My first concern when preparing for my appointment was: What I should wear? Sure, I was going to be stripping down to nothing, but maybe I could strip down to nearly-nothing instead? I looked through my closet. What could I artfully drape over my body while still keeping the safe spots — shoulders, ankles, torso — bare? What did I have that could simultaneously reveal and conceal? Why in heck had I never purchased anything with ruching?
When I showed up at my portraitist’s house, I was wearing a long skirt, a high-necked sweater, and calf-high boots. I also had a large bag in tow, containing extra-sexy lingerie. The sort I would never have purchased for myself, and which typically lay crumpled up at the back right corner of my underwear drawer. The bag also contained my fleece, Cookie Monster pajama pants. It was too early for booze, so I figured I could use humor over my embarrassing apparel as a coping mechanism.
Sigh. I know, I know. But I didn’t always hate my body.
It wasn’t until I was 20 that I started picking apart my shortcomings, loathing my butt, wondering if I should get a bikini wax. The impetus? The man I was dating was emotionally abusive and, throughout the course of our six-month relationship, he freely shared what he saw as my sexual inadequacies. I was too inexperienced. I was too quiet in bed. I was too bottom-heavy. I needed to shave my bush.
The fallout from that particular relationship was a degree of sexual dysfunction that continues to this day (low libido, low arousal levels, painful sex), and a complete lack of self-confidence in bed. At the time I agreed to pose for the portrait, I had also gained about 30 pounds, thanks to a courtship with my now-husband consisting of McDonalds, B-horror movies, and naps. Obviously, I never had sex with the lights on.
So why did I agree to be painted in the nude?
Photo: Brand X/Thinkstock
Quite simply, the artist’s portfolio impressed me.
After showing me around his house and ending up in his attic studio, my portraitist had me pose in various states of undress for two minutes at a time, holding my arms above my head, laying on my stomach, laying on my side. I stood there with my skirt and boots on, my sweater shucked to the side and my bra standing out in sharp relief against my pale skin. As I warmed up to things, I peeled off the boots. I swapped my skirt for my pajama pants. I unclasped my bra and threw it onto a nearby couch. As I stood there shirtless, my nipples felt surprisingly warm in the still air of the room. The natural light coming from the overhead windows seemed to hold an extra weight.
He did quick sketches of each of these poses and, as I shed my layers, I was surprised by how good he was at getting me to take off my clothes. In all fairness, he was sexy as hell, yet I didn’t feel self-conscious in front of him. He was, after all, absorbed in his work.
Eventually, I realized that if I didn’t take the plunge and get fully nude, I’d regret it. I pushed down my pajama pants and inched my cotton briefs slowly down to my ankles. I stepped out of them gingerly.
Then, before revealing myself, I totally wussed out and wrapped a blanket around my body, hugging it close.
I breathed and decided to take the plunge.
I stretched out along the ground next, up on one side, my cheek resting in the palm of my hand and the blanket draped strategically across my pelvis. Out of the corner of my eye, I glanced down at my body, considering.
After two minutes had passed, I rolled over onto my back and, quite deliberately, let the blanket slip down a bit.
And then… I let it slip lower still.
Time stretched, I stopped breathing and, suddenly, my vagina was out.
Amazingly, the world did not implode.
After finishing the sketches, we decided upon our favorite one and I settled in for several hours of posing. After awhile, I didn’t care that my pubes were in plain sight. I didn’t care about the shape of my bottom. I concentrated on my breath. I was relaxing into it. The silence was comfortable … companionable.
When we were finally done, I was shocked. The painting allowed me to see a version of myself I’d never been able to see in the mirror. But maybe that was my own fault. Maybe other people saw something different. Upon showing a friend the finished product weeks later, she sighed admiringly.
“Your breasts always were pretty fantastic,” she said.
Now, several years later, I’m still not completely satisfied with my body. But at least I can have sex with the lights on, and I’m comfortable enough to parade around in front of my husband wearing nothing but my undies. I wear the ugly ones, too. The granny panties with the tiny, pink hearts.
And I still feel pretty damn sexy.