The perspective of a figure-drawing model: Our bodies are art, not objects

By Meredith Wagner | Social Media Editor

A single lightbulb above my head casts precise shadows over my outstretched limbs. I hear nothing but the scratches of charcoal on drawing pads and the occasional pencil dropping. I can do nothing but breathe.

I didn’t sign up to pose half-naked in front of my classmates because I felt adequate, or because I thought it would bring any sort of gratification. I wanted to know what it felt like to show my skin and feel, well, human. I wanted to be seen as a work of art as opposed to an object of sexual desire, subject to the predispositions of a sex-driven culture. Most of all, I wanted to break free of my personal insecurities, to come out of the shadows. I figured the best way to do this was to expose myself.

In the studio, I am an object, no different than the boxes or vases students sketch in regular drawing classes. This is not to say that I am being “objectified,” at least not in the sense of that word we typically associate with human bodies. The objectification I feel is strangely empowering, because the sexual connotations of my being are removed entirely. My hips are studied in relation to the angle of my torso. My legs are the support system of a more complicated structure, like that of a table or chair. My arm is this distance away from my head, which is that distance away from my chest. I am a math equation, a fleshy, bare, glorious puzzle with birthmarks and rough edges, and I don’t feel ashamed of it.

Of course, my feeling this way would not be possible if my classmates were not mature. Their viewing my body as a biological map – as something to be neutrally studied and admired – made it possible to feel free in such a vulnerable setting. My hope (some might call it an overly optimistic fantasy), is that others would be able to feel such freedom in settings where it is not required of their peers to be respectful and supportive. For this to happen, our bodies would need to be seen merely as shells, as containers for the soul, deserving of respect; something beautiful not for any visual reason, but simply because it exists.

Being a figure-drawing model has allowed me the freedom to feel vulnerable, expressive and respected all at once, which is what I hope to see within Baylor’s campus culture. A human’s choice of dress has never been the problem. The problem is the common notion that our bodies are strictly sexual entities. Viewing our bodies instead as art forms can create space for people to be expressive in mature and educational ways, both inside and outside the classroom. This is not to say that we should dress frivolously all the time, or that we should run around near-naked because it’s “freeing.” I still think there are appropriate and inappropriate times to use one’s body to be expressive, and making that discretion is essential for being taken seriously in professional settings. I propose instead that a mere shift in thinking can make something “shameful” actually very beautiful, and that, perhaps, a collective shift in mindset can free many of us from feelings of shame or inadequacy.

I don’t plan on changing very much by myself. The struggle for respect requires a depth of change far beyond owning one’s sexuality or expression of body. Although a body can be a powerful tool for change, it cannot alone address the complexity of the objectification of humans. It begins and ends, rather, with equipping society to think, to question and to wonder beyond their personal inquiries, and to offer respect in return.

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