A slender, graceful ballerina enters the room. Her hair is knotted into a bun and she's clutching nothing but a sheet of fabric covering herself. She reaches the center of the room and secures her place on the pedestal. Perhaps mustering her strength, she counts quietly before dropping the drapes, revealing her skin—naked—in front of a number of artists.
"Oh my god, my butt probably has dimples and my back has zit [scars]," Joni Galeste thought as she changed her pose every few minutes. Still, she seemed to command the stage she was on. "I did not feel the slightest sense of discomfort. The respect they had for me while I was up there was palpable."
She was art, at the moment, as how an artist would look at a basket of fruits to be sketched in front of him. Joni recalls her experience, "They looked at me with intent and a level of scrutiny, but I didn't think it was objectifying me as something they desire. My body wasn't selling sex. I came in there, and projected what I feel is a great presentation of my body. I felt that, in turn, the artists translated that the best way they know how, on paper, highlighting angles and body language, which is what I gave them."
"I learned that artists really do see things for what they are. They saw me as a subject to draw. I learned that I can be naked and not be made bastos by men. What you wear (or lack thereof) does not define you. It doesn't matter whether you're scantily clad or fully covered up. To be cat-called or stared at rudely by men says more about them, their class, and their upbringing rather than the clothes you wear because I was in a room naked and not once did anyone ever make me feel uncomfortable."
But more than this realization, Joni was able to embrace her vulnerability in her nakedness. "The context of vulnerability in nudity comes with not being able to conceal physical flaws, and protecting yourself means being able to wear makeup or clothes that flatter the body. Vulnerability is looking at a mirror, pointing out stretch marks, scars, moles, cellulite, and having to show to everyone. Vulnerability is insecurity and honesty."
Posing nude in front of strangers made her realize that none of those artists cared whether she had acne scars or butt dimples. She explains, "We all have body issues. No matter how slender or fit or flawless others might see us, we are our biggest critiques. Maybe a wonky nose or ugly feet or knobby knees—we always tend to find something wrong with ourselves. But when you see the art, a translation of you on paper through the artist's eyes, you wonder if that's what you really look like. It makes you believe that you are beautiful."
After the experience, Joni says she's willing to do this again. In fact, she'd recommend it be done by other women, too—provided that they do it for the right reasons. For Joni, a professional ballet dancer, she loves the "aesthetics of muscle lines, veins, and shapes the body makes." She agreed to the modeling stint as she is captivated by the idea of having her craft translated into another. "Dancers rarely have a take home of [their] art. Artists have their paintings or sketches while dancers are pretty much left with nothing. [The] space is our canvas and for the visual artists to be able to capture that on paper, it makes it concrete and that's what makes it special to [us]. No machines, no nothing, just raw talent from both ends."
Above all, Joni says there is "a sense of freedom" that you gain from posing nude for artists. "It is such a liberating feeling. It also gives you a sense of pride knowing you're surrounded by such a talented group of people and how professional they all are. The real stars here are the artists and their work."