A rainbow flag hung outside above the church. Inside, I was naked.
I’d removed my glasses so the room was fuzzy. I couldn’t see them, but I sensed the pencils scratching away at paper, trying to capture my nineteen-year-old curves. The only thing in focus was me. I looked down, feeling closer to my body than ever before. I tuned out the music playing in the background and concentrated on the way my body moved up and down, in and out, with each breath. I was acutely aware of the way my weight shifted as I switched poses. Aware of each shadow cast on my pink skin. Aware of the way I felt: beautiful.
I was a sophomore at Georgetown University. After four years at an all-girls school and no boyfriend, I was ready for love. I was excited to bypass the immature boys of high school and head straight for collegiate men of caliber. I pictured proclamations of affection in between quoting Shakespeare and Kant and romantic strolls on the quad with my inevitable paramour.
Instead, I encountered a decidedly unromantic hookup culture. There were no men asking women on proper dates. There were drunken parties that led to drunken make-outs. There were awkward glances in the cafeteria with someone you once bedded but now avoided. There were bodies used and then discarded.
Despite many trysts and minor heartbreaks with noncommittal crushes, freshman year stretched into sophomore year with no boyfriend in sight. My body ached from the passionless objectification of it all. I was tired of my body being viewed as disposable. I wanted my body to be viewed as a work of art.
I decided to take myself literally and become a figure model. I scrolled through Craigslist postings searching for an art class in need of a nude. A class that met upstairs in a Dupont Circle church booked me one rainy night.
I arrived early with a blue robe to wear on breaks and a sizable bundle of nerves. I looked around the room. Ghosts of figure models past covered the wall, mostly older men and women with large bushes. I pictured myself on the wall and thought one of these things is not like the other.
I took my place at the front of the class and disrobed. I began by switching poses every thirty seconds so the artists could warm up with quick sketches. Next would come two fifteen-minute poses and one thirty-minute pose.
My nerves dissipated into the artistic air, getting lost somewhere between the light music the instructor had put on and the symphony of eyes darting from my body to their easels.
I felt calm, relaxed even, as I draped my frame over a chair and held still for thirty minutes. I couldn’t see anything but myself, so I looked. For eighteen hundred seconds I studied the muscles I’d worked so hard to sculpt and the tiny imperfections that had seemed so glaring in the mirror earlier yet somehow so inconsequential in this moment.
I knew that after these two hours I would put my clothes back on and return to a campus of boys who wouldn’t appreciate the way the light hit my spine or trace the lines on my neck like the rings on a tree.
I knew that these two hours were precious.
For these two hours, I was a work of art.