A strip freeze

 Graphic by Natalie Kulak ’21

Graphic by Natalie Kulak ’21

BY MIA PENNEKAMP ’20 

I suck at being still. I’m the girl who bounces her leg up and down — shaking the table. I’m familiar with the feeling of hands landing on my thigh, and mouths telling me to please “be still.” I tap my pen, play with my hair, adjust my shirt. Chapstick and lotion, apply and reapply. I’m the girl who does calf stretches in the subway station. I rise up on my toes, relevé, plié, tendu. Dancing on my own. I suck at being still, and have for most of my life. I likely lack the discipline. What I do know: I’m intently, intensely curious. Anxious sometimes, always searching and scanning. Perhaps it was this curiosity, or perhaps my expensive and insatiable Sephora habit, that led me to a Mount Holyoke figure drawing class.

The room was cold, concrete and beautifully inviting. Big windows and big paintings, an orange octopus, a red rose. There wasn’t a surface in the room that was safe from the splatter of color, the remnants of creation. In the middle of the room sat a large white platform, where I was to stand. It was unsteady and on wheels, with an old ’60s-style space heater propped on a stool beside it. That retro rectangle was there to keep me warm, and it glowed a hot Miami vice orange. I laughed off jokes about safety hazards and flammability as I shrugged off a white robe. Big wooden easels surrounding me, a 360 view.

Eyes scanned my body, intently and intensely. Hands moved furiously over canvas, and I stood frozen. My muscles twitched and ached, a building stiffness, a foreign feeling. A good feeling, to be finally and fully still. Suddenly, there was space for a different movement. Taking advantage, my mind wandered.

“This space heater really is outdated,” I thought. But I wasn’t uncomfortable. I liked it, it was one of those things so distinctly Mount Holyoke — the whole room was. Incredible, I thought. Standing naked, a person of scars, stretchmarks, moles and flesh. But I wasn’t uncomfortable, it was one of those things that was so distinctly Mount Holyoke. I thought of my body. Of where it had gone and where I want it to go. My own body — born tiny, red, and screaming. Desperate for warmth and nourishment. Growing fast, and long and skinny. Knobby knees and “chicken legs.” Changing, somewhere between girlhood and not. Boobs, blood, big words. Sex, drugs, rock and roll. Green push-up bras. The girl who was, is, anxious, searching and curious. Then Mount Holyoke. More growth. A new gentleness towards my body, a comfort I hadn’t known.

It’s a funny thing to forgive yourself. It’s a funny thing to just be, in your body. It’s a funny thing to not know what to do with your tampon string while you’re nude modeling. What I do know: On a Wednesday afternoon in the art building, standing naked on a platform in the middle of a room made of concrete, I felt warm and nourished. I felt still.

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