in a college production of Hair.
The first semester, on the very first week, was also my first experience with figure modeling and particularly with nudity in a coed environment. In fact, my first social nudity of any kind outside of a locker room.
I was due some work-study hours and figure modeling was an option. On my own for the first time, this opportunity seemed heaven-sent. A chance to bring my nudity out of the closet and into the world and I was ecstatic. The very first time I did it, I’ll admit it was worse than a hot mess. There was no harm in what happened – but there was very high anxiety at the time. Now it is just an interesting memory.
When I picked figure modeling for my work-study, I had imagined a large classroom
with a fair amount of separation between (mostly male) students and the model. I think I may have seen a generic scene in a movie or read something in a book, so I was making up expectations out of whole cloth.
Heads popping out intermittently from behind easels. A platform with a curtain of some sort beside it into which I’d duck behind to change. A couple of floodlights in my eyes and a space heater to stay warm. (This was autumn in Michigan during the peak of the energy crisis, after all.)
The actual classroom’s floor was 3 feet below grade with windows from that level to the ceiling as the primary light. Students wandered by randomly outside, en route to classes. Inside, it was maybe 12×20 feet. I was in the center, surrounded on three sides by a mostly female group of a dozen upper-division students. The closest was an arms length away.
The platform was maybe 3ft. x 3ft. The easels were at an angle that didn’t obstruct anyone’s view in the slightest. No changing room or curtain and no robe or towel. No heater either. Just my clothes folded up neatly on the floor at their feet. nothing to use for a prop.
Two-hour classes with a 10-minute long break on the hour and very brief breaks between poses. I felt claustrophobic, nervous, exposed and quite vulnerable. It was comfortable only to someone in a sweater and I was shivering far more from nerves than the cold.
A situation guaranteed to produce maximum shrinkage, right? I soldiered on.
The Prof was somewhere else most of the time, only showing up a couple times to critique the charcoal sketches.
I was the very last person to realize it had happened. There was much giggling and whispering and grinning before I realized why. And then I looked down and noticed…
Suddenly I was blushing hotly, despite the cold room. The “problem” immediately maxed out. I closed my eyes, tried to calm myself, bit my lip for distraction, and thought about homework to try and bring things down. Fail.
Just ignore those giggling and tittering coeds …
Stray thoughts about attractive coeds probably started it and the class’ reaction did nothing to diminish it. The fear of being ridiculed for it, in turn, created anxiety. Anxiety opened the floodgates. My heart was starting to pound and my head to throb. I felt unsteady. Hot blush was replaced by a cold clammy sweat. My stomach was in a knot and I could hardly keep my breath.
At last I had made it thru to my 10-minute break, the half-way point.
Modeling for life drawing needs a calm and neutral mindset. You are going to be on display for a “serious” reason. It is as asexual as it gets. People will be seeing at you as a figure and artistic subject, not a flesh and blood hormonal human. Might as well be a bowl of fruit. No shock, no awe, no eroticism, no arousal on either side of the easel.
You are expected to be a mannequin during your pose and there will be many poses in every position from a minute to an hour. It is difficult. Humans are not designed to stay perfectly stationary. It takes strength, flexibility, and patience. A complete “Zen” state is ideal. And the ability to keep one’s mind occupied or you’ll be bored to death.
It wasn’t going down regardless of vigorous efforts over the break. It was stuck in the fully upright position for takeoff. Never had that happen before. My little FTW demon kicked in. Once you stop caring, anything is possible.
Against all logic, I returned to the class to pose. In the bathroom, I had recontextualized my situation. I got angry at the class for how I imagined they were ridiculing me. I got angry at the instructor for how I thought he was judging me. I got angry at God and the universe and my parents and society for making me such a reject. I changed my response to the adrenaline. It had been fear and shame and now was anger and defiance. FTW!
After class, the instructor grumbled. Can’t have that happening in the class! But he understood it was a combination of nervousness and novelty and not an intentional act of auto-eroticism and let me continue if I promised not to let things get so out of hand again. (He may also not have had another model. Kept me busy all year.)
Next class session I apologized and asked around. None of the students said they’d been offended. (Of course, someone could have been uncomfortable with it but unwilling to say so. Nobody had complained to the Prof.) They reassured me and laughed good-naturedly.
One said I was obviously hyper-nervous and he was glad as hell he wasn’t up there in the altogether. Another joked that I was blushing so red she’d wanted to use red conte instead of charcoal. Artists are the most understanding and compassionate people in the world regarding social nonconformity. (I’m just glad they weren’t first-years.)
I tried to take poses that minimized the view should something come up. Wasn’t needed – well at least not as much. (The attractive coeds’ giggles weren’t helping.)
The third time was a charm and my nervousness was gone. Eyes open, lips healing from bites, a natural smile returning to my face, I was even able to walk among the students. I engaged them as human beings, talking about their drawings and asking suggestions for posing. Got a couple of drawings from one of them, a 60-year-old woman returning to school for the hell of it. They are posted here. And making $10/hr. which was not chicken scratch in 1974.
Prof finally set up a couple of lights and pulled the shades. That helped too.
Both the anxiety and the later anger were a complete waste of energy. All that storm and fury in my head, yet all anyone saw was a first-timer who was shaking from nerves, got slightly aroused and then turned beet red and maxed out. Just a funny blip on the radar of life. Their blip, my panic attack.
We so often see ourselves thru other people’s eyes and impute to them the very reaction we are most afraid to encounter. It comes of a lifetime of not being able to read the subtle signals and having to assume the worst. It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. This time it wasn’t.
We forget that while we are the center of our own worlds, we are peripheral to everyone else. We can be in crisis over some aspect of our appearance while the casual observer doesn’t really care. Reasonable people are disinterested parties.
If it had happened today would someone have called it sexual harassment? Would women have been “triggered” by my being triggered? Would the instructor have had the liberty to keep me on? It was the peak of the “sexual revolution”. College and students seemed so much less hung up about everything back then than now. The Woodstock ethos was still in full bloom.
Nobody had dropped the class, nobody acted uncomfortably, nobody had complained to the Prof, and he hadn’t fired me. Even got a good reference, a real affirmation. The demon was happy.
I do not advocate for trigger free zones. I advocate overcoming trigger issues and trying to be compassionate to those still in that process.
To be able to be naked and not worry about other people’s response was lovely. Just wearing the uniform for the job. Wow! The anxiety never returned and now it was just fun. I did a lot more modeling for a decade after that (till I got a real job at Lockheed) for anyone who’d sketch, paint or photograph me, plus the odd stripper gigs. Discovered the LA Nudist/Naturist scene and continued doing long nude hikes in the backcountry.
And at least I was closer to where I wanted to be. Naked and accepted. Not naked and afraid.
What I wanted was the freedom to be me, anytime I wanted, as well as the confidence. I learned confidence as a model. When I moved to California I found some limited freedom and accidentally stumbled into self-acceptance. Today, with blogging and all, writing and posting became a kind of ongoing self-care that never ends. I’m a nudie forever, just not obsessed and fearful as I was 45 years ago.
I’ll also be dealing with ADD, Asperger’s, and depression as well for the rest of my life and blogging helps a lot.
I guess in some ways I am still searching for worldly acceptance of “me”, yet I know I’ll never completely find it.