I've been thinking for awhile about working as a nude art model. My college usually has openings for people who are paid to stand really still while naked because I don't think it's a terribly popular job. My boyfriend is a really, really talented artist (in all seriousness but he probably wouldn't want me showing you his art here) and one months back we had a conversation about art models. It probably went something like this, but with a lot more sarcasm and insults because part of the success of our relationship is the dedication we have to constantly antagonizing one another.
"We always have to draw the same two girls because there aren't many models for the art classes," he said.
"You should model," I replied.
"You wouldn't want me to."
"No, I wouldn't. I don't think I'd be comfortable with other people seeing you naked."
"Well I wouldn't want to, either."
"I should do it."
"You wouldn't care if other people saw me naked?"
"Not really. I used to get jealous and stuff but I wouldn't care now. It's not like it's sexual or anything. You'd know if you'd actually ever been to one of these classes."
"You wouldn't care?" I paused. "Well then I'm going to do it."
Driven by rage at my boyfriend's reasonable, supportive attitude and my deep-seated desire to take an opportunity to be nude in front of strangers I started to check it out. I really wanted to do this. Well, as much as anyone can want to without having tried it. Yesterday I sent an e-mail asking about openings. I haven't heard back yet, and I'm a bit nervous about what happens if I get a "yes." I'd want to do it and it's paid, but what if the moment comes where I'm standing in the middle of a circle of easels and the professor says "okay, take off the robe and get on the platform" and I just freeze and can't do it? Because you never know.
Anyway, my nervousness aside, part of what appeals to me-- other than proving to my boyfriend that I'm totally going to do it and he should stop being so reasonable and supportive about me showing my body to people in a nonsexual manner in a professional environment-- is the idea of making a statement with my nudity. According to my boyfriend, other than an old woman and an old man, the models for these classes are mostly thin young women. I'm not a thin young woman. I'm fat.
Say it with me: Vanessa is fat.
It's okay, you can say it. It's a description word, not a swear, not a slur, as much as some people want to hurt others with it. That's what I am. My thighs and butt are big. My bra could house small watermelons. My tummy is round and bulges and has a few stretch marks. My physique in general isn't exactly smooth. I'm round and short. I'm fat. That's me. It's no big deal.
What this is to me is an opportunity to shamelessly show a different body type to people who might not see it every day. A lot of people haven't-- and maybe don't want to-- see someone fat in the nude. But plenty of people have "imperfect" bodies and those bodies are just as worthy of being immortalized on canvas as any other kind. In fact I think for artists it's important to learn to depict many different kinds of figures. With thin figures there are certain challenges and with fat figures there are others.
I also see a possible opportunity to do this as another step in my constant effort to love my body as it is, even if I sometimes there are things I wish were different about it. I want to have this experience as a way to tell myself I'm okay how I am, and to reinforce that I really do think that. I don't need to hide my body. My body is no less worthy than anyone else's because of its size. The job would also be a test, though, because I would be seeing full-body depictions of myself through objective lenses. Some artists in the class as far as I hear are extremely talented and others are new and not-so-skilled. I'll have to see my body as depicted by each kind of artist as s/he sees it.
This was my boyfriend's concern, especially after a debacle we had recently about a portrait he did of my face that I wasn't too fond of (he's still getting used to drawing faces from live models).
"You know," he said, "they're going to show you how you actually look. They're not necessarily going to try to flatter you."
"I know," I said, eating a sandwich at his desk.
"Well, I mean, like, if you do a pose where you have..." He looks at me awkwardly, stumbles.
"If I have what? Rolls?"
"Uh, yeah. They'll show that. You have to be ready to see yourself how you look."
"How's that?" I watch him expectantly. He doesn't want to say the word. I know what word he's wanted to say this whole time. I use the word often enough. He reads my blog for God's sake. But it's stuck on the tip of his tongue.
"You can say it," I tell him. Nothing. "I'm fat."
"I never know if I'm allowed to say it," he says, embarrassed.
"Well I'm thinking since I've been at least relatively fat this whole three years you've been dating me and you see me naked on a regular basis you're okay with me being fat. It's not an insult, it's a descriptor."
It's a little amusing to watch him struggle to not insult me. He's been taught that "fat" is a word a girl never wants to hear-- that when a woman asks if her butt looks big you always say "no" even if the butt in question is unquestionably large. Some people's butts are big. If we all had the same size everything we wouldn't be having this conversation. My boyfriend has been taught that as a man he should never tell me I'm fat because I don't want to hear it-- and surely a lot of women don't. But it's time we got over it and took control.
So for the last time, dear readers, dear everyone, I'm fat. I'm okay with that. You can even say it out loud because it doesn't break my heart. I'm not saying you should all stop worrying about this supposedly-terrible word right away and quit the discomfort cold turkey, but start getting over it. Really, I'm serious. If people want to tell you you're fat, then fine. Is that the worst thing to be? No. If you're not fat and they're saying it as an insult (as an insult to you or anyone else, for that matter), tell them it's not cool and that fat isn't a dirty word. Tell them to stop using it to hurt people because it isn't something to be ashamed of. And if you are fat and someone says it? Well, just say "yes" and move on with your life. If you're fat, accept it as part of what you look like just like your eye color. I know this is hard and it's not a transformation that happens overnight, but think of how great it'd be to hear the word "fat" and not get depressed about it. It's awesome. For me, accepting my current weight is a huge part of engaging in a healthier, happier lifestyle.
Fat is not a four-letter-word.