88. Twenty-Dollar Muse

88. Twenty-Dollar Muse

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

Twenty-Dollar Muse

I’ve never felt more beautiful or more like myself . . . I love my body.

~Amy Schumer after shooting the Pirelli 2016 Calendar

I’d always known I was beautiful. I had an hourglass figure and wore a 34C bra. Then I got to college. I loved my liberal arts college, but it was stressful. To comfort the stress, there was the cafeteria. And the bistro. And the convenience store.

The Freshman Fifteen wasn’t bad, but it turned into the Sophomore Forty. I didn’t notice it happening; because I was beautiful, I rarely looked in the mirror. One day my best friend, Dana, took me to her full-length mirror and said, “It’s time to start dressing the body you have, not the body you want.”

I looked and saw everything. The bulging thighs. The sagging butt. The stretch lines. The drooping breasts. Dana had always been plus-sized and always looked amazing. She told me she’d take me shopping and show me her tricks.

But going shopping required money, and I hadn’t had a job in over a year.

I took a job in a mailroom working the sunrise shift — 5:45 A.M. until 9 A.M., skipping breakfast and attending a full day of classes on very little sleep. Less than four hours a day, five days a week, at minimum wage. I made less than $20 in the first week and quit by Saturday.

My friend Jason, an art major, had an idea. I posed for him so he could practice his drawing, for which he paid me $10 for two hours. As I was leaving, he said: “You’d do great as an art model. I can get you in, if you’re ever interested.”

Art modeling — a glamorous term for getting naked in front of strangers, letting them stare at you and doodle, I thought to myself.

“It’s $20 an hour,” Jason added.

I needed bras that didn’t squeeze my back and leave red marks under my breasts. I needed shirts that didn’t look like they were going to pop their buttons. Even if I shopped at Goodwill, I would need some money. I was at a liberal arts college, there to learn about myself and to try new things. Also, it was $20 an hour. Sometimes sessions lasted five hours, he said, and $100 was nothing to sniff at.

My first day, I wore my good clothes — it shouldn’t have mattered since I was there to take them off, but I wanted to look nice. The teacher, Mr. Godfrey, a little old man with glasses that slipped down his nose, gently shook my hand and showed me to a tiny dressing room with a fluffy robe waiting for me. When I came back, wrapped in my long robe, I surveyed the room. It was a softly lit room with small tables arranged around a raised platform. Not easels, Mr. Godfrey explained, because it was a sculpture class. I’d pose on a platform, which turned like a lazy Susan, and relax. From time to time, a student would turn the platform, but that wasn’t for me to worry about.

The students hadn’t come in yet, so I tried the platform — hard wood. I frowned, and Mr. Godfrey immediately brought over some pillows. “We want you to be comfortable,” he smiled. “You’re our muse.”

Students filtered in and I clutched my robe closer, perched on the pillows. They chatted with their friends about the movie shown the previous night — The Matrix. There were about ten of them. I’d expected a huge, anonymous auditorium with nameless faces. I didn’t know their names, but they weren’t strangers — I’d seen them before, in passing on the way to psych class or sipping coffee in the cafeteria.

Mr. Godfrey greeted the class and explained a few things about working with clay, capturing the natural form, and other technical terms I didn’t understand. He ended by saying, “Everyone, meet Lauren.” The class applauded loudly. Mr. Godfrey smiled his grandfatherly smile at me. “Shall we begin?”

I slowly let the robe fall from my shoulders, past my wide hips, and collapse in a pile around my ankles. “Get comfortable,” said Mr. Godfrey. I tried to gracefully sit on the pillows, but I floundered around them, finally just lying on my back and throwing my limbs around like a rag doll. I couldn’t see the students, just the stained ceiling and the vent system. I could feel the cold air blow down my breasts and across my thighs.

“You’re pure art,” he smiled. “We can’t create without you.”

Mr. Godfrey said, “You must be cold, dearie,” and set up a space heater next to me. I felt the rush of hot air relax my muscles and I settled back further into the pillows. I heard a click and soft, classical piano music filled the air.

It was a peaceful place. I was warm, there was soothing music, and I was staring into space. Every now and then, someone walked up and gently turned my table a few degrees. I took breaks every thirty minutes or so, slipped the robe back on and walked around, looking at the clay replicas in various states of accuracy. Some were grotesque, some distorted, but the good ones, the ones with real form and clean lines, were beautiful. The students wandered around, commenting quietly on each other’s work. I heard a few words — Rodin, Venus de Milo, Botticelli.

The hours passed quickly. As I pulled the robe on for the last time and the students packed up, one approached me. He had black and blue hair and honest eyes. “You were amazing,” he said. “Really inspiring.”

“Inspiring?” I cocked an eyebrow.

“You’re pure art,” he smiled. “We can’t create without you.” He adjusted his backpack, said, “See you,” and left.

Mr. Godfrey turned off the heater and started counting out twenty-dollar bills. “The students loved you. You’re a classic figure, like one of the Graces. I’d love to have you back next week.” He handed me the money.

I didn’t look at the cash in my hand. An unbidden smile spread across my cheeks and into my eyes. “I’d love to.”

I kept modeling all through college and even for a few years after. It took getting naked in front of some college kids for me to first realize how beautiful I was. I don’t know what happened to the art or the artists, but I do know that someday, down the road, a museum or a mom looked at an image of my body and said, “That is beautiful.”

~Lauren B. H. Rossato

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