Body Composition
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Body Composition

When you are sick, you don't want to be lying naked on dirty blankets, with only a portable electric heater to warm you. And 25 people staring at you. But modeling for university art classes, even when you are ill, is one of the many things you will do if you cannot find a job as a writer, web designer, or secretary, and your rent is still due on the first of the month. You prefer modeling to retail, fast food (although this university doesn't pay much better), and waitressing. It involves a modicum of discomfort as you hold positions for long periods of time, but the students are pleasant, and the professors are mostly pleasant. You can do almost anything for three hours, even lie naked in a cold room while feverish waves of heat and chill run through your body.

Thank God you're horizontal; the strain of holding a standing or even a sitting position today would be onerous. As it is, the knee of your bent leg is stiff, and your neck and lower back ache from the lack of support. The blankets provide little cushioning between you and the plywood platform on rollers. The cold of the room settles into your stomach and chest (never mind your pale feet and hands) and your teeth begin to chatter. You try to hold them still, but then the rest of you shakes. You want to stay still for the artists, but you also wouldn't mind letting them know how uncomfortable you are, because you feel sorry for yourself. In the end, there isn't much you can do about the shaking anyway.

You reason with yourself: this was your choice, to model, to come to work on a day you were sick. But the growing cloud in your head and the chills eventually overwhelm reason. You stare at the ceiling, not even feeling the artists' eyes as you normally do. To occupy your mind you often compose haiku, but today you think of nothing. Nothing except the minutes until your next break, until you can walk through the dry winter back [End Page 55] home, where you will turn up the heat and stand in front of the vents until you thaw.

Among the several professions that involve the renting of one's body for money are fashion and artist modeling, prostitution, letting a medical company test drugs on you, selling your plasma, having someone else's baby, performing stunts for movies, and playing a sport. Of course, all employment requires you to be bodily present in some way, even if it's just at the other end of a telephone;we lease ourselves for a good part of the day. But some jobs, like the one I had chosen (temporarily I hoped), happen to put more emphasis on the physical body. A myriad of criteria could be used to subclassify this list: rank of pay, class association, level of dignity or humiliation involved, society's perception of that level, degree of potential harm to the body, and so on. When I began to model for artists for a living, not as a side job for extra cash, the criterion on which I fixated was how much discomfort I had to endure, especially on days like the one when I was sick.

That day I felt particularly wretched, but even with a fever, the physical distress was fairly minimal; I would never equate modeling with factory work or waiting tables. I actually enjoyed having the time to think;my overactive mind filled the empty hours with a stream of never-ending thoughts, though many of them were about my aching parts. For instance I would compose haiku to entertain myself, but they invariably ended up like this:

muscles tingle—numbcontraction without release:groin and lumbar scream

each cool air pocketfinds me, draws ice across me.I am nipping out.

Besides cold and pinched nerves, the job had a moderate level of psychic discomfort, because the social climate of this workplace could be strange and unpredictable (as one might expect when there is only one naked person in...


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