“Nudity is optional.”
I’m not sure how often you see that when you’re given instructions and guidelines for an upcoming workshop. But I suppose it’s to be expected when you sign up for a figure modeling workshop with Sunday Nudes.
One day, my friend Dear Prudence posted on Facebook, asking if anyone would be interested in a nude modeling workshop. My friend had been modeling for years, and I wanted to know what it was like. To my surprise, I found myself signing up.
At 36, I’m a wife and a mother. But first and foremost, I’m a writer, curious about the world, about people, about the things they do. I’m always asking questions, trying to strip away layers, looking for something interesting.
I’m not used to being on the other end of that scrutiny. When I speak in front of a crowd, I break out into a cold sweat. I choke on my words. There are butterflies in my stomach. I’m not used to people looking at me, studying me, peering too closely. It’s terrifying!
So why did I volunteer to take off my clothes in front of strangers? I couldn’t really explain it. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like it was something I had to do.
I was always telling other people—women, especially—to love themselves and their bodies, but every time I looked in the mirror, I only saw my flab, my C-section scar, my breakouts.
I always told others that they should do the things they’re afraid of, that they should try new things. But every time I was on the verge of something new, anxiety and a crippling fear of failure ate me up.
I loved my job, but I was always afraid of never being good enough. I loved motherhood, but I feared that it was erasing everything else I was.
The more I thought about it, the stronger I felt about it. Perhaps stripping off the clothes meant stripping away the anxiety, the fear, the negativity.
As the day of the workshop drew near, Dear Prudence sent instructions to the participants: what to bring, what we would be doing, and what we should prepare.
Dear Prudence told us to prepare options for easy poses that we could hold for 10 to 15 minutes. “This need not be in the nude,” she said many times.
The week before the workshop, I started practicing, sitting this way or that, trying to hold still, seeing what was comfortable. I rummaged through my closet for scarves that could be draped over me, and a robe to wear between poses. I even brought a short sword, because I wanted to do some sort of martial arts pose!
Beyond that, there wasn’t really much to prepare. I was going to take off my clothes and sit still. It couldn’t be that hard, right? But the night before the workshop, I couldn’t sleep. I was excited and nervous. Why on earth was I doing this again?
On the day of the workshop, I arrived at the venue early, with my husband and my son. Soon, Dear Prudence was there too, as well as the other first-time model and the artists. With the friendly introductions came short back-stories: why pose, why draw, why nudes. Everyone was nice and eager to help and to learn. We talked about the Sunday Nudes sessions, and Dear Prudence talked about her years of experience as a model. I sat on a rug, in the middle of the half-circle where the artists were seated, listening and laughing and trying to ignore the butterflies in my stomach.
Until it was time to pose.
I took off my dress and changed into a robe, and sat down, and tried to get comfortable. It felt like the longest, most nerve-wracking 10 minutes of my life. How did I look? Was I worth sketching? What were the artists looking at? Oh God why did I do this?
After our first poses, we sat with Dear Prudence and the other artists and talked about the experience. We laughed over my stiff neck, and I wondered out loud, where was I supposed to look while I was posing?
The artists talked about what made a good sketching session, and it was this discussion that tore down my fears and calmed my nerves. One young artist talked about people who posed for them at school, and how they were tired of seeing the same body types, the same faces, the same standards of beauty. Another artist said, “We’re looking for shapes. We’re looking for something interesting.” They talked about the challenges of drawing fabric versus skin and muscle. They talked about watching the model’s face and being captivated not by their beauty, but by the energy they brought with them.
For my second pose, I decided that I would try lying down. Surely that would be more comfortable, even if I had to lie still for 15 minutes!
It wasn’t! Even with pillows underneath me, my arms went numb, and my joints were so stiff. My muscles felt like they had frozen into place. But the physical discomfort was a small price to pay for the peace and quiet in my head.
After the feedback from the artists, I felt so much more comfortable lying there, barely clothed. There was freedom in simply posing, and letting them observe me, study me, draw me, without expecting anything from me, without asking who I was and what I’d done. There was joy in simply being, curious but no longer fearful or anxious about what they would see, what they would commit to paper.
After 15 minutes, I sat on the floor a little while, stretching, moving my limbs, trying to get circulation back in my arms. As the artists finished their work, Dear Prudence asked what changed between my first and my second pose, because apparently I was visibly more relaxed.
I was so happy, and I felt so safe and comfortable, that for my last pose, I decided to remove my robe.
I sat naked for 15 minutes so that strangers could draw me, and it was wonderful.
It’s hard to explain how happy it made me. It was wonderful to not care about my flab or my C-section scar. It was liberating to simply be, without expectations or obligations.
It was overwhelmingly joyful, and I think I’ll do it again.
For more information about Sunday Nudes, follow them on Instagram.
To follow Regina’s figure modeling journey, visit her Instagram.