In which I pose nude.

Humiliating myself for fun and profit.
Dec. 15 2005 7:01 AM

Naked and the Dread

I pose nude for students. Will the art world ever be the same?

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Illustration by Nina Frenkel. Click image to expand.

An hour into my first class as a nude art model, the instructor told me to get into a pose I could hold for 20 minutes. I was on a platform in the middle of the room; about 10 students, two of them male, stood around me in a semicircle. I got down on my knees, put my forearms on the floor, and rested my head on my clasped hands. One of the men called out "Great pose!" with such enthusiasm that for the first time in that session I felt really, really naked.

Emily Yoffe Emily Yoffe

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

I recently spent two classes as a model at Washington, D.C.'s, Corcoran College of Art and Design. This was an activity that perfectly fulfilled the Human Guinea Pig mandate: to humiliate myself doing things normal people are curious about but too normal to do themselves. After I left a message at the school indicating my availability, the model coordinator, S., called me for a preliminary interview. It turned out to be no problem that I'd never modeled before—as long as I was willing to be nude for my maiden voyage.

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S. invited me for an in-person interview, where she quickly approved me then gave some crucial advice. She said I should bring a bathrobe to class to wear during breaks. "You don't want to be—" here she cupped her hands midchest, "hanging out."

I had met the two essential model requirements:

1) I owned a bathrobe.

2) I was willing to take it off.

She consulted her schedule. She penciled me in for one teacher then nixed it: "No. One of the models told me this instructor likes the models to walk around and interact with the students." Geez, was I supposed to sidle up to a young artist and say, "Is that a paintbrush in your pocket?" She considered another class, made up of freshmen, but said it was better to let experienced models deal with new students early in the semester.

I filled out the employment application, which asked for three references, although it didn't specify if these had to be people who had seen me naked. I was also given a list of guidelines, which included my right to ask that the heat be turned up and my obligation to "use proper hygiene at all times." S. settled on an evening class, consisting largely of adult-education students. I would be paid $15 an hour. I wondered why it was so hard to find and keep models. It sounded like the ideal job: earning almost three times the minimum wage just to sit on your rump.

On the appointed night I arrived early, after going through what I realized was the silly-under-the-circumstances ritual of wondering what to wear. I changed into my bathrobe in the restroom and waited in class while the students arrived. I was relieved to see they were almost all women between the ages of 20 and 60—although, disturbingly, one was a teenage boy. The instructor, M., told me to start with 10 one-minute poses. I asked if she had any particular poses in mind. She shook her head, "I never tell models what to do."

Here is the distinction between naked and nude. Naked is when you step out of the shower before you've put on your bathrobe. Nude is when you drop your bathrobe in front of a roomful of art students. As I undid the sash to my bathrobe, I had the fleeting thought that I could say, "I don't know what I was thinking," then grab my clothes and run. But I opened the sash, took off my robe, and stepped up on the platform.

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