Dear E. Jean: I’ve recently been offered a job as a figure model for an art class. But even before I begin to stress about how my naked body will look on paper, I’m aware that this will not be okay with my boyfriend.
I was asked to be part of a comedy sketch on a network show (on account of my “great butt”), and it was quite humorous and well paying. But my boyfriend protested and said (sweetly!) he didn’t want other people ogling me. So I turned down the network. I quit my corporate job because I was overworked and unhappy. I’ve been looking for something less demanding, and this would pay the bills and be a part-time gig. But I feel guilty for even being interested in it and, worse, being interested enough to think of doing it without his knowledge. Am I wrong? Or is he? What would you do?—Art Girl
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Art Girl: Bah! Take the job. Let us articulate the reasons:
The Frida Kahlo. Art Girls don’t require a man’s permission.
The Artemisia Gentileschi. Art Girls scoff at this pure male bullshit about “ogling” and recognize it for what it is: dudes’ insecurity, stupidity, fear, and the oldest way to lash women into submission. (And Artemisia Gentileschi knew from male drivel. She was tortured—with thumbscrews!—when she brought a claim of rape in 1612 against a fellow painter, Agostino Tassi. She kept her thumbs and won her case; Tassi has gone down in history not as a great artist, but as the rapist of the sublime painter Artemisia.)
The Georgia O’Keeffe. Art Girls know that being a model has nothing to do with them “personally” (as O’Keeffe, who posed nude for hundreds of photos by Alfred Stieglitz, put it). It’s about shadows, lines, light, color. It’s less sexual than an IRS audit.
The Duchess of Alba. Art Girls know that if they are painted by an important artist, they will live on after their deaths. I can’t prove it, but my theory is Doña María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva-Álvarez de Toledo y Silva, 13th Duchess of Alba and the richest woman in Spain, paid Francisco de Goya to paint her naked form. She now hangs in the Prado.
Ninety-nine percent of boyfriends are not gonna like the live modeling, but 99 percent of boyfriends don’t realize that you’re ogled a thousand times more often when walking down the street than when you’re posing for students in a class. You caved on the comedy sketch, and with it, the opportunity to meet captivating people, enjoy a hilarious experience, and create more network ops. Don’t make the same mistake again.
This letter is from the E. Jean archive.