How Figure Modeling Helped Me Accept My Body

Photo by Lavi Perchik via Unsplash

I’ve got one and a half boobs. The left one’s a really good handful, something to grab on to in case of an emergency. The right one looks like it would barely fill out Kat’s crop top in 10 Things I Hate About You

As a young woman, I was grossly insecure about this rather noticeable difference. I feared boys wouldn’t like me if they could see such a discrepancy so I turned to bras in an attempt to even things out. Sports bras were good as their snug structure smashed my left one giving the illusion of a more ‘normal’ looking bosom. I also liked cup bras and even ventured into padded territory I found that silhouette most appealing.

But something about this felt uncomfortable. Sure, I looked good with it on but when the brassiere hits the floor at the end of the day, I’m left with the facts: uneven boobs. In wearing these expensive enhancements, I was lying not only to the outside world (yes, I was that much of a narcissistic youngster that I thought people actually gave a hoot about my chest) but also to myself. Besides, the main reason for the bras was more for boys to find me attractive than for me to feel good about myself. 

When that realization dropped, something shifted. Firstly, in the few encounters I had had with the opposite sex, there had not been any complaints about my uneven breasts. Looking back, I think the dudes were just happy to be in the presence of boobs could they tell the difference in size from bra on to bra off? Probs not. 

Secondly, am I really willing to go way out of my way to please men? I certainly hope not! In my reasonings for wearing a bra I was actively participating in the male gaze — giving them what I thought they wanted (an ample bosom) so that I could have what society and every rom-com ever made me think I wanted in order to be whole: a man. 

Still, my insecurities remained. 

Walking around campus with my friend one day, we came upon a flyer: “Figure model wanted for local artist group.” She explained that a figure model was a live person that held poses in front of a group of artists while they drew, painted or sculpted based on the pose.

Later that day during my mythology course, William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Birth of Venus appeared in the PowerPoint presentation. I was mesmerized. It remains one of my favourite works of art. 

As I gazed upon Venus in all her majesty, my thoughts wandered back to that flyer and it suddenly occurred to me — I too could be immortalized like that.

I took the job.

Only on the day did it fully sink in: I am to be naked in front of strangers. My friend agreed to come with me; she let me borrow her robe. 

We arrived at the studio in a well-lit and fully legit part of town. The group of artists was small, only about five of them. They were all older, perhaps ranging from their mid-30s onwards. They were nice. 

The organizer set up the platform on which I would be posing. He turned on a heater, explained how it would go — start with a series of 1-minute poses for 15 minutes, then go on to two 10-minute poses, then continue with longer 15-minute poses until the end of the 3-hour period. 

I remember the moment I was asked to please take off my robe. I looked out at my friend who was sitting behind the artists. She smiled at me, gave me a thumbs up.

The robe hit the floor.

I took my first pose and didn’t look back.

I did figure modeling on and off throughout my early 20s. It was therapy for me. Nobody chastised me over my chest. In fact, my breasts, which I have since nicknamed Fat Man and Little Boy, were captured in their unevenness in graphite, charcoal, acrylic, watercolor, and clay. From the older artist groups who got together a few times a month to the master’s art students I posed for on a weekly basis at fine art academies, I was a collection of shapes, shadows, measurements, and proportions. I was positive and negative space. I was colour; warm and cold, a variety of shades. 

The professionalism I encountered during this time made me feel comfortable and at ease. The representations I saw of myself were eye-opening. It was amazing to see just how many points of view there are, just how different you can appear to everyone else. 

Figure modeling was a liberation. I could no longer be tied to societal norms of what a woman’s body should look like. The standards I thought I was supposed to hold myself to made their way out the window.

So did the bras.

Not that I threw them out the window! I could’ve had an old-fashioned bra burning but I think I just put them in the garbage instead. Definitely not the eco-friendly option but I plead the ignorance of my youth on that one. I’ve been free-boobin’ it for about five years now. And if anyone takes umbrage with the way my chest looks under my shirt, then maybe they should look at their own lives and their own choices first. Methinks the issue lies with them, not with me. Or with Fat Man and Little Boy.

Mereille Charlotte : (Extremely!) concerned environmentalist, Feminist to the nth degree,
Self-identified bookworm, Drag Race connoisseur, and tea enthusiast.
Enjoys being hyper-organized, physical work (compost flipping, anyone?), yoga 
and long walks through the woods.