Begin rant.

Maybe the figure modeling experience of an 18-year-old me is TMI. Given the other posts I’ve made, I can’t imagine it would be so.

So this has some explicit drawings in it of me as a younger person, 45 years ago. And some somewhat explicit discussion. Some quasi-sexual content. But it is as true as my memory and something I can laugh about today when I think of it.

You’ve been warned.

End of rant.

If you look up various recountings of people’s introduction to social nudity, one often finds hyperbolic and turgid language about being “one with nature”, the feeling of the wind on sunkissed skin, the smooth flow of water over the body, all the acceptance and love they are surrounded by, the spiritual and religious meanings of nudity etc. Fine for them, none of that applies to me. I just like being naked in a relaxed way and want others to accept me that way. I’m just a nudie.

It can be pretty cool. The exuberant, flowery language? Not so much. Oversell to the point of sounding fake or maybe inapplicable to the reader.  If you spend your swim-time 90% naked, pulling off that last 10% will be noticeable and happy but hardly revolutionary in a physical sense. It is the psychological sense that is important. Like the first time one sees the ocean, the experience doesn’t reflect how you’ll feel the tenth time. It then gets exaggerated as you try to impress everyone else.

Sometimes the first time is just plain embarrassing. If it’s at a beach or a resort or a private home, “uprisings” are easily dealt with (as a matter of courtesy, not shame) and depending on the environment and others present, it may not be considered a problem.

Be that as it may, it is the number one anxiety of every male the first few times he is socially nude. It isn’t a moral failing – but there are times and places others might not accept it.

I moved to LA when I was 22. I found there were a lot of opportunities to express myself out there as a nudie. I’d done my share of streaking and in the future, I’d do a bit of stripping as well as a lot of modeling. Those are three completely different mindsets.

A streaker wants to produce a positive audience experience, usually a combination of shock and laughter. Kind of like a standup comedian, the audience reaction is everything. No streaker wants to be booed or hated or worst of all – ignored. But there is also the fear of getting caught, a drug of choice for adrenaline junkies. Streakers keep their identities secret because of that risk. Heart pounding and adrenaline flowing, under the right circumstances the “fight or flight” reflex can be arousing. Some streakers do it for that very reason.

(Barlow 1983, 1986) …suggests that anxiety and threat stimuli can actually increase erection and sexual arousal. They finally explain their treatment model: “Patients have found the following explanation particularly helpful and easy to understand: “Erection is a reflexive response involving changes in blood flow, and can be regarded as similar to excessive blushing in social situations. As often happens with blushing, the more anxious one becomes about the response itself, the more likely it is to happen because the reflex can be paradoxically set off by anxiety.”

Modeling for life drawing is yet another mindset. Completely different. You are going to be on display for a “serious” reason. It is as asexual as it gets. People will be staring at you intently as a shape and a geometric design, not a flesh and blood hormonal human. No shock, no awe, no eroticism, no arousal on either side of the easel. You are expected to be a mannequin during your pose and there will be many poses in every position from a minute quickie to an hour. It is a pretty unnatural situation. It takes strength, flexibility, and patience. A complete “Zen” state is ideal. And the ability to keep one’s mind occupied or you’ll be bored to death.

And as a private party stripper… well, take the figure model mindset and turn it 180 degrees. Inappropriate can become desirable. 😀

OULogoAs an 18-year-old freshman, I’d gone to Oakland U, in Michigan. I failed miserably in the classes I took. I was depressed and unable to focus. I’ve mentioned before that I’d had my very closest brush with suicide there and I’d met an older woman and we fell in love with each other – which may well have saved my life.

I had a lot of firsts that year. First Science Fiction convention. First time of being completely free of parental control. First (and only) time of being pursued by cops. (I got away.) First time drunk, first time used drugs stronger than pot. First (and only) time in trouble for streaking. The second semester was my first nude theater in a college production of Hair.

The first semester, on the very first day, was also my first experience with figure modeling and nudity in a coed environment. The very first time I did it, I’ll admit it was a hot mess. (A lot of first-times turn out to be messes.) There oughtn’t to have been any shame in what happened – but there was high anxiety. Now it is just a funny memory.

On the way up to full mast. Not going down again soon.

I maxed out on the Mohs scale.    😳

I was the very last person to realize it had happened. There was much giggling and whispering and grinning before I realized why.

Heh…heh… Maybe I wasn’t so comfortable in my own skin as I had thought. The room was cramped. I was under a hot spotlight and I was shivering nervously and standing on a raised platform. Teach was somewhere else most of the time, only showing up between poses to critique the charcoal sketches. The rest of the room was comfortable only to someone in a winter coat.

I was surrounded on 270 degrees by a coed group of a dozen fellow freshman who were intently gazing at me from just a couple paces away. Standing on a small platform and nowhere to hide. Two-hour classes with a 10-minute long break on the hour and brief breaks between poses.

Welcome to Life Drawing 101. Welcome to being triggered.

I had imagined just seeing heads popping up intermittently over easels. Instead, the easels were at an angle that didn’t obstruct my view of them in the slightest. No changing room or curtain and no robe or towel. Just my clothes folded up neatly on the floor at their feet. A chair I could use for a prop. I felt claustrophobic, nervous and very exposed (in a vulnerable way). I closed my eyes, tried to calm myself, bit my lip for distraction, and thought about homework to try and bring things down. (Big fail!)

Anxiety caused it and it, in turn, created more anxiety. Nice feedback loop I had going there. Geting my pants on again was going to be a real problem.

3rd time, finally in the zone.

There was nothing sexual, erotic or sensual about it. Pain and embarassment. During a long break, I tried to “handle” the situation in the men’s room. Didn’t work & may well have prolonged it. At least it couldn’t get any worse. (Oh yeah? Throbbing now and little feeling. There’s a word for that. Pri-something? Not a prion… not a Prius…)

I could have quit right there and a sane person would have. For that matter, a “normal” person wouldn’t have had this problem to start with.  I had an irrational motivation to push thru and overcome, a different demon was pushing me not to quit. I wanted to lose my shame.

Most people never feel that much motivation for anything in their lives. Some strange psychology inside me was forcing me to overcome this reaction. I needed to do this or admit I could not be the kind of nudie I wanted to be. (I admit that I am “different” and it is a bizarre goal in life to have.)

Bite that lip harder. Do the impossible pose. Get some real pain going!

After class, the instructor grumbled. Can’t have that happening in the class! But he understood it was a combination of nervousness and novelty and not an intentional act of autoeroticism and let me continue if I promised not to let things get so out of hand again. (He may also not have had another model.)

Next class session I asked around and none of the students said they’d been offended. (Of course, someone could have been uncomfortable with it but unwilling to say so. Nobody had complained to the Prof.)  They mostly laughed. One said I was obviously hyper-nervous and he was glad as hell he wasn’t up there in the altogether. Another joked that I was so blushing so hard she’d wanted to use red conte instead of charcoal. Artists are the most understanding and compassionate people in the world regarding social nonconformity.

I wonder if it had happened today, how many would have called it sexual harassment? How many women would have been “triggered” by my being triggered? Would the instructor have had the liberty to keep me on?

Kids seemed so much less hung up about everything back then than now. The Woodstock ethos was still in full bloom. Tolerance was “in” back then.

The second time I modeled I was no longer nearly as nervous. I tried to take poses that minimized the view should something come up. Wasn’t needed – well not as much. (The giggling girls weren’t helping. But that was a completely different stimulus.) But I had told myself that it didn’t matter. I had already accepted with equanimity all possible results so anxiety and shame could find no foothold. That is what Zen – and also Stoicism – is all about. That and having done something once before, the novelty was lessened.

The third time was a charm and my nervousness was gone.  There was nothing to ‘handle”. Eyes open, lips healing, a natural smile returning to my face, I was even able to walk among the students and talk about their drawing and ask suggestions for posing. Got a couple of drawings from one of them, a 60-year-old freshman woman. And making $10/hr. which was not chicken scratch in 1974.

Nobody had dropped the class, nobody had complained to the Prof, and he hadn’t fired me, a minimal kind of affirmation.

Just now thinking about it and I can trace it back to being a young child and being ridiculed by other boys for not being circumcised. They had no concept of what circumcision was. I was the only one they had ever seen and they thought I was defective. They stared and pointed and teased, not good for someone already with a lifetime of teasing and bullying.

Boys didn’t hide their bodies from other boys back then. There was no escaping it. You had to be there. Urinals without dividers. Locker room nudity was mandatory.  The stigmatization of my foreskin kicked up an adrenaline response in me. A mixture of anger, fear, and anxiety. I dreaded the next round. When I started puberty, locker room anxiety led to – you guessed it – a very embarrassing state. I suppose I should be thankful it never get beyond the other boys in my gym class.

This isn’t a diatribe against locker room nudity. It is one for honest, explicit sex education and for body acceptance. It is one for greater expression of nudity and diverse body characteristics.

OTOH, naked and alone was a de-stressing activity. A happy place with a natural high. Lots of endorphins flowing. A place to forget all my sorrows and fears. A place of freedom. Tired of being alone forever, I wanted that around other people.

I was reliving those old familiar locker room experiences that first day I modeled and experienced an anxiety attack. Now I knew what being “triggered” feels like, though the word was not in use at the time.

I’d never had a full blown anxiety attack before and hope I never do again. Cold sweaty hands and feet, shaking, feeling sick and weak, pulse pounding, and (not unheard of for anxiety attacks) erect. I had a demon to deal with but I knew a fight was the opposite of what I needed. The real demon was in my big head and not the little one. (Didn’t realize it at the time but today, IMHO, the best way to fight an inner demon is to let it know who is in charge and then befriend it.)

I do not advocate for trigger free zones. I advocate overcoming trigger issues and trying to be compassionate to those still in that process.

Instead of quitting, I calmed myself before the second day of modeling. Smoked a little pot. Got into a Zen-ish state (learned from martial arts and the local Hare Krishna folks) before going to work. If something “came up”, oh well, that’s just life. I wouldn‘t allow it to disturb me. Nobody was teasing me, nobody cared, the world was full of peace, love, and understanding and I could stay relaxed. I am alone in my happy place and my audience isn’t relevant. Enough of that and you can fall asleep.

Fear is the mind killer

It was a glorious triumph that could have easily been a tragedy. All I could see at the time was dodging a very deadly bullet.

To be able to not care I was naked was lovely. Just wearing the uniform for the job. Wow! The anxiety never returned and now it was just fun. I did a lot more modeling after that (I got a good recommendation) and at least in figure modeling, I was where I wanted to be. Naked and accepted. Not naked and afraid.

What I wanted was the freedom to be me as well as the confidence. I learned confidence as a model. When I moved to California I found more freedom and accidentally stumbled into self-acceptance. Today, with blogging and all, writing and posting became a kind of ongoing self-care that never ends. I’m a nudie forever.

I’ll also be dealing with ADD, Asperger’s, and depression as well for the rest of my life and blogging helps a lot.

I guess in some ways I am still searching for worldly acceptance of “me”, yet I know I’ll never completely find it.