Why you should care

Because a dare is a dare. 

The author is an award-winning journalist who is not naked as often these days.

Backing down from a dare is basically illegal. That’s always been my mantra. So when Jennifer threw down the gauntlet in second grade to climb a rusty fence behind school, I did. Same with a proposition to eat blades of grass at sleepaway camp, and that time in college when the guys in my dorm assumed I wouldn’t jump into a fountain and do the backstroke. I complied each time, because refusal was not an option.

Now Kory was questioning whether I had the cojones to pose nude for an art class. I’m not really sure how this challenge arose other than we were on the phone talking about exercise when decorum went out the window. Before I knew it, my blood was up and I was emailing drawing studios. Turned out a church, one Metro stop away, had a weekly group that documented the human form. David, the ringleader, casually invited me to join in. “All you have to do is show up,” he said.

My only experience disrobing in front of strangers was flashing twin guys during spring break, 8 seconds aided by a lot of alcohol.

As the day of reckoning drew closer, I started to get nervous. My only experience disrobing in front of strangers was flashing twin guys during spring break, 8 seconds aided by a lot of alcohol. As I walked up to the church, my heart pounded wildly. I opened a door to a group of men in chaps sashaying around (the Cowboys, a gay dance troupe). Wrong room. Though I wished it were the right one.

Then I spotted a few people carrying pens and paint, and I followed, like a lost puppy, in search of David. I found him introducing young women to each other as they sipped red wine from paper cups. Wine! I gulped some down.

“Where are the other models?” I asked David.

“You’re the model for tonight,” he answered back.

“Oh, really?” I said, trying to sound unfazed.

Gulp, gulp, gulp.

The “changing area” was in an adjoining room that doubled as a place for troubled homeless boys to sleep. I removed my sweater and boots, and then practiced, pacing around in a bra and knee-length skirt. My charge was to continually increase the length of my poses. First would be the 1-minute holds. Then 2-minute holds, before I would build up to 10 — and then the finale: two intense, 20-minute-long positions. “Intense” was David’s word, not mine. I cursed my friend Kory.

Was I supposed to walk into the room totally naked and then strike a pose?

Was I supposed to gradually take off items of clothing?

No, wait. I’m not a stripper.

I settled on timidly entering in the buff.

“This is Dena,” David announced. No applause. Instead, the artists remained seated in a half circle, some at easels and others with pads on their laps. Of the 10, there were just a few males. Most everyone seemed to be in their 30s and 40s with serious expressions and an inability to emit sounds. David offered me further instructions. I could use the stage or a chair positioned on the raised platform, if I wanted to.

“And would you like to keep track of time, or shall I?” he asked. Uh, I had no watch. I let him.

Are they drawing what my dormmates used to call my bubble butt? Are they focusing on the folds of skin under my arms?

I stared at the wall, which was plastered with sketches of the subjects who went before me. A tan gentleman with a sagging stomach and hairy pecs. A swan-necked woman who sat with outstretched legs. Suddenly I was up. It was kinda like karaoke or public speaking, only on mute, and instead of picturing my audience in their underwear, I was the one underdressed. I crossed one foot in front of the other, like a red-carpet actress, and lifted one arm overhead, trying desperately to freeze.

Smiling felt wrong, so I tightened my lips and began counting to 100. At the end of a minute, I switched positions. Transitioning to another pose made me aware of all my body’s imperfections. Are they drawing what my dormmates used to call my bubble butt? Are they focusing on the folds of skin under my arms? I turned to the side, hoping to avoid eye contact.

“You don’t have to worry too much about the pose. It doesn’t have to be elaborate,” David coaxed. I had been hands-on-hips, struggling to do my best America’s Next Top Model impression. His encouragement snapped me into something closer to comfort. I let out a giggle. Then I resumed breathing.

Soon enough, posing felt … almost natural. Dare I say confidence-boosting? This roomful of attentive strangers was better than any ex-boyfriend. No one was judging my body. They were way too engrossed in their artwork, hoping to master the curve of my back or the musculature around my calves.

I felt alive. My self-consciousness fell away. Suddenly, I was no longer naked. I was just … without clothes.

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