I remember when I wanted to be a nude model. I wanted to be bare like trees in winter.
They pose against wind, snow, and rain.
The history of trees is exposed when they are cut open.
I, too, wanted to reveal lines of life.
Like sap in spring.
I remember why I wanted to be a nude
model: to not feel shame.
I let my insecurities stop me. The curve to my hips, the thickness to my thighs, the blue
lighting bolt vein on my left breast, the brown freckles on my shoulders and back because
parts of my body have become allergic to the sun from creams and pills and serums
attempting to erase history. Erase scars.
To pretend I did not put them there.
Many scars have faded―almost nothing. But, I (can) still feel them.
I carved into my skin.
When red formed, I stared at the contrast between my olive skin and the red liquid.
A creamy sticky paste. I’d slather it on my skin and glide my tongue against
the metal taste.
Red was always a good color for me.
My scars weren’t. Where red used to be, brown is and it’s faded. Before I shower, I just
stare at the mirror. Sometimes, I’ll trace the scattered brown lines. Not all of them are
lines. Some are circles from old cigarettes.
I became addicted to Red.
I think about what the artist sees and draws and paints; art is mostly thinking.
Their interpretation of a body and beauty.
Is there beauty in pain? A history in pain?
I think about the different eyes and “Is.”
I inherited my green eyes from my father, but we see things differently.
My sixteen-year-old self feels more distant than the present twenty-three year old self.
She saw a father who intimidated her. The thickness of his eyebrows and mustache. To
see black. Like ash. His bulging eyes and spider-legged lashes.
As his mother’s body deteriorated, his mind, too, failed. Failed in balancing
fatherhood and being a son.
My father’s hands were pale and covered with thin black strands. His fingers, too,
appeared darker and thick and long, like his legs. His nails were round and short. Barely
any veins peeked out. His knuckles dry and callous. His hands softened
when he prepared meals for his mother. They trickled
spices and affection over her food. I was Red
when he made her dinner and
didn’t make anything
He didn’t understand that he could be a son and father.
My father was Red with watching his mother die.
His mother lived with us, and her body was starting to disintegrate. Like the way wood burns against fire.
His siblings abandoned her because they didn’t want to take care of her, of her body, of the body that gave them existence.
My father’s mother had white-gray hair. Like the in-between stage of snow and slush.
She had pale blue eyes and natural curls that looked like she used rollers. Her skin was
fair and sprinkled with birthmarks of Red and black.
Age made her body fail.
Toward the end, her breasts sunk and sagged to her bellybutton. Her legs looked like
prunes. Her blue eyes vacant. Her hands shook with every minute. I used to clean her
urine off the floor because she forgot how to use the bathroom. I used to help my mother
bathe her as she sat in her chair and did nothing. I watched my father feed her, as her jaw
didn’t move. I remember her not remembering me. Her mind failing to identify my father.
The white in his eyes switching to Red and the green changing to hazel with the altered
My father was Red and blue watching her forget him.
The colors mixed and now, he is blue-violet. Scared
my siblings and I won’t take care of him
and my mother when their bodies fail.
My siblings and I watched two grandmothers die, and both parents acted as the primary
caretakers. My father doesn’t realize how much it has affected us. When we
were younger, we made a pact to take care of our parents. Together.
As my parents age, I can understand more his extreme behavior. Out of my close friends’
parents, mine are the oldest. I don’t consider them old, but when I think of the age their mothers started to need their
children, I realize, they are close.
I can no longer be Red with my father.
My father is sixty-two. His hair is black with shimmers of gray on his sideburns and
bushy eyebrows. His mustache, dyed black. He’ll never admit doing this. His eyes, round
and jade. His cheeks, rosy. He could pass for being in his mid-fifties. His stomach, too, is
round. His fair skin, hairy and showered with birthmarks.
My father was in a car accident in the faded winter and early spring.
His lower back ached. Like fingers jamming in a car door. I wanted to take a plane to
Chicago the minute I heard. He told me it wasn’t serious.
Just soreness. No permanent damage.
“Just come home after graduation,” he said.
My mother called to tell me her fear of caring for him when they age. She remembers
flashes of his mother’s body. The neediness. The lack of wanting to live. Her voice,
Red. Like an open wound. Her fear, loud. Like the sound of weeping. She, too,
fears my siblings and I won’t take care of her either.
Fear feels lonely. Like forests without trees.
Fear feels numb. Like ice on leaves.
Fear is blinding. So is Red.
I started to cut at sixteen. I felt. Like blankets of snow cupping over fingers and the skin
turning colors from the new temperature.
I took the sharp end to the backing of a hoop earring and rubbed and scratched until skin
peeled and started to separate. I ignored the stinging as I sat in the corner of my room. I
repeated. And repeated. Until paste that felt sticky formed, until there was evidence; until
my body triggered a response but my mind didn’t; until I could control how deep I went.
I find being naked difficult.
My grandmother’s body was failing for ten years before her death. Ten years of extreme.
Being a nude model would show the green of the lingering past. Like the smell of a
candle that was just blown out.
I wanted artists to draw my imperfections. To show me beauty can be ugly, too.
(I think of holding my posed body in uncomfortable positions. To let my muscles tense.
To let the itch on my face continue. To let the breeze brush my black curls off my
shoulder. To let my thoughts wander as a class of students figure draw my naked stillness.
I think of my body as an object.)
Beauty in Red and green. Beauty in water falling from my eyes to my cheeks to my
collarbone. Beauty in the different eyes. Beauty in the smell of rust. Beauty in white.
Maybe I’m like Maggie Nelson, and I am in love with a color.
The scars are what made me not want to be a nude model.
To be naked is to show a history: wrinkles, scars, stretch marks, cuts, hair, birthmarks, smiles.
Sometimes, I wonder if daughters learn to not like bodies from their mothers.
At twenty-three, sometimes my fingertips lightly trace and stroke the two scattered lines on the left side by my rib. They slide along the repaired skin—the brown mixed with pale olive color. Now, the lines are as obvious as imprints from clothing on skin.
I disguise the brown with bracelets or watches or clothing. I tuck behind objects as if they were curtains to windows.
My mother loathed her body. She hid behind black sweater sets and pants that were two sizes too big. She told me when she was in her twenties, she smoked cigarettes to curve her appetite and skipped meals everyday.
She read self-help books to learn to love her body.
The scattered birthmarks and moles. The body she had before her three pregnancies
and two miscarriages. The body she had before and after children. The body she has now after depression, menopause, and radiation. The permanent scar on her right breast from cancer.
My mother taught me displaying skin was an embarrassment. I learned it by her making me wear cardigans with tank tops in the Chicago heat. I learned it by her never wanting to show me her body.
“I’m sorry for showing you my body,” my mother said as she got out of the shower.
“Yim, why are you uncomfortable? We have the same parts—there’s no surprise,” I said.
“Because I’m ugly.”
Women are cruelest to themselves. My mother remembers too much. She keeps old clothes that used to fit or clothes that are too large.
I don’t know where she can put the memories.
I remember feeling nothing with every cut and burn. My skin would swell as I put a cigarette out on my arm. My skin sizzled and bubbled and broke. Each time I smiled and let tears kiss the apology on my lips. I wanted to feel.
A sun burn, roses; sunset; dresses; nail polish; lipstick; wine; persimmons; apples; pomegranates; STOP signs; a blush; a kiss; blood; periods; blood vessels; candy canes; Satan; fury; passion; rust; gums; The Red Studio; the feeling of it.
The unknown, decay, emptiness, darkness, chaos, the lack of control, hair, night sky, tattoos, ink. Black is the lack of color, of Red; it consumes the bright, the light.
My maternal grandmother, Nana Alice, had golden brown hair and deep olive skin. Brown eyes that looked like charcoal in the right light. She never wore pants and loved polka dots. She was taller than my mother, but rounder. Like a pear.
She taught me Assyrian and recipes like boodrek and tabouleh. We took the bus and went on adventures in Chicago together. Her wrinkled and veined hand in mine. My Nana Alice was strong.
I was nine when she was diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer.
I spent many afternoons and weekends in a hospital that smelled like gelatin and musty skin. The walls were yellow.
During the final stages of cancer, her house reeked of vomit and dust. I remember her eyes. They dimmed. Like the sun at sunset. The creases around the edges of her eyes protruded. Her face seemed dry and thirsty. Her once deep olive skin resembled my coloring: pale. Her skin clammy. Garbage bags on the floor. Empty used glasses. Laundry scattered on her plastic yellow couch.
She never lived with my family because she didn’t want to be a burden. I wonder if there is shame in letting your children and grandchildren see the vulnerability.
Shame in a sick body. Shame in a failed body. Shame in having the memories.
Bones; teeth; skeletons; dry skin; stretch marks; canvases; order; light; snow; purity; cum; nakedness.
War, divorce, miscarriages, abortion, clouds on a rainy day, childhood, age, perspectives, hair, wisdom, smoke, uncertainty, sickness, the blurring of white and black.
My mother has smooth olive skin. Darker than mine. More even-toned than mine. Her cocoa-colored eyes. Lashes that look fake. Her wavy hair, like the color of mud.
I was in fourth grade when my mother’s body failed her.
Her room looked haunted or rather, she did. Her eyes, foggy. Her dark olive skin resembled porcelain. Wrinkles and circles. I stood in the doorway, too scared to go in. She didn’t notice. The doctor’s called it a chemical imbalance. She slept for days. I remember my father blaming my siblings and I because he, too, was scared.
Sickness felt gray.
He told us she couldn’t be our mother because we relied on her too much. I remember cleaning my toys in the basement: my Barbie dolls, my paper airplanes, my board games.
She still didn’t get better.
She started functioning when she took antidepressants and she’s been on them ever since.
Guilt feels black.
I was never Red toward my father for placing blame. Fourth-grade me understood he was terrified of having to take care of three children. My twenty-three self understands he was projecting because he blamed himself.
I don’t like talking about my mother’s depression with her. Because even though I know my father didn’t mean to accuse us, I feel black and gray and blue. For making her job as a mother harder. For being part of the problem. For not having any power.
When I look in the mirror, I see someone who is full of mistakes, contradictions, and lessons she could have gone without learning. Someone who pretends she is tough.
My mother is sixty years old. She colors her gray. Hair the color of honey. She wears glasses because my brother ate her contacts when we were younger. Even though her children are grown, she still hasn’t purchased contacts again. Her thick, wavy hair hits her collarbone. Her eyes are still intense. Like the smell of incense. My mother doesn’t have many wrinkles. A few under her eyes and by her dimples. Her back is slightly hunched from poor posture. From feeling self-conscious over her full chest.
I like to lie next to my mother just as much as she likes watching me sleep. After all these years she still struggles with her appearance.
I have never understood why.
If public affection was shown on TV in my household, the program was automatically switched. We were never the beach or pool family. If the room to my door was closed, my father never tried to open it.
Sexuality wasn’t Red; it was off-white.
“You are showing too much skin,” baba told me.
I looked down. I was wearing high-wasted jean shorts that hit mid-thigh and a tucked in white v-neck shirt.
“Baba, it’s ninety degrees outside.”
“Don’t you care what your father thinks?”
I think of the past art classes I’ve taken. I took classes where I conceptualized paintings and drawings. To see bodies as an object in a portrait.
I used to draw. Eyes were the most difficult, for me. Eyes are expressive.
Interpreted differently based on perspective.
Did I draw what I thought or reality?
I want a pseudonym. The name Scarlet seems fitting.
My sister and I have always been comfortable being naked in front of each other.
We are the same, but different.
She took our father’s shape and I took our mother’s. We have our father’s eyes and teeth. She carries her weight in her midsection whereas I carry mine in the lower half of my body.
My sister was first to point out our different colored nipples.
Hers, a rosy pink, and mine light, brown. She giggled at the difference.
My sister is the careful one, the planner, the one that is in control. She is five years older than me, but we act more like friends than sisters.
“Andrea, your shorts are too short, “ my mother said as we sat down for breakfast.
“Mother, these are the boxers I sleep in. I’m not showing my skin to the public. Does it really matter?”
“Your father told me to talk to you. It makes him uncomfortable to see so much of your legs. Please, go change.”
Being nude is embracing one’s sexuality.
Being comfortable in skin, in gender, in the body.
To be nude makes me think of pleasure.
“What is your number?” my sister said.
“I’m not in the double digits, but more than three.”
“Were you always safe?”
“No,” I said and broke eye contact.
Sometimes, there is shame for a woman to have a high number of partners. I think numbering the people we’ve slept with is a set-up for regret, a set-up to create a narrative.
There is a color inside pleasure, but it’s not Red.
Can the artist see the different light?
The fingerprints of my past partners and my own as fingertips softly caress skin.
The sound of sighs from thoughts, from the act of enjoying myself. The smile.
The cold shiver that traces up and down my spine every time.
I think there is a difference in being naked and nude.
Kenneth Clark in The Nude: “To be naked is to be deprived of your clothes, and the word implies some of the embarrassment most of us feel in that condition. The word ‘nude,’ on the other hand, carries, in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone. The vague image it projects into the mind is not of a huddled and defenseless body but of a balanced, prosperous, and confident body: the body reformed.”
When I say, “naked,” my shoulders tend to shrug. When I say, “nude,” there’s nerve.
Being nude feels like memory, which feels like a collage of colors.
Memories feel like bruises. Do healed bruises ever show?
Sometimes, I think of the discoloration of a bruise.
The faded blue and pale yellow and trickle of green that hides under skin. Like the black lace slip I wear under dresses.
In Bluets, Maggie Nelson, conceptualizes Blue Movie by Andy Warhol. She writes, “ For Warhol, fucking was less about desire than it was about killing time: it is take-it-or-leave-it work, accomplished similarly by geniuses and retards, just like everything else at the Factory….It might be worth noting here that both Warhol and Cornell could arguably be described, at least for periods of their lives, as celibate.” I think about the celibate man I dated. I used to be black because he changed when I expressed I didn’t want to date if I couldn’t have sex with him.
I imagine his prior celibacy and how he connected with his body, his cock.
What about the saturation, the need for desire? The tension quivering and accumulating over the control of color.
What is the color for a void?
I imagine being a nude model and trying not to laugh. Imagining a tampon string slipping out and it, too, being drawn in.
The first time I found Red in my panties I was in fourth grade. The same age as my mother. Red flowed down my leg and stained my skin.
The father I grew up with and the father I have now still is uncomfortable with the word “Period.”
One day, I missed school because of the bright pain, and when he asked me what was wrong, I told him. He said just refer to them as “girl issues” that you discuss with your mother.
I wonder how he felt seeing his mother naked.
The skin of the old. The skin of a woman. The skin of a mother. Was he uncomfortable with her too?
When I replay memories, his face is solemn and hands are robotic. He never made eye contact with me after he bathed her.
I imagine my first modeling job.
I am in a university bathroom. I unbutton my collared dress and it hits the floor. I fold it and place it in my messenger bag. I look down at my body to check for clothing imprints, but I don’t have any since I didn’t wear undergarments.
I put on a Red robe.
I walk into the classroom and unwrap my robe off my body. I feel my cheeks turn pink.
The classroom feels cool. Like the temperature of a refrigerator.
I sit on a stool exposed. Trying not to make eye contact with anyone. Holding the
perfect posture I usually never do.
I feel Red pulsate throughout my body.
William H. Gass in On Being Blue: “The loneliness of clothes draped over the backs of chairs is blue; undies, empty lobbies, rumpled spreads are blue, especially when chenille and if orange; not body warmth or body smell or the acidulous salts of the vagina—no—blue belongs to the past—to the minutes after masturbation, to thought, to detachment and removal, fading, to the inside side of sex and the self that in the midst of pitch and toss has slipped away like a lucky penny fallen from a dresser.”
I just want to move
on from the past.
Above all, I want to stop feeling Red over things I can’t change.
I imagine there is time to think when one is a nude model.
You are alone, but surrounded. You are forced to confront the past.
Different selves. Different eyes. Different bodies.
Marguerite Duras wrote one of her autobiographical novels when she was seventy.
Fifty-five years after meeting one man. Years of thinking and reflecting and changing.
In the opening paragraph of The Lover, Duras writes, “I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged.”
Drinking when I’m blue is like the smell of fire.
In college, I blurred the edges of Red, blue, and gray.
Swishing stomach acid and whiskey through my gap-teeth.
Dry heaving and spitting from never eating enough before. Learning
that lesson over and over. Resting my head on a toilet seat and feeling
my hair dip in the toilet water that mixed with orange vomit and saliva.
Heaving spit. Heaving water. Throwing up the old self.
I was twenty when a friend found me in a bathroom and poured glasses of water over my head. I instantly woke up and gasped. Like when people do when they oversleep. He found me passed out on the floor. I remember my cheeks stinging and staccato beats in my eardrums. Like the sound of drizzling rain on a gray day.
July felt like January.
Envy, jealousy, eyes, grass, earth, spring, life, breathing, a hangover.
Sky, birds chirping, bluets, deep holes in the ocean, eyes, the feeling after sex, the masturbation scene in Ulysses, depression, Mondays, suicide, cemeteries, abortion clinics, Billie Holiday’s voice, the feeling I get after looking at a Mark Rothko painting.
Is blue the most human color?
My hair shows a history. It’s not as thick as it once was.
Hair rolled into balls that scattered around my old room. Strands bunched in garbage tins. Chunks and clumps of curls used to fall to the ground when I changed from a size seven to a size zero. I let my stomach growl and starve.
I hunched my back to see the bones poke out. Back when I slouched so I could feel the rolls of skin on my stomach and pinch them.
I remember my old body. I had a full chest, flabby arms, stretch marks on my backside and thighs. Protruding hips. I hid my body in sweatshirts. Size-zero Andrea still had stretch marks but instead of purple they were white. Like the color of clouds.
Thighs, still touched. Small arms like handful breasts.
I remember how weak my old body felt. Like eyes that can’t see far or close.
In Tender Buttons, Gertrude Stein is concerned with hurt colors. The correlation between color and pain and where it comes from. Does suffering have a color?
Pain feels color(less), but it’s sharp. Like a knife.
The first time I went to an abortion clinic it had white walls and carpet full of tears.
I was eighteen and an emergency contact.
Now, there’s one pill you can take to force Red. Back then, there were two: one to stop the pregnancy and the next to force Red, force pain.
If I were a nude model I’m uncertain if I would pin my bangs back.
My bangs, too, are curtains. I usually don’t like to hold eye contact for too long.
My eye color changes based on lightning. Hazel to gray to green. The white changes to Red when my contacts are dry. They always photograph green.
Has Red always existed?
Ishtar is the Assyrian Goddess of war, fertility, and sexuality. I think of the myth describing her descent to the underworld. She shed one piece of clothing for each gate and by the seventh gate, she was naked. The Queen of the Underworld, Ereshkigal, released sixty diseases on her and sexuality on earth no longer existed. The King of the Gods, Ea, learned what happened and created an intersex named Asu-shu-namir to bring Ishtar to life. Asu-shu-namir sprinkled the waters of life on Ishtar. She passed through the seven gates and with each gate retrieved a piece of clothing.
Sometimes, my body doesn’t feel like my own.
It’s when I get touched and groped on trains. When I’m fully clothed.
It’s when strangers talk to me and keep talking to me and it’s not just a “Hello.”
It’s when one man came so close I could hear his tongue lick his teeth, felt his breath on my neck, and his dick on my backside as I stood on the train.
I want to look at myself through the eyes of an artist, an audience.
Blue, brown, green, black eyes.
I took two trains from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side. I couldn’t stay in place. Like oversized camisole straps.
My legs, smooth like petals.
I was more precise with shaving my legs than normal. I could feel my ankle dripping with Red from a knick I made with a new razor.
I mentally debated in shaving everything. I have never really given too much thought to the hair down there. If I feel like shaving it all off I do. If I feel like I want some hair, I trim. The men I’ve been with have never said anything.
This time, I cared. I didn’t shave completely.
I wore a chiffon-flowered kimono and black leggings underneath my peacoat. I wasn’t wearing undergarments.
I felt raw and covered in March.
I parted my curls to the left and straightened my bangs to blend in with the longer strands. My forehead felt naked.
I left my nails bare and didn’t wear jewelry.
The outside of the apartment looked like a hotel. The doorman smiled as his hand led the way to the lobby. My shoes made a sound as I walked on white marble.
The apartment was spacious for a studio. The floors, the color of nutmeg. Hollow yet wooden. The walls, colorless with framed-colored photographs. As I walked past the kitchen, fairy lights outlined the shell of the living area. The windowsill, packed with plants. The window had fake blinds and was the size of a wall. Two pale green sofa chairs by a Japanese-themed screen.
My hands shook a little as I unbuttoned my coat. I felt my eyelashes clump as my eyes watered when I slipped off my leggings and unwrapped the chiffon kimono.
My muscles tensed when the artist looked at me. I felt my heartbeat quicken. Like the feeling I have before a writing workshop.
I kept thinking this artist knows me. Has seen me cry, laugh, and Red.
(What will it mean when I show the faint lines and circles? How will my body appear then? What if the artist doesn’t want to know me anymore after this?)
I wanted to put my clothes back on and leave.
The artist asked me to pose. I sat on the floor with my knees level with chest and my arms gently on my ankles. I looked straight in the camera.
My fingertips were cold, but my cheeks
were warm. Like blood.
My first pose showed three scars. Three dark circles on my right leg I put on my skin a year ago.
I tried focusing on the sound a camera makes. The blinking clicks. I kept thinking of the artist’s eye. What it meant to look through a lens at a body, my body.
Am I still nude when the artist is looking through an object to see me as an object?
My next pose I found in a book at The Strand. I sat on the ankle of my left foot as my right crossed. My right hand placed on my left shoulder. Covering my chest. My left hand on my right knee. Holding the pose was difficult. I lost balance the first time. I tried again and managed to keep it. I started to feel less uneasy. More in tune with my joints, my movements, my breathing. The artist kept moving around. Clicking at different angles.
Clicking in front of me, in back of me.
Did the artist capture the scars on my back? The brown freckles? The white scar right above my backside?
When the artist clicked by my left side, I remembered when I took scissors and cut by the left side of my rib. Two lines. I felt nothing when I did it. Then, I felt everything.
My eyes watered. I turned a deep Red.
I looked off to the side. My right arm made an acute angle as my fingers crumpled my curls. My left elbow, a right angle. My legs, curved and flowing toward the right. My breasts, exposed. I felt comfortable in this position until the artist told me to look at the camera. I wonder how my eyes looked. My left breast showed a blue vein I’m self-conscious toward. I remember when a man outlined it and laughed.
Did the artist see or feel that?
I sat on the pale green sofa. Legs crossed. I sat up straight and squinted my eyes toward the camera. My left heel resting against the chair’s leg. Toes, pointed.
I think I smiled without my teeth in this pose.
“This looks so good,” the artist cooed.
My last poses were ones where I stood. The artist had me stand in front
of the Japanese-themed screen. The screen, black-squared
silhouettes. I bent my right leg as it wrapped
around my left leg. My arms to the side.
Fingertips, lightly pressing against
the sides of my thighs.
I felt nude not naked.
The artist enveloped the screen around my body. The artist stood on the windowsill as I looked up. My eyes, widened.
What shade of green were my eyes?
After art modeling, I bought a burger. It was the first meal I had that day.
I chewed on thoughts and meat.
I slowly digested being nude and naked in front of an artist, a close friend.
I turned blue. A photograph felt more personal than a drawing.
When I started to cut and burn myself, I didn’t tell anyone. I chose places that
There are still glimmers of moments where I still feel nothing and try to feel.
I don’t want anyone close to me to uncover this.
The artist did.
Light can change so quickly.
I didn’t expect to feel black when I called my mother for our nightly talk. If she knew, my nudity would embarrass and shame her. I tried to swallow the black, the guilt. But tints were stuck in my gums. When she asked me what I did, I responded with reading.
She read my voice, but interpreted as tired.
When I hung up, the light changed just as quickly as a switch.
It’s been a few weeks since I posed and the black has been flossed away.
The artist looks at me in the same light as before.
I feel free. Like smeared colors on a canvas.
My body feels. Like a palette of Red.
Andrea Rehani is an Assyrian-Iraqi-American prose and poet writer. Her work has been published in MAKE: A Literary Magazine. Currently, she is an ESL professor for international students. In addition, she is working toward her PhD in Curriculum Studies at DePaul University. Andrea is a captain and member of Poems While You Wait. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Prose from The New School and an MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Northeastern Illinois University. Andrea lives in Chicago.