Writing and art by Julia Banks
I’m not allowed to move. I’m not allowed to speak. I’m in pain – my right arm tingles, begging to be moved; four fingers on my left hand are numb; my thighs ache, burning from supporting the weight of my whole body for a time exceeding their design. I am surrounded by a circle of people, pairs upon pairs of eyes upon me; curious, frustrated, eager. They follow each limb of my body that permeates the space around me, each shadow of my figure on the hardwood floor, each muscle on my bones, defined against my flesh. They keep looking at me, then looking away, again and again and again; none can look for too long. They are strangers to one another; strangers to me; absorbing with fascination and detail my still, undressed body. I am naked. To them, I am art, and they are trying their hardest to recreate me with their dark charcoals and oaky oil paints and pretty pastels on the canvases in front of them. Fabric, nor concern, nor – most surprisingly – shame hang off me.
I’d always had life modelling on a mental list of side hustles I’d want to explore eventually, and this desire came from one of what I considered an opportunity for easy money, but also one to challenge myself in an explicitly vulnerable way, and to use my naked body for something other than sex. When I thought about whether I celebrated my naked or near-naked body during anything other than having sex, I realised I didn’t. There are mornings I stand in front of the mirror after a shower and feel a genuine gratitude for having a body that both moves, functions and works without much problem, and also looks pretty great naked. But this idea that I look great naked only comes from two things; my own subconscious understanding of what a woman’s body should look like, driven by society and the media, and boys telling me I look great naked during sex, based off their own subconscious understanding of what a woman’s body should look like, driven by society and the media. There is no way a body ‘should’ look, nor anything that actually dictates what a good body someone does or doesn’t have. But when I stand before the mirror, meticulously assessing each part of my figure on mornings I have the flicker of required self-loathing to do so, or just the time, I’m consciously altering my position, stance, posture to appear a certain way only to my own eyes; validate my own opinion of my own body. If I turn/stand/pull in the correct way, I have a body fit for today’s requirements for underwear
modelling. I have big boobs, a thigh gap, a toned stomach, defined legs. Relax all of my muscles, and I look a bit like a potato – as does everyone when they allow themselves to liquidate into a fluid state of standing or sitting.
Ever since I developed the awareness of my own ability to be considered beautiful or attractive, I have, each day of existing, unconsciously attempted to be so. I have selected clothes and swimwear that is flattering in all the ways society wants it to be, never adjusted my posture as I sat, walked, existed without also pulling in my stomach, never had a picture taken where I did not angle myself to show the smallest angle of my arm, the flattest plane of my torso; I would even go as far to say that a majority of the sex I have had, I have never been fully present for; a constant whisper in the back of my mind that reminds me to worry about how convex my belly appears, or how I can further accentuate the curve in my spine and the roundness of my ass that he has a view of. I know I am not alone in this. I know for certainty that we all choose to exist in the clothes, accessories, positions we do simply because they are the most attractive, whether that is to our own standards’ or what we believe everybody else’s’ are.
I assumed I would be posing during my first life modelling job in a way that reflected this expectation to appear constantly attractive. I really did think I’d be sucking in my stomach altering the angle of my torso so my breasts fell in a way I was happy with; admonish rolls of flesh where I did not want them to be welcome. It was not until after my first set of poses that I understood both how ludicrous and impossible that was. There simply was no space to worry about the way I look as a fuckable female; only the way I look as a piece of art to be translated onto paper; for my audience to be able to exercise their talent in a challenging and detailed way. I was being looked at, naked, for hours on end by an audience of mostly men who only wanted to copy the shadows of my muscles, and folds of my skin – and not to have sex with me. I have never, in my adolescent or adult life, been seen naked by a man not about to, or attempt to, sleep with me.
The first drawing I see after a five minute pose genuinely takes my breath away. The talent of the artist was not overshadowed by my infatuation by seeing my own body this way on paper, but it was almost overwhelming. The figure on the butcher’s paper on the floor at my feet was almost exactly the same as the figure I see in the mirror each morning; but my god it was beautiful. It was my body, and it was startling gorgeous. The figure did not have a flat stomach, or smooth thighs, or perky breasts or toned calves; because neither does my
actual body; not in the mirror even as I angle my body to look its most attractive, and clearly not standing the middle of an art room.
The next time I had sex after this gig, I realised I’d had far less subconscious thoughts about my own appearance during it; less clouding of my experience with self-deprecating self-talk. As I re-dressed in front of his mirror, appreciative of things like a body that enables me to enjoy blissful things like sex, but now also my bloated stomach and strong thighs, I turned to him in my underwear to have a chat about something probably mundane. I did not pull in my stomach, or cross my arms over my chest; a simple lack of inhibition I had not
experienced since sex with my first boyfriend. Because the boy I just slept with was probably not seeing any of the flaws I worry everyone can notice in our own bodies. He was just ecstatic to be fucking, as was I. When you’ve got a work of art that is your own body hanging above your bed, you don’t need to alter the reflection in the mirror to feel good about yourself.