I was talking to my mom on the phone the other day and the subject of my day job came up. Recently, I’ve gotten back into my old stand-by, art modeling. It’s a good job when you find the right place and I enjoy it. The hours are flexible and it allows me to have plenty of time for other pursuits. She was more inquisitive about it than usual.
“Aren’t you worried about being naked in front of all those strangers?” she asked.
“Not really. You get used to it. Really, my biggest concern while I’m up there is–”
“–getting your period!” she interrupts.
“I wasn’t going to say that, but now that you mention it, yeah. Oh my god, I had a little scene with that the other day,” and I recount for her a situation that was extremely funny to her (my mom has a just slightly malicious sense of humor,) but maybe a little more than I want to share with the internet. Suffice it to say that the day was saved, but I was very grumpy because I didn’t get to eat my apple at my break because I was too busy dealing with my stupid lady time.
“But no, what I was going to say is what worries me the most when I’m up there is… farting.”
It’s true. It is what worries me the most. I don’t think it’s so neurotic. I mean, you’re up on a platform, naked, in front of a bunch of people who are intensely concentrated on your naked body. The room is silent, save for the scratching of charcoal on paper and the occasional under the breath muttering. You feel a familiar rumble. Suddenly your mind is electrified with large neon ‘what if’ signs. What if it makes a sound? What if it’s really smelly? It doesn’t matter who smelt it; they will all know who dealt it. You recount what you had for lunch and instantly regret the large iced coffee and banana. And it’s even worse if you’re posing for a sculpture. Because someone is always behind you. What if they’re working on your butt when it happens? And I know — I know this is crazy — but what if they can see it? I’ve never been concentrating on someone’s butt when they farted. I don’t know what really happens. Can they see a bit of a puffing out, like when you sigh in frustration and your cheeks puff out? Or is there a slight distortion in the air like what happens on the highway on a really hot day? I always heard about this male model who would fart through the whole session. No one wanted to book him. I don’t want to be that guy. People would say “Who, Lisa? Yeah, she’s a great model, but she’s a real farter. I wouldn’t book her in a small studio.” Terrifying.
So, nudity? A drop in the bucket. I wouldn’t pull a boob out at the grocery store or anything, but it doesn’t bother me to be naked in public. That is not the aspect of burlesque that worries me the most — and it isn’t farting, either; the music would totally drown it out. Michelle, my teacher, once said something about performance that has really stuck with me. It’s not the nudity that’s the tricky part — it’s the vulnerability. That’s what gets me biting my nails. You can put your body out there for people to judge (and they will) but there are so many tricks you can employ to control what people see. It’s when you put your self, your ideas, out there and ask people to enjoy it that takes all of those balls. It is extremely vulnerable in every way. Have you ever been to see a bad band or a mediocre play? And at the end you felt the need to clap out of politeness? Well, I’ve been in a few mediocre plays and the sound of polite applause is soul crushing. The idea of hearing that sound with all of my bits and pieces out? No, thank you.
So, why do it at all? Why take all of these classes? Why beat my head on the wall trying to learn musical timing and jazz box steps? Why obsess over an act for months and spend gobs of money on an event that lasts only four minutes? Why, for that matter, stand naked in front of a group of ridiculously talented artists and worry about farting?
I’ll tell you why. Because the sound of genuine applause is transcendent. Entertaining people and making them happy — whether it’s by helping them create art, or by making them feel beautiful in a dress I made, or by getting them to forget their shitty job for a few minutes and cheer at my titties — makes me happy. Happier than I ever expected it could. It’s worth it. Worth all of the anxiety and agonizing. I want more and more and more of it. I just have to make sure I’m well stocked in Beano.