Columns

Simon ’16: Baring it all for Bruno

By
Opinions Editor
Monday, November 9, 2015

Few people can lay claim to ever having removed articles of clothing for monetary gain. Fewer of these people can say they did so while studying at an Ivy League university. And the fewest of this motley bunch can say it was their Ivy League university that paid them to bare it all in front of their peers. As bad luck would have it, the fewest of the few happens to be me, Chad Simon ’16, Ivy League student and, up until two years ago, professional nude model for the University’s visual arts department.

Deciding to become a nude model certainly plumbed some early concerns, chief among them being why someone with a frame rivaling a bulimic praying mantis would ever be welcomed into a circle of skilled figure painters or, equally paramount, how I would ever find time to shave every square inch of my Hungarian hide. (It took three hours and was, apparently, wholly unnecessary.)

In other words, my initial reservations were irrational and as blithely discarded as my chiffon robe was seconds into the first shift. But nothing at the forefront of my wildest imagination ever suggested the possibility of one day regretting it all. And yet, in just a matter of hours following my first day on the stool, the illusion of my trade quickly revealed itself in the form of shock, shame and a corroded sense of self-respect.

I was endlessly terrified of running into peers on campus for whom I had recently undressed. I was worried my reputation had suffered irreversible damage. And I was fraught with guilt that I had betrayed my own ethos by selling it down the river for a taste of the good life, which I defined as a $15-an-hour salary.

I suppose there’s a reason why the visual arts department needs to pay models about twice what the typical Brown student employee earns — it’s compensating for any mental distress incurred during, and forever after, a shift. Accordingly, I am led to believe the visual arts department preyed on my low-income status — perhaps the students most susceptible to forsaking their own values are those strapped hard enough for cash to reconsider them.

I was of the belief that $15 an hour was mythically generous. Finally, I thought, gainful employment! I assumed all of my problems would be solved. Never again would I have to eke out a living making sandwiches for minimum wage at the Blue Room — my prior vocation. I was en route to amassing a small fortune for what I considered to be harmless fun. But as the maxim goes, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

Lord, was it!

“The visual arts department victimizes the poor, commodifies their bodies and profits off their desperation — all in the name of learning!” is what I would say if I were trying to be inflammatory. That is not my aim. I merely want to shed light on an issue that can be problematic for low-income students willing to be victimized, have their bodies commodified and their pleas for financial deliverance predatorily answered.

At present, what I find frightening is how devoid my life had been of any clues that would suggest public nudity to be the next logical rung on the ladder of my life. I did not have a childhood marred by corruption. I never had exhibitionist tendencies. And I can say with absolute certainty that I have never harbored a hidden agenda to undermine the anti-naturist sentiment woven into our puritanical society.

What I did have, quite plainly, was debt. And I have woefully borne the realization that stifling debt often begets unorthodox behavior — and unorthodox behavior often invites exploitation. Well, the visual arts department invited me all right. And I RSVPed. I was turned into a piece of meat and objectified.

I thought nude modeling would be glamorous; I thought it would be easy money; I thought nudity and nakedness were separate entities; I thought sitting buck-naked and cross-legged on a wooden barstool surrounded by a ring of 20 figure painters was the mounted peak of body positivity; I thought I was going to send a message to all of my mirror-shy colleagues that no body is perfect.

I was actually foolish enough to think I would find romance.

I was patently wrong on every one of these fronts, with particular disappointment arising from my failure to find a soulmate. For this, I hold high two factors in deserved blame: the individual responsible for controlling the thermostat in the List Art Center and my physiological response to frigid temperatures.

Think about that one, and then for my sake, forget it entirely.

But never forget the perilous misfortune that will fall heavily upon your shoulders should you find your own moral compass guided by money’s caustic power and influence, which is perhaps the overarching theme of this op-ed. You may think to yourself, “$15 an hour! That’s more than I’ll ever see in my lifetime!” And if you’re a visual arts concentrator, this would not be a far-off assessment. In my case, $15 an hour was enough to behoove me to sign away my body carte blanche to a mercenary campus operation masquerading under the hazy guise of artistry.

I made a choice. It was a mistake.

Admittedly though, upon further inspection, I have to confess that modeling was a mistake largely on the basis that I was only paid $15 an hour. Being paid more than my peers for simply taking off my clothes does not make me a nude model, and it sure as sin does not make me artistic — it makes me a stripper. But being the progressive liberal that I am, I’ll be the first to say that I do not take issue with being considered one. I take issue with not being paid like one.

So before things get litigious, let me lightly suggest to whoever is tasked with student billing that they forward me a check in the sum of five figures as due payment for my fine, uncompensated-for performances. And to my former co-workers for whom I also heartily demand retroactive payment in the sum of five figures, your sincere thanks will not be warranted. Just understand that not all heroes wear capes.

Some don’t wear anything at all.

Chad Simon ’16 reminds you to make all checks out to “cash” and can be reached at chad_simon@brown.edu.