The Time I Got Naked

Around this time last year, I went to the Philly Naked Bike Ride. It was for the Empire Covers blog, an article about the race, why people do it, why they continue to do it and the controversy that surrounds it. I stood amongst completely naked bikers, taking pictures, and interviewing them about the experience.

I’ll never forget how carefree and brave these people were. Shameless. Serendipitously, I ran into an old friend who of course, was almost completely naked. I remember maintaining eye contact, reminding myself that he was in his underwear, so I shouldn’t look down.

It seems silly now – a guy in his boxer shorts isn’t that big of a deal. However, in this country, we’re conditioned to believe that nudity is off limits. Taboo. On television and in books, nudity is always either sexual, silly, or inappropriate. I mean, it’s against the law to be naked in public.

I’m not saying it’s wrong, it’s just how it is. Like I said, we’ve all been taught that nudity is indecent which is why perhaps, nudity tends to embarrass people. We’re raised to think that – nudity is embarrassing.

We’ve all had the ‘I’m naked and embarrassed’ dream. You’re at your high school, your church, your workplace and bam -you’re suddenly naked. You’re completely exposed. Every freckle, every oddly shaped birthmark, every spot you forgot to shave – it’s all out there, and people just stare.

Last night, that was me…. and it wasn’t a dream. For three hours, I was willingly exposed. I was buck and bare assed naked in an entire room full of strangers. For a group of artists, I took off all my clothes and let them draw me.

It takes the dream a bit further. Not only was I completely naked, their main objective was to study me. To stare at me. To examine every curve and shadow of my body, in such a way that I don’t believe anyone ever has before.

I volunteered to model mostly out of curiosity, but also perhaps, to get a little rush (and to make a little cash). I’ll admit I’ve gone streaking before for some of the same reasons. Besides those very few times, I haven’t had too many experiences with public nudity.

Leading up to my session, people I shared the news with asked the obvious questions:

“Aren’t you nervous?”

“What does Mike think?”

My parents asked the parental questions:

“Is this about money?”

“What if the drawings end up on the internet?”

All the questions and concerns were valid. I was a little nervous. Mike was comfortable with it. It wasn’t about money. Any hey, maybe some of the drawings would end up on the internet (But hey, any Google image search can show you more interesting and disturbing things).

I was kind of surprised that in those three hours, I didn’t really feel insecure. Besides a few butterflies when I took off my robe, I was relaxed. I wasn’t having very deep or insightful thoughts or ideas. I thought about my trip, thought about how cold the room was, and wondered if Mike had eaten the leftover slice of pizza I had left in the fridge.

I quickly realized, as I was posing like Rose in Titanic, it was because this wasn’t about how I saw myself. It was about how these artists were seeing me. To them, I wasn’t a writer, a blogger, a daughter, a sister, or someone’s girlfriend.

I was a naked girl. That was it. I was a subject.

draw3

 

painting

As the class went on, the artists let me look at their drawings and paintings. In some, my legs were rail thin. In others, curvy. My eyes were doe-like in one sketch, but narrowed in another. I was kind of amazed that despite the differences, in every form, I could still see myself.

sketch

They were all so incredible, but one oil painting really stood out to me. It was mostly of my back, as I leaned against a cushion. A contrast of warm and cool colors, it created a quiet, somewhat solemn tone. When I saw it, I actually gasped, and immediately asked the artist if I could buy it from her.

draw5

The practical side of me kept thinking about how I’m leaving for Iceland in a week. The last thing I needed was more stuff. However, my tortured artist side recognized the personal value in owning this one of a kind reminder, this tribute, to an exposed, vulnerable part of  myself. So I took the drawing home.

Besides fulfilling my curiousity, after this experience, I truly felt seen. For the first time, I felt as if I could see myself through another person’s eyes. Not as an object of desire, but just as a subject, a thing with shapes, colors, shadows and lines. The artists didn’t care that I have a cafe au lait birthmark on my right side, or that I’ve got elfishly small feet. I may as well have been a bowl of fruit.

Maybe it’s because of my upcoming travels overseas, but the experience left me feeling rather European about being naked. Maybe I won’t feel this way when I’m in a sea of schlongs at a nude beach, but I’m really looking forward to experiencing the various cultural differences the world has to offer.

nakedvn

*The images shared are cropped to you don’t see any of my bits. If you’re a close friend and you’re interested in seeing some of the art, let me know! 

 

 

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