Upon the stage I am unafraid. I know fine actors who suffer from sweaty palms or upset stomachs, but I am unafraid. Audience seated, house lights down, I’m ready to go. I can’t wait for my entrance.
But up there, I have several things to protect me. Most importantly I’m not myself. I play someone else; a character dressed in costumes and makeup, moving about an interesting set, amongst other actors and plot arcs. All the while I pretend the audience doesn’t even exist out there in the dark behind the fourth wall. I am safe.
Life modeling is different. It has none of these protections whatsoever. In a brightly lit room, among completely clothed people, we agree to violate all normal clothing conventions. I agree to refrain from covering my nakedness, and in kind, the artists agree to not look away, as courtesy would demand. Together we do what is unthinkable in everyday life.
The moment comes. I must slip the robe from my shoulders and lay it aside.
Completely exposed, completely vulnerable, the urge to flee boils within. However, not only can’t you run away, but instead you must mount a raised platform, in full view of everyone present, and once there, hold… perfectly… still. The artists, by necessity, examine your entire body with concentrated attention to detail. Not only will they see your private parts (which is bad enough), but they will see every imperfection that makes one human: pimples, wrinkles, scars, stretch marks, rolls of fat. The intensity is overwhelming.
At the moment of disrobing, the clash of opposing forces (the urge to escape vs. the desire to endure) creates a portal into a strange and wondrous state of being. It is common to hear life models describe posing in spiritual terms. The opposite of an out-of-body experience, one becomes intensely present in the moment, incredibly aware of self, surroundings, and the passage of time. For me, it is transcendent. It washes me in self-confidence unlike any therapy or medication I’ve ever tried. The effects are residual, lasting for hours, even days.
My first reaction to life modeling was to seek out every possible opportunity. The second was to contemplate the reasons for this unexpected marvel with curative powers. Why has modeling given me my first depression-free winter? Why, after over a hundred sessions, am I setting aside everything in life, including acting (my first passion), to pursue a goal of modeling a thousand times?
The answer struck me one day with both its power and simplicity. It harkens back to my childhood when I was mercilessly bullied by 6th grade classmates. They would dream up new and creative recess games with the singular purpose of hurting me. They taught me messages: that I was not as good as them; that I was not one of the beautiful people. It was not these mean-spirited lies, but my believing them, that caused me the most harm. Fear of conflict, failed relationships, and a lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression followed.
Acting promised some freedom. The theatre became my Island of Misfit Toys where the broken things inside didn’t matter. In the troupe’s camaraderie, and in the characters I played, I found some escape. Theatre helped, but it didn’t change my internal beliefs. I was better, but not healed.
Then I stepped through the portal. I overcame every instinct in me that shouted Run! I stepped out of that robe and onto that dais. There, surrounded by people I respect immensely – artists – I engaged in the process of creating art. I allowed them to use my body, my shapes, shades, shadows and lines, to create beautiful art. How then could I not be a beautiful person?
Those bully messages were not just challenged, they were utterly destroyed. The shackles fell away. For the first time in years I felt healed, whole, free. Artists were making art, out of me! I became aware of my true self, my value, my…beauty. I post often on Facebook, “life modeling makes me happy.” How true. And oh, how marvelous!
~ Vigneri, Joseph. “The Portal.” Left of the Lake Magazine, vol. 17, 2017, pp. 6-7.