'Live Nude Girl': Earning A Living Unclothed

Author Kathleen Rooney i i

When people find out Kathleen Rooney models for artists, she writes that their first question is always "Like, naked?" Beth Rooney hide caption

itoggle caption Beth Rooney
Author Kathleen Rooney

When people find out Kathleen Rooney models for artists, she writes that their first question is always "Like, naked?"

Beth Rooney

Writer Kathleen Rooney supplements her income with gigs as a nude model. She started when she was a graduate student, and has been modeling for artists for six years. "It's a weird way to earn money," she writes, but it's not how she makes her living. She calls it more than a hobby — a "compulsion."

It took Rooney many years to tell her mother about her job. She writes that her parents now find it "embarrassing, best left untalked about."

Rooney has a variety of clients, from classes full of Intro to Drawing students, to lone artists who ask her to pose for their works. One constant? Her then-boyfriend-now-husband's blue flannel bathrobe, which she wears, then drops for the session.

In her book, Live Nude Girl, Rooney raises the philosophical and personal concerns of posing for art, and makes a distinction between nudity and nakedness.

Excerpt: 'Live Nude Girl'

Cover 'Live Nude Girl' i i
Cover 'Live Nude Girl'

I will receive instructions from the instructor, the group, or the artist on how I am to position my body and how often I am entitled to pause for breaks. At the universities, the standard is twenty minutes on, five off, with a long break in the middle, perhaps with a lecture or demonstration here or there. I can hold still for much longer than that if necessary. Maybe the teacher or artist will hand me a clicking kitchen timer with a jangly bell to keep track of the minutes, or maybe I'll be expected to do that in my head, with the assistance of my wristwatch if I've remembered to wear one and remembered to leave it on.

And then it will come, the moment we've all been waiting for: the ribbon-cutting, the dramatic unveiling. I'll slip off the loose knot of the belt at my waist and set my robe in a heap at side of the stand, out of the composition, but within easy reach. If the day is cold, my skin might erupt into goose bumps, the fine brown hairs on my arms standing tinily on end. If it is hot, I might begin to sweat under the added heat of the lights.

The first thirty seconds of nudity are always the most jarring, charged for me and for those who are looking at me, at least if it is a class or artist who has never seen me naked, never worked with me in the past. The disrobing is a gentle shock, a surprise, a kind of eyewash, and the instant is electrified, more vivid than those that preceded it and those that will come after. My nudity might seem unreal, as if it can't really be happening, as if this strange other person can't possibly be presenting herself without a stitch and letting her body be drawn. So too might my nudity feel hyper-real, as if this person is the most three-dimensional object in space, vulnerable in her nakedness, but powerful in her command of the entire room's studious and uninterrupted attention. But after these first few seconds, the flamboyance and the frisson seem to settle a bit, and the artists get down to the task at hand, which is not merely to gawk or to watch or to gaze, but to transmit from their eyes to the model, to their hands, to the page or the canvas or the clay the image they hope to render over the course of those three short hours.

If the artist or class or group is familiar, even the first thirty seconds might feel more routine, more like business, stripping down for a purpose, like, say, going to the doctor. I might seem as clad in my nudity as white-collar workers seem clad in their suits, as blue-collar workers seem clad in their uniforms. I will settle into the mechanics of the work: pose and break, pose and break; nude then robed, nude then robed. There is a meditative rhythm to a modeling session, one punctuated with trips to the bathroom, calls on my cell phone, the jotting of notes in my notebook, the adjustments of space heaters or fans according to the season. I might chat with the students or compare teaching notes with the professor. I might get out my calendar and set up further private appointments with the group or the artist. I might get hit on, or then again I might not. Maybe it's a class I'm friends with and I'll get invited to a birthday party, a basketball game, or a kegger. Maybe the teacher and I have worked together a lot, have hit it off, and we'll make plans to have lunch. Maybe the drawing group ladies will find out I'm giving a poetry reading somewhere and plot a field trip to hear me. I am continually surprised by how three hours can fly by, and then it's back to the bathroom to suit back up and get ready to rejoin the more uniform world of the fully clothed. Once dressed, I'll swing back by the classroom, living room, or studio space to collect my cash. These jobs are sometimes contract-employee, sometimes under-the-table, and while I prefer the latter, it's good money either way.

Excerpted from Live Nude Girl by Kathleen Rooney. Reproduced with permission of the University of Arkansas Press.

Books Featured In This Story

Live Nude Girl

My Life As an Object

by Kathleen Rooney

Hardcover, 183 pages | purchase

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