I may have mentioned before that, among other things, I am a figure model by profession. I earn my money by taking off my clothes and sitting or standing very, very still in front of large groups of people. My job is harder that it looks, by the end of each class I am sore, my back aches, and I usually have cramps in places I didn’t know it was possible to have cramps, but that’s not what I’m interested in talking about. I am interested in talking about the disconnect between what I see in the mirror and what goes on paper.
When I look in the mirror I see a girl with a pretty face, and a decent body that is too fat in some places and too thin in others. I see that the big picture is passable, perhaps even attractive, but that when you look at the details I am ugly. I see every detail. I see the curve of my spine that will only get worse with time, I see the sunken dent in my chest that prevent my breasts from being all they can be, I see that my arms are like sticks, that I have a tiny bit of cellulite on my thighs, that my feet are huge and already gnarled from wearing too-high heels too often and walking too far in shoes made for standing, or better yet sitting. Every time I work, I look at myself in the full-length dressing room mirror and I wonder why it is that I feel so comfortable taking off my clothes in front of strangers who I know full well will be studying every detail and every flaw, and putting it down on paper to the best of their abilities.
I go out, and I climb onto the model stand, and the instructor tells me how long the pose will be, and I drop my robe and decide on something that will be interesting to draw from all angles, that won’t be too painful, and that might even be comfortable for however long I’ll be holding it. I rarely manage to achieve all those criteria.
Between poses I walk around and look at all the drawings of me. The girl in the drawings is not the girl I see in the mirror, and it’s always strange to me how different a drawing can look from what I see. The main difference, though, is the difference between the way the men draw me and the way the women draw me.
Women come closest to what I see in the mirror. They draw a pretty girl with flaws. They draw my stick arms, and usually my sunken chest, they draw the curve of my spine. They draw me as a pretty girl with flaws that, on paper at least, seem to make her prettier.
Men do not draw me the way women draw me. In their pictures I am perfect, the younger the man, the closer I am to what I want to look like. On their sketch pads and canvasses I gain a cup size or two. My rib cage gets corrective surgery, my already long legs get longer, my waist gets smaller, and my spine straightens. When I comment on this, they look at me as if I’m crazy. I’ve come to realize that these people genuinely don’t see all the things that are wrong with me.
I don’t really understand why this is, especially since a figure drawing class or open studio with a live model is probably the most desexualized context for nudity, there is no point in making whoever occupies the model stand sexier. It barely matters what the model looks like, but if it matters at all conventional attractiveness actually counts against figure models. While a perfect body might make a prettier picture, an ugly model with a bloated belly, cottage cheese thighs, sagging arms, and pancake breasts is more interesting to draw because she will present more of a challenge. Is it possible that people draw me so beautifully because my flaws are not noticeable to anyone but myself?
I sometimes wish that just once, for maybe an hour, that I could step outside of myself and see myself and my life the way that another person, totally removed from the situation, would see it. I hope that I would see beauty, but I often doubt it.