Eva Mendes, the critically acclaimed co-star of Will Smith in the poorly-rated romantic comedy Hitch, famously proclaimed “I love my country, but I believe we are too quick to censor nudity.” Was Mendes on to something?
I don’t know, and quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. But for a closer look at the state of nude modeling in art classes at Yale, step into my office. Yale offers undergraduates art classes featuring undergraduate nude models who serve as muses to the artistic process; as I very quickly found out, it’s important to remember that these models are people first.
One model I spoke to, whose name, much like the original color of her pubic hair, must remain a secret, told me of her journey to nude modeling. She tried it out her sophomore year as a favor to a friend and, much to her surprise (and the chagrin of rival models), she enjoyed it. She went back for another gig, and soon she was hooked.
Where she and I differed, though, was on the question of liberation. When I take off my clothes, I feel more than a pang of self-consciousness; she enjoys the “comfort and relaxation” she feels when she’s being drawn. (She also noted that it appeals to her vanity, as she’s seen thousands of portraits of herself.)
She was careful to point out to me the difference between being naked and being nude. Being naked, according to her, is a risky and emotional experience, while being nude is a completely reassuring undertaking.
I don’t know if I buy it. In the summer after eighth grade, I decided it would be nice to take a sketching class in New York. As a wide-eyed middle schooler, I mistakenly walked into the upper-level nude modeling class—it was immediately clear that I had not taken the prerequisites for this class.
Barry, the name I’ve since assigned to the obese male model whose varicose veins I felt slowly wrapping around my neck, shot me a furtive glance that smacked of years of work in the software development industry. Barry was awfully naked. He was far from nude, and by that I mean he looked very uncomfortable. He looked scared, ashamed, and, if his massive erection was any indication, he was nervous.
Either way, I liked Barry and he liked me.