The Challenge: Stand naked in a room full of strangers (and a few people you know)

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Words || Phillip Leason

‘Okay, whenever you’re ready, undress and we’ll start with some one minute poses.’

There are close to 20 people squished inside Parliament café, all facing in on me, as I sit on a leather couch, wearing nothing but a gigantic San Francisco 69ers jersey. On Thursday nights the tiny King Street café turns into a life drawing class, and I’ve been challenged to model for the evening. 

Now, I’ve never had much of a problem with people seeing me naked – I was brought up in one of those creepy families who are fine with not wearing clothes in front of each other. Consequently I’ve built quite a portfolio for public nudity, including the Martin Place fountain at peak hour, the China Town pedestrian mall, and most of the parties I drank too much at in my teens. It was a surprisingly formative element of my self-discovery as a young adult, one that I’m equal parts proud and ashamed of. 

The thing is, when you’re inappropriately nude you’ve sort of got all the power. Nobody actually wants to catch a glimpse of your bits, especially when you’re a guy. But in the moment I take that jersey off, I feel as though all 20 pairs of eyes have converged right on my penis. It’s not empowering or liberating – I’m completely helpless.

In keeping with Grapeshot, the theme for my class is Warhol. They’re serving soup and playing The Velvet Underground, so for some ridiculous reason I choose my opening pose to mimic Warhol’s Polaroid portrait of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. With my beer-gut, patchy chest hair and weird puffy nipples, I have chosen to emulate a photo of the man who was literally given an award for being the greatest physical specimen on Earth: Mr Olympia. Fucking sick start. I start to go red with embarrassment.

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See, my real fear for this challenge wasn’t taking off my pants (although that was awkward), it was taking off my shirt. I’ve put on some weight this year, and I’ve got some deep-seated body image issues. This perhaps wouldn’t be so bad in a room full of strangers, but two of my Grapeshot colleagues are there: Yehuda, our features editor, works at the café, and Amy, our deputy editor, has just come along for the ride. 

*Ding ding!* The turnover for the poses is pretty quick to begin with, and I make sure I flash the rad tat the last Grapeshot challenge earned me.

An hour in we stop for a short recess, and Yehuda offers me a beer. I don’t care if it bloats me, a thousand times yes. I’ve started to feel a little more confident, and I’ve been thinking about different poses, ‘How weird can I get?’ I ask. He tells me to go for it.

So when we reconvene for the long poses, I try getting upside down. Arse in the air, I lay with my torso on the couch, my forearms and head resting on the ground, and my legs dangling over my body. As soon as I adopt the position I think ‘Jesus, what have I done? I can’t hold this.’ But the clock has started ticking, and I’m going to have to stay as still as possible for 10 minutes. My legs are shaking, and I start to wonder whether this is a good workout. Maybe when I stand back up I’ll have cheese-grater abs. Probably, given how much it hurts.

“SOMEHOW, IN AMONGST THE COUNTLESS MYTHS OF MASCULINITY, IT’S BEEN DECIDED THAT DUDES CAN’T FEEL BAD ABOUT THEIR BODIES.”

After reciting the entirety of ‘Rapper’s Delight’ in my head to pass time, *ding ding* I’m liberated. For a more comfortable pose, next I sit on the couch, with my legs tucked up to my chest, and my head in hands. I’m pretty chuffed with this one, it feels very expressive, like a tortured artistic soul. But, yet again, I’ve underestimated just how long 10 minutes is when you have to sit perfectly still. After a few minutes, my legs, which were tastefully clamped together when I started, have gradually crept apart. Now I’m just spreading at everybody. *Ding ding!* For safety’s sake, I just lie on the couch for the final 15 minutes.

After we finish, I spy some of the artworks. The majority of them are astounding, especially given how little time was allotted for the poses. Amy refuses to show me her drawings though, they’re too bad, she says, and assures me that this was definitely more awkward for her than it was for me. 

‘Did you just stand, sit, and lie around with your penis out for two hours, Amy? I think I got the shittier end of the stick here.’

I grab a wind down beer, and, to my surprise, Yehuda slips me some cash. They pay the models?! Hell, if there’s money involved, I’ll probably come back (I’m a penniless student, after all). I don’t feel any better about my body though, and while I drive home I think about the countless campaigns I’ve seen for women’s body image. ‘All about that bass’, ‘curves are beautiful’, ‘lose hate not weight’ – but I’ve never been told it’s okay to be a little bit chubs. I’ve never been told it’s okay to have anything other than a washboard stomach and biceps. 

Somehow, in amongst the countless myths of masculinity, it’s been decided that dudes can’t feel bad about their bodies. We do. Then I remember the conversation I had with one of the artists during the break, he said I had a good body to draw, with nice soft edges – that I was ‘very real.’ That’ll have to do. Embrace the #dadbod.

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