Getting Naked – Reflections on Being a Life Drawing Model after a 20 year Absence

I was hoping to lose a few pounds, step up my game and increase my push-ups and sit-ups before shedding my robe and stepping up onto the modeling stand completely nude. My friends tell me, “Oh, you look great,” to which I reply, “Yes, but you haven’t seen me naked.” That is about to change.

I had done this job for 25 years beginning when I was an art student and the model did not show up. My art teacher told me, “You can all go home, all twenty of you, or you can model, Cindy, and make some money.” He liked the way I was shaped, very Reubenesque- as in curves and such. (not necessarily a compliment).  Plus, I had muscle definition from being an athlete. It was a win-win situation.

Modeling did not bother me. I did the part-time job for artists at many institutions, academies and universities until I became pregnant and had enough. Plus, I was enjoying much success as a writer and didn’t need the cash. It is a very challenging job to not move for 20-25 minutes at a time. Very hard on your body.

But today, twenty years later, I revisited the modeling stand. This time for research for my new book, a memoir of sorts about using the whole world to teach my kids . My writer friend, Mary Alice, got the brilliant idea to use the modeling stand as a platform to ‘hang my stories on’. Begin each part on the stand, exposed, vulnerable, thinking unencumbered about my role as a mother, an educator, and my relationship to my children. The book is essentially about “Modeling” a life for them. It really works and to date, the book is about half done. The last part, when they are finished with college and being launched out into the world, I am sitting there thinking about this new section of my life, and I thought it would be most powerful and certainly fresher, if I actually revisited the stand once again, twenty years later. Made it real instead of fiction!

They made an announcement at the last Reading, PA’s  Berks Art Alliance meeting that after a long hiatus, I was coming back to model today. Many local artists drew me twenty years ago FOR twenty years. I am expecting to see some old buds. I feel like I should make an announcement, “Beware! I don’t look the same. Things have dropped!” As if they wouldn’t expect that. My husband wonders who is coming out of curiosity to see what the last two decades have done to me and who to only draw.

As an artist, you remember every model’s body and face that you drew or painted. So many hours you spent staring at its details, looking at the form, the color, the light reflected on the skin, into a human beings’ eyes. You really do share a special intimacy with the model you are creating art with than any other human being. It is a gift exchanged.

My husband asked me if I was nervous this morning.

“About taking my clothing off in class? No. Why should I be? I did it for 25 years. I think it will come back to me, like riding a bike. ”

“I was hoping to lose some weight though.”

He said, “Who are trying to impress?”

And I repeated, “No one. I am trying  to prevent them from throwing up.”

But I had forgotten that I was 10 pounds heavier twenty years ago and my students” today thought I looked BETTER. That’s cool. I could have used the support of my under wires but in all honesty, I feel the same that I did when I was in my 30’s. I never cared much about the wrinkling skin or the sag as long as I could still PERFORM.

My art student son Bryce, who draws models at Tyler School of Art asked ‘How was it ? Was it epic?”

“I said ‘No, a little boring actually.”

They wanted me to come back again and again. I know how to move the right way, since I have been  on the other side. I know how to create angles, juxtaposition, interesting movement. But I said, no thanks. This wasn’t about needing a job, it was just about remembering.

What it is mostly about is realizing, twenty years later, that “I am not my body.”  My girlfriend who also models in her 50’s told me that quote and it was never more vividly clear than when I watched my father die.

It was 27 years ago and we were gathered in my childhood home around his bed. His cancer began in his lungs, spread to his heart and then his brain. We stood  around the bed holding hands and praying, prepared to look up at the ceiling the moment he left so we could say good-bye to him. What was so incredibly strange was, the exact moment that he died, his face completely changed, and it was so drastic and so extreme that it was as if he were a different person. I also realized that what I loved about my father, his spirit and soul, was completely gone. It LEFT. What remained on the bed was his vehicle in this life, the package that held who he really was. I loved that body while he had been alive, held those hands, kissed that cheek because of who he was INSIDE. But he was definitely gone.

And so I realized that we are not our bodies. So if the boobs hang lower than they used to and the skin is gathering a little above the knees, it’s really okay. We don’t have to shoot ourselves up with Botox to be more attractive. What really matters is how we love, how much we love. Because now I carry my Dad and my Mom inside of me because of HOW they loved me. Their bodies mean nothing to me now. I have a hard time even visiting their graves and I beep to them when I drive by the cemetery  I prefer to visit them in the mountains, on peaks, when the wind makes those strange little swirling whirlpools and picks up leaves off the forest  floor, I think that is my Dad saying hello to me .

I had a friend, Joe Gilbert, who was Assistant Dean at Salisbury University in Maryland who used to bring his students up to our homestead for a Voluntary Simplicity workshop. The highlight was a sauna that all the students indulged in at the end of the night (in shifts!) Joe sat on the bench outside with me, wrapped in towels waiting to cool down and he said, “You know, it is startling. I feel the exact same way that I did when I was 30 but I look in the mirror and I can’t believe what I see. I don’t FEEL like I look. I am still young inside.”

I want to stay young INSIDE. I can’t stay young looking outside but I want to stay young inside. I want  to keep moving and doing everything that I can for the rest of my life and only alter my activities when I become in pain. I want to be like my 102-year old grandmother who just climbed into bed one day because she was tired, who never had a pain except for a “hammer toe” and never was on any type of medication and surrounded by her great grandchildren and grandchildren who sang Bobby Vinton Polish sings to her, she fell asleep, completely used up. She was exquisitely beautiful and I am sure she had some shit hanging low on her body, but no matter. . The important thing is ….

“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of driving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaim, Wow! What a ride!”

If life modeling again after 20 years reminded me that, then it was worth it.


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20 thoughts on “Getting Naked – Reflections on Being a Life Drawing Model after a 20 year Absence Leave a comment

  1. Oh my God – You’ve got my piece at the top!!  I can’t wait to read this and will have to wait til later.  Off right now to pick up some folks for Jerry Holleran’s event at Stirling and will get back to this later tonight.  Just checked in to send a note off to my daughter.

                           Thank you my dear for being there today.  As you could tell, everyone enjoyed meeting you (or seeing you again!) – you are an amazing gal Cindy.  Will get back after I read this later.   Barbara

    1. thanks so much Barbara for calling me and asking me to come back at just the right time- I needed that- to jog my memory! It was not work- esp to be in such accepting and admiring company- everyone made me feel so good- too bad i don’ t need money- I would come back!

  2. Yer a real corker, Cindy.

    It’s interesting how people who have never done it are so curious about how it feels to be naked in front of other people. Almost as though it’s some sort of unnatural act. When I was the freshman class president in chiropractic college, I was just a couple of years past having lived way back in the Arkansas Ozarks, where the weather encouraged a clothing optional lifestyle a good part of the year. One day I did a bare-ass plunge into the lake on campus as a spontaneous fund raiser for the new clinic building, though it was actually more of a diversionary tactic to relieve the stress of our first major anatomy lab practical. (a classmate opined that I gave new meaning to the term “gross” anatomy) From that day on, I was the go to “volunteer” when an instructor needed a living model, until I eventually felt it was an experience others should have as well.

    Good for you for being curious enough and free enough to revisit a place that so many others are so reticent to ever explore at all. I hope you’ve encouraged more people to be unafraid and understanding of the actual simplicity of the act.

    I also appreciated the story of your being with your dad when he passed. I was with mine too, and I made a point of looking up and smiling as he left.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing- I really appreciate it- hearing your experiences. This blog more than any has inspired people to write and share. It’s great. We are all connected, even with someone like you whom i have never met- we touch each other’s lives- thank you! We must tell Steve Peck one of these days. He needs a call from me!

  3. Wow, Cindy. I am sorry I missed it. I have so many drawings of you but I have a hard time believing they are all more than 20 years old… time flies.

  4. I still have a few drawings of you from 25 years ago. From what I’m seeing, you’re still the same great model; but now you have a world of life experiences to share!

    1. thanks dear- I remember sitting up there and was able to look out at the students and could tell who was a freshman and who was an upperclass men- just by seeing more CHARACTER on their faces. I was amazed that just a few years of life showed and that they looked much more interesting for it.

  5. Cindy,
    This is coming along very nicely. Glad to offer you some words of wisdom and see them in print! I admire you for getting back on the stand. In my day, I would hold a position up to 50 minutes. Today I think 20 minutes would have me crawling out of my skin. I don’t miss it. It’s very hard on the body. But, a positive experience. It was like walking through the fire as I gained a confidence of who I am and few will ever experience. They fear judgment. People have asked me, “Do you meditate?” I used to love to say, “Yes, I meditate naked in front of 20 people, regularly!” I used to love the look on their face. And I always found it interesting that I got very comfortable having conversations naked with the art students and they weren’t the least bit uncomfortable. Whether they realized it or not while they were speaking to me I was a person, not a body. I will always reflect positively on the entire experience. I’m glad I did it.
    Carry on! I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

    1. thank YOU for your input- greatly appreciated- it was great to get together the other week and talk “shop”- not many of us can relate. When I think of it, I bet I could write a whole little book about the life of a life drawing model- hmmmm!

  6. Wow – Just read this Cindy – you are something!   I like your grandmother’s line at the bottom of your missive. I may have told you my husband Irv who died in May 2007 after 9 years of colon cancer (many good times during all that) – in his last months wrote us all letters and many, many other related pieces like that – he would always say that he definitely “had a good ride.”   Cheers.  Barbara

  7. I really liked this essay.

    From: cindyrosstraveler Reply-To: cindyrosstraveler Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2012 21:42:26 +0000 To: Bobby Davis Subject: [New post] Getting Naked Reflections on Being a Life Drawing Model after a 20 year Absence

    cindyrosstraveler posted: ” I was hoping to lose a few pounds, step up my game and increase my push-ups and sit-ups before shedding my robe and stepping up onto the modeling stand completely nude. My friends tell me, “Oh, you look great,” to which I reply, “Yes, but you haven’t “

  8. you are very brave person. I have thought about posing too but I feel embarrassed. My aunt has posed a few times and I wish I had her courage.

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