Nudity and Perfection

There’s an excuse I hear almost every time I suggest someone try nude modeling: “Nobody wants to see this.”

It doesn’t matter who I ask or what they look like.  They have been young, old, pudgy, fit, and stick-thin.  They’ve been male and female—I honestly expected guys to be less self-conscious about their body image, but they aren’t.  No matter their appearance, they tell me “maybe later.”  Maybe when they’ve lost or gained a few pounds, or when they’re muscular or more in-shape.  

Art is about telling human stories, and life doesn’t just happen to pretty people.

I try to tell them that we need real people to model.  This is especially true for life drawing classes: artists need to learn how to draw people that are young, old, fat, thin, male, and female.  They need to learn how to depict different skin tones and body types.  Art is about telling human stories, and life doesn’t just happen to pretty people.

Regrettably, people don’t listen.  No matter how interested they are in trying modeling for themselves, they have this idea that models are perfect—or at least, that they look perfect.  We place them on a pedestal, even if it’s just a model stand.  We put them under spotlights, in a room full of people staring at them.  No wonder somebody would think that a model needs to be worthy of attention.  It’s just unfortunate that they also believe you have to be pretty to be worth looking at.

It turns out all of those modeling lights can be blinding: none of us are perfect, or ideal.  Some of us may look a little more or less like it on the surface if we’re measuring by society’s standards, but we’re all just human beings, and we all think we have more flaws than people actually see.

For example, take a look at this (NSFW) bodyscape HERE.  I think the flaws in it are what make it an interesting image.  You can see my nipples are different sizes.  You can see shadows, bulges, and ripples caused by muscle, fat, and bone.  On an ideal figure, these wouldn’t be there. 

But one woman looked at this image and was offended.  She hated it, because all she saw was yet another perfect female body in a photograph.  Her reaction taught me several things:

1.  People don’t see nearly as many flaws in me as I do in myself—and that this is probably the same for how I view other people, and how other people view themselves. 

2.  High pedestals make people assume what is on them is better.  When people hear the label “model” or see a professional photograph, they will often think “hot,” “ideal,” or “perfect,” no matter what is actually in front of them.

3.  Human flaws make art interesting.

I also realized that these lessons don’t just apply to our appearance either: they apply to any type of art.  They’re just as useful to a rock star that doubts that their music is good enough, or a writer who sees their work in print and doesn’t know how everyone else is missing what they think are obvious flaws.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “perfect is the enemy of the good,” or one of its variations.  (A few of my favorites are “done is better than perfect” and “SHIP IT; FUCK YOUR BULLSHIT.”)  Well, it applies to getting naked for art, too.

Good models aren’t perfect (and neither are good musicians, or good writers).  As a matter of fact, a perfect model would be beyond boring!  If you want to step up on that model stand, nobody is going to stop you if you’re scrawny, or think you have a few extra pounds.

A good model is someone who shows up, imperfections and all, and helps build an amazing image.  So if you want to do something—anything—don’t let perfect stop you.  And you might just find you’re better than you think.