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The Naked Truth: Things No One Tells You About Being a Nude Model

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Augustana chapter.

    So, I’ve been figure modeling for art classes for a little over a year now and I still never get tired of people’s reactions when I tell them about this job I occasionally do on the side.     Some examples of real reactions I have gotten include: Are you really 100% naked when you model? I would never have enough confidence to do something like that. Aren’t you embarrassed when you’re doing it? Do your parents know you do it? What if you have some creep in the class who just likes to stare at naked women? I’d be worried about someone taking pictures of me. Do you get paid a lot? Are you an art student? 

    Before I address these questions and concerns, let’s start with how I got involved doing this job in the first place. My grandfather, who passed away when I was in high school, was an artist and as such had done plenty of nude sketches in his lifetime. I was always drawn to the beauty of these pieces and enjoyed the idea of using figure modeling as a way of increasing my body positivity. Plus, I wanted some extra cash and I am not a huge fan of babysitting or small children (I’m much more of a fun aunt type than a motherly type). So, I started calling some local galleries and art studios asking if they needed any models for their life drawing classes. Most of them said yes, and I went from there.

    I’ve done both nude and clothed modeling for art classes. Before I started modeling, I thought standing or sitting still for a couple hours would be an awesome way to make money. I would essentially be getting paid to sit still and breathe. In actuality, modeling can be grueling work both physically and mentally. Classes usually last somewhere between two or three hours and the model has to come up with all of the poses on their own. Artists can suggest positions such as standing, sitting, or reclining, but it’s up to the model to strike a pose that is both artistically intriguing but comfortable enough to hold for an extended amount of time without cramping or worst of all, falling out of position. Mentally, models have to be able to sit with their own thoughts without fidgeting, talking, or changing their facial expressions too much. That much time alone in your own head can either be relaxing or extremely stressful depending on your mood, your schedule, and what’s going on in your personal life. The hardest class I’ve ever modeled for was when I was dumped by my boyfriend two hours before having to go to a three hour long life drawing class. Sitting in silence for hours and having nothing to distract myself from reliving the breakup over and over again in my head was not fun and arguably not worth the $40 I made. 

    Now to the main question people ask me: how can you get up on a stage completely naked in front of total strangers and let them draw you? To be honest, being nude is the easiest part of figure modeling because of all the challenges I mentioned above. Granted, de-robing in front of a room full of other people who are are intently staring at you is an unusual sensation, but it’s something that gets easier with time. There’s always a bit of nerves in the first few minutes after I take off my robe and start a new pose. Mostly because there will always be a part of my socialized brain that is screaming, “Please don’t look at me, I’m naked!” but eventually that part quiets down and I can get to work. After all, the artists are here to work too and are not paying to look at my body in any sort of sexual way–they’re here to draw, paint, or sketch. 

    This brings me to the main reason why I enjoy figure modeling so much and how I can deal with older men staring at my body for hours without wanting to throw up or cover myself. At the end of the day, it’s about the art. Although I have an immense amount of respect and admiration for people in the stripping and burlesque industry, my nudity serves a completely different purpose than theirs. My nudity is not intended to arouse; instead, I am nude so that artists can practice sketching the complete human form in order to create beautiful, realistic art in the future. I consider myself lucky to help artists hone their skills so that they can put out amazing works of art out into our world for other people to enjoy. Both myself and the artists come into the class with a purpose that extends beyond what work gets done in those few hours we share together. 

    As I had hoped when I signed up for my first nude life drawing class, I have been able to find an increased amount of body confidence through my work. I do not go into poses thinking about whether or not my arm placement will make my stomach look smaller and my breasts seem bigger or worrying about the stretchmarks on my hips. The artists simply want poses that show off the complexities of the human form–the more curves the better! Twisting and stretching and bending simply means a greater challenge for the artists and creating a position that they have never sketched before. I know they are not looking at me wondering what dress size I am, because they are too focused on details such as bone structure, shadowing, and proper limb proportions. As such, their sketches and paintings are not idealized versions of me–the works do show each one of my curves along with the true size of my hips and thighs in all their glory. But these completed works are beautiful because of their accuracy. I can look at the painting and recognize myself in it rather than looking at a painting of a perfectly slim female body and simply seeing another example of what the perfect woman looks like according to current beauty trends. 

   Plus, I’ve gotten to keep some pretty awesome sketches and paintings of myself. Talk about a conversation starter! So if you’re considering joining the world of figure modeling–go for it! It’s difficult work that is definitely not for everyone, but at the very least it’s a pretty cool thing that you get to check off your bucket list.


Joselyn Pena

Augustana '20

Augustana 2020