My Year of Being NakedI turned 63 this year. How can this be? In my mind, I’m perpetually 30. When I was 30, my innocent look and ageless skin meant I’d still get carded. I was living like a free spirit—taking weird jobs…standing buck naked in the middle of a room full of clothed people. Really.

My joke to myself was that every morning I got up, had breakfast, then got undressed to go to work. I was a young actor and, burned out from a part-time job that had turned into a mountain of hours with humongous responsibility, I decided I wanted to do as little work as possible in my next job. Although I was deeply modest—I didn’t even walk around naked in my apartment—modeling for the Art Students League fit my job specs.

As an actor, I was used to taking risks. Yes, I had stage fright, but I also had a secret “screw-it” switch in my brain.” I’d flip that screw-it switch as I stepped on stage in a play and spoke my first lines, or when I walked into an audition filled with frowning, scary people, or in “trust exercises” when I fell backward from the top of bleachers into the arms of my theater student classmates. What’s the worst thing that could happen? I’d ask myself. Die? Okay, screw it and plunge! It was exhilarating—like a near-death experience but without the risk.

“You didn’t move at all,” somebody would inevitably gasp at the end of an hourlong pose. “How do you do that?” I’d smile demurely and shrug.

The first time I took off my robe in front of a room full of artists, it was pretty weird for the first few minutes but then something amazing happened. I realized people were liking my irregular figure, my big breasts, my belly that I’d tried to starve away in high school. They liked the fact that I looked like a real human being . . . and that felt nice. Stark naked, admired, valued, with literally everything hanging out, I felt safer than I’d ever felt in my life. Nobody was going to grab me; nobody even knew my name.

Then came the peace—hours and hours that today I would call “meditation.” There is virtual silence in art classes, so from the time I took the first pose, I went into a trance.

“What do you think about?” artists would ask me later.

“Music,” I’d answer.

Sometimes I’d play whole symphonies in my head. Sometimes phrases of music would repeat on a loop. Sometimes I’d daydream. Sometimes there was nothing—a state of blissful, open-ended nothingness.

“You didn’t move at all,” somebody would inevitably gasp at the end of an hourlong pose. “How do you do that?” I’d smile demurely and shrug.

The secret was that I didn’t care. There’s no possibility of anything being wrong in that “don’t-care” place. There were no problems, no insecurities, no fears.

There is an intoxicating power to being admired and untouchable. Some girls—pretty girls—learn about that early, but that had not been my road. I was the pretty girl’s best friend, the girl who wasn’t asked to dance, the girl who didn’t have a date until college. But naked on a platform, I was a goddess.

In sketch classes where I did six ten-minute poses, artists liked the fact that I would act out scenarios—each pose a storyboard frame of a drama that only I knew. I’d get so involved that sometimes I’d end up with my legs spread in such a way that, had I seen it, I would have cringed. But in the don’t-care place, I was fine…because I wasn’t me. I was an explorer climbing mountains and slithering through jungles. I was a Homo sapiens advancing from birth to old age to death. I was the whole darned family of man.

And then there was the power. There is an intoxicating power to being admired and untouchable. Some girls—pretty girls—learn about that early, but that had not been my road. I was the pretty girl’s best friend, the girl who wasn’t asked to dance, the girl who didn’t have a date until college. But naked on a platform, I was a goddess. Through my half-closed eyes (I kept them this way so nobody could see in), I would see men react as I dropped my robe—their bodies suddenly coming to attention as they looked and sketched and looked and painted. They were respectful and shy in their admiration, and that made me brave. And my comfort with myself made everybody happy.

During a year when I couldn’t get a bit part as an actor, I was getting the equivalent of standing ovations every night in sketch classes. I became so popular that people fought to get into the classes where I posed. People asked me to work privately. I worked in painters’ clubs and design studios. I was so confident that I took one questionable job for a weird man in an even weirder cluttered loft with no windows (don’t ever do that).

And now as I rest into age 63…it’s much easier, due to the magical transformation that took place during my year of being naked. Yes, my chin is droopy, my arm and leg skin sags, and I’m not thrilled about my eye pouches, but I look like a real woman.

How many teachers had written on my grade-school report cards, “Betsy is very smart, but she has a tendency to daydream”? Little did they know that this would one day be a professional talent. For one year, my ability to tune out and be still was valued—and I made money.

I can’t remember why I stopped. In the years that followed, every now and then I’d run into somebody from the Art Students League who’d seen me pose. As he stared at me, confused, I’d query, “You don’t recognize me with my clothes on?” Or I’d receive a call asking if I wanted to work. “I’m not doing that anymore,” I’d say; “I got tired of being naked.” But the truth is I was just done with it. I’d learned what I’d needed to learn.

And now as I rest into age 63…it’s much easier, due to the magical transformation that took place during my year of being naked. Yes, my chin is droopy, my arm and leg skin sags, and I’m not thrilled about my eye pouches, but I look like a real woman. I look like a person who’s lasted. The confidence that the naked year gave me is alive and perky. Plus, at 63, I have the flexibility of time travel with a broad perspective. So as I look at my sagging butt and loosening neck, I flash back to sketch class: Gee, I looked good, I think, seeing myself on the platform. A whole lot better than I realized at the time. And then I project to the future: Yes, there’s the 80-year-old me. I see her clearly standing in front of the mirror, remembering. She shakes her head in amusement and admiration. “Not bad,” she says. “Not bad!”

Explore More

9 Comments

  • Barbara Botta
    Posted May 19, 2014 10:06 am 0Likes

    Great story. ..amusing and real. Loved it. . I know what she means.

  • Pamela
    Posted May 19, 2014 12:42 pm 0Likes

    Actually one of my favorite life models was a woman in her 60s. I guarantee you, that many artists love to draw and paint all stages of the real. Beautifully written.

  • Steve Turnbull
    Posted May 19, 2014 1:42 pm 0Likes

    Wonderful.

    I was an art student once and I always wondered about the special courage needed to pose naked in front of complete strangers, as well as what was actually going on in the mind of the model.

    Thanks for baring your soul Betsy. If you keep your mind half as young as your body, you will always be beautiful in the eyes of others 🙂

    Kind regards,

    Steve

  • Betsy Robinson
    Posted May 20, 2014 5:28 am 0Likes

    I’m so glad you all enjoyed it. Thanks for the comments.

  • Beth Carpenter
    Posted May 20, 2014 12:33 pm 0Likes

    I’m in awe, not only of your courage, to say “screw-it” and jump, but in your ability to stand for an hour. I have trouble holding still for the duration of a mammogram. Wonderful lessons there. Thanks, Betsy.

    • Betsy Robinson
      Posted May 20, 2014 3:56 pm 0Likes

      Thanks, Beth. People are made differently. I’m a kind of still person, so this stuff isn’t hard for me. But ask me to sprint? Forget about it.

  • ellen whyte
    Posted May 22, 2014 9:35 am 0Likes

    so glad I tuned into FB today and got to read your story. I always love the humor in your stories and the honesty. This was beautifully written and very engaging. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Betsy Robinson
      Posted May 23, 2014 7:41 am 0Likes

      Thanks, Elle!

  • Alice Karow
    Posted May 23, 2014 9:33 pm 0Likes

    Nice story! I also posed for life drawing classes and enjoyed the sense of accomplishment of feeling comfortable posing naked in front of the group. It was perhaps easier for me to take the risk since I’d been an art student first so I knew what was expected. More than that, it was the time of consciousness raising, women’s lib, back to nature and sexual freedom from the prudishness and downright ignorance of the immediate past. As an artist’s model, I could demonstrate, to myself and others, that female nudity doesn’t automatically equal sex, sex, sex; that the beauty of a nude body is grace, line and form, light and shade, even the reflection of a divine creator. And I can relate to the “daydreaming” too. I had a French teacher in 8th grade who used to call me out saying, “Alice in Wonderland, are we sleeping again today?!”

Leave a comment

Social

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

You have successfully subscribed to our mail list.

Too many subscribe attempts for this email address

* required