You’re standing in front of a room full of people. They’re all staring at you expectantly. You’re naked, of course, and each set of eyes traces your bare body with studious attention. You move. The eyes follow. Your arms, dangling above your head like tree branches, are beginning to grow tired. They shake, but you hold the pose. The eyes keep staring. You keep holding, aware of your bare skin sweating.
For Eli Saragoussi, this scenario isn't a nightmare — it's just part of her full-time job, even a bit of a passion. To document her affinity for nude modeling, Saragoussi has created an instructional zine, titled Working in the Nude: A Guide to Nude Figure Modeling. In it, Saragoussi’s simple yet absorbing line drawings act as a how-to guide for those interested in such a job — and provide an interesting work of art for the rest of us.
“I liked the idea of creating something that would both be informative and also beautiful,” Saragoussi says. “A lot of people have been enjoying the illustrations and are also just really excited that there’s a booklet that talks about how to get into modeling.”
Working in the Nude is divided by pose length, starting with gestural poses that can be held for short periods of time and ending with long poses that can be held for twenty minutes or longer. Each section has simple, handwritten descriptions and artful pen drawings to depict suggested stances and postures.
When Saragoussi started modeling, there was no booklet for her to reference — no how-to guide to make the process smoother. But the job sort of found her at a time when she really needed it.
“During the end of high school, I became anorexic and dealt with a lot of crappy eating-disorder stuff,” Saragoussi says. “I went to eating-disorder rehab — to the hospital — for a good chunk of time. That had to do with a lot of things, but a lot of it was body image and control.”
When she was twenty, Saragoussi moved to New Orleans to attend art school. Her issues with her own body image persisted, but being surrounded by nude models in her drawing classes began to shift her perspective on the human form. “Seeing people of all shapes and sizes being comfortable with themselves in the nude was really inspiring,” she remembers. “I thought, maybe this is something that would be good for me as a person who is trying to move beyond being uncomfortable in my own skin.”
It was almost six years ago that Saragoussi began timidly working in the nude. Today it is her primary source of income, as she models for art schools, universities and private drawing groups around Denver.
“I really do love it,” Saragoussi says. “With any job, you get frustrated with different aspects of it. There are days when I’m going insane sitting still for so long, and I’m standing there like, ‘When is this twenty minutes gonna be up?!’ I think a lot of people just assume that I’m this zen master who just goes up there and meditates, but that’s certainly not me. I wish.”
A more debilitating aspect of modeling is the toll it can take on the body, which Saragoussi had to learn through experience. Her zine addresses this in a self-care section.
But Saragoussi finds far more upsides to her job than downsides. “Not only am I being surrounded by artists all the time, which is very inspiring in itself, but I also have this huge amount of time to sit and think and be in my head,” Saragoussi says. “It’s great. It gives me so much time to think about my own art and the projects that I’m working on. There are days when I’m so inspired and every break I’m running to my notebook to write down ideas that I’ve been thinking about.”
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And Eli’s high-school self — the self that couldn’t seem to grasp the perfectness of her own body — has nearly disappeared. “This has really been a great exercise in learning to love what I look like underneath my clothing,” Saragoussi says. “It’s such a respectful environment, and I’ve never had a situation where I’ve felt uncomfortable or criticized.”
According to Saragoussi, Denver has a decent-sized community of nude models.“We all get along really well,” she says. “They’re all really incredible and interesting people. A lot of them have been modeling for twenty-plus years.”
The common nightmare of being naked in front of a room of people is common for a reason: The concept of unshielded exposure can seem terrifying. Saragoussi didn’t slip into her position as a nude model because she'd never had that nightmare; she started modeling in spite of it. But in exchange for the staring eyes and shaky arms, she has a body-positive assuredness that most of us can’t even imagine.
Working in the Nude: A Guide to Nude Figure Modeling is available directly from Eli Saragoussi via her Facebook or Instagram pages. For modeling opportunities, contact art programs at local colleges or art venues offering ongoing life-drawing sessions, such as the Art Students League of Denver and Helikon.