The fat nude model
When I was still in high school, I was lucky enough to draw from nude models in a course I took at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Though there were many memorable moments to this class, the most important lessons I learned happened on the first day.
After a brief introduction of the course’s goals, the teacher stepped aside, and a large woman in a faded terrycloth bathrobe approached the modeling platform. In one graceful movement, the model shed her covering, turned her back to us, and bent over, touching her hands to the floor in front of her.
I was shocked—so shocked that I have no recollection of how everyone else reacted to our model’s body or her choice for a first pose. At the same time, I also remember being very pleased. Even with my complete lack of experience with nude figure drawing, I understood the power in what had just occurred. With a simple gesture, the model had done three things:
1) She had knocked any ideas about fat right out of my head. I certainly wasn’t thinking about her size anymore.
2) She had told me and my ideas off. Her confronting but playful pose expressed exactly how she felt about her body.
3) She provided the perfect beginning place for us by turning her body into shapes without associations. By presenting herself upside down and backwards from how we usually meet one another, she forced us to really see forms and structure instead of allowing us to draw how we thought a body worked.
I long ago destroyed almost all the drawings and art I made before I became a professional, so I’m sad to say I can’t show you what I made of this model.
Instead, all I have is this image of a straight-sized model from a college class a year later. She was a good model. She held still and she was imaginative with her poses, but she couldn’t measure up to my first nude model experience. Simply put: her body wasn’t a revolution.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies and size as part of a new series I’m working on, and in my research I came across a collection of stories written by fat women, Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion. It made me reconsider how I present myself to the world and what media messages I’ve internalized even while believing I’d purged them from my mind. Read it, and be a happier and more fierce human being.
And if you’re in Portland, come meet Virgie Tovar along with some of the other women featured in Hot and Heavy at Fat Fancy on 18 July at 7 PM!