A young woman, a student, walks into a room full of people sitting at easels. Every single eye is on her. She slowly makes her way to the middle of the room. She unties her robe, and as it drops, she stands naked in front of a dozen strangers. For Ball State University student Elysia Arntzen, this is just an average day at work.
Arntzen is one of the eight students employed as a nude model for the university’s art department. Every week the models are assigned to a classroom and pose anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours per session.
“The only hard part is being able to hold a pose for a long time,” Arntzen said.
Arntzen, a fifth year music composition major, first learned about the job from acquaintances she had in the art department, which caused some interesting moments in the past.
“I remember the first time I saw a friend in a class. I tried not to make eye contact. And then quite a while afterward she said ‘I’ve totally seen you naked,'” Arntzen explains with a laugh.
Arntzen remembered asking the same friend, who had also been a nude model, hundreds of questions when she first started working three years ago.
“I asked if they cared what I look like? Did I need to shave every day? Will they care if a bear walks out?” she says.
Looking much like any other college-aged girl, Arntzen realized she didn’t need to worry about her looks when she first met her coworker Gordon Golabowski.
Golabowski, a junior communications major, is tattooed, pierced, sports a violent orange mohawk, and is self-described as a “plush” man. But he says there is nothing awkward about the job he and Arntzen do.
“They’ve never asked me to remove my piercings or ‘look prettier,’ you know?” Golabowski said. “The artists’ perceptions are really what matter, not my looks.”
Arntzen agreed that after acclimating, the atmosphere of the drawing room was incredibly relaxing.
“Every so often there is rush of adrenaline you get before going in, but I’ve never experienced anything negative with this job, which surprises a lot of people,” Arntzen said.
Their least favorite part about the job is not the vulnerability of standing naked in front of a room full of strangers; it is the amount of time they have to sit completely still, with no distractions.
“Sometimes I just do not know what to do with myself because I can’t move,” Arntzen says. However, those two hours give her a little time of contemplation and, ironically, solitude. And when a day of work is over, she often experiences a surprising amount of self-reflection.
“When I watch [the artists] working, they’ll draw me anywhere from super tall and skinny, to where I look like a square,” she says. “I figure what I actually look like is not all that important, because what they draw is going to be completely different.”
Scott Anderson, a professor of art at Ball State who routinely uses nude models for his drawing classes, explained that it is important to have as models with every body type for both the department and the artists themselves.
“The old saying is that variety is the spice of life, and it is through understanding variety that we understand ourselves,” Anderson said.
Arntzen has learned a lot about the perception of beauty, and her perception of herself during her time as a nude model.
“It’s more about the personality and the confidence,” Arntzen said. “If you can fake it for a little bit, eventually you stop worrying about how other people see you, and start thinking about how you see yourself with nothing to hide.”