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Slate's Human Guinea Pig: Nude Modeling

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Time now for another visit to the research lab that is Emily Yoffe's life.

Emily, welcome back to DAY TO DAY.

EMILY YOFFE (Slate): Nice to be here.

CHADWICK: Dear listeners, Emily's best known as the Human Guinea Pig for the online magazine Slate, where's she's a writer. In her Human Guinea Pig role, she takes on unusual or unpleasant tasks that the rest of us wonder about, but would never actually do. A partial list of her accomplishments include telephone psychic--you were great at that, Emily--matzo ball-eating contest--I can't remember how you came out on that one.

YOFFE: I lost, but I was the leading female contender.

CHADWICK: Beauty pageant participant--and, it turned out, the winner, Mrs. Washington, DC--street musician. She's back today to tell us about--well, this would have to be your most revealing role so far, Emily. What exactly is it?

YOFFE: I posed nude for an art class, twice.

CHADWICK: This didn't involve an ad in one of these free weekly newspapers, did it?

YOFFE: Well, if you give me your credit card, Alex, we might work something out. No, this was utterly legit. This was at the Corcoran College of Art & Design in Washington, DC, a renowned institution.

CHADWICK: That's a big, important thing. And what sort of--I'll put this as delicately as I can--what sort of qualifications does one need to be a nude model?

YOFFE: I found there were two main qualifications. One, you owned a bathrobe. Two, you'd be willing to take it off. I think those were probably the two things.

CHADWICK: Well, you don't--one need not be Rubenesque, say.

YOFFE: The application asked me for a physical description, and I asked the interviewer what was meant by that and she said, `Well, you know, some people write "swimmer's build" or something like that.' I wrote `middle-aged woman,' and--but that was all right.

CHADWICK: It must be normal, I would guess, for art students to see this. But still, if I were in that position, I would be expecting maybe a room full of gasps or some horrified--I don't know.

YOFFE: I myself really had to suppress giggles, and I mean, I could see a couple of the students were seeing me about to crack up, and then I thought, `Oh, if they start laughing, that's just going to be the worst.' So I got myself together; no one laughed. I mean, everyone's had the dream you show up in class naked.

CHADWICK: Yeah.

YOFFE: And in the dream, you realize, `Hmm. OK, this isn't good, but I'm going to act like I meant to show up naked.' So it's very much like that.

CHADWICK: In your piece in Slate, you quote another woman who is a nude model, and I was interested to read what she said about it.

YOFFE: Yes. Well, she was, as she described to me, a starving artist. And so there are certain starving-artist jobs and she said, `This was so much better than working at Starbucks or an electronics store.' And it paid better, too.

CHADWICK: What is the pay for nude modeling?

YOFFE: It was $15 an hour. Now that's about three times the minimum wage just to sit on your rear end.

CHADWICK: Do you get cold? That's something that always seemed to me would be kind of a job hazard here. Wouldn't you get chilly?

YOFFE: Good point. They hand you a list of guidelines. Now your obligation is to have proper hygiene at all times. Their obligation is to turn up the heat if you say you're cold.

CHADWICK: Well, how did it go as you're sitting there in class? What happened, and how did things develop?

YOFFE: The first class, the teacher didn't tell me what to do, which made it both sort of interesting and a little more stressful. I started doing, like, semi-yoga things and I was worried, `This is verging on yoga porn here.' And I got in one pose--I was kind of down on all fours because I had to hold it for 20 minutes, and this middle-aged man who really liked the pose called out, `Great pose!' which actually made me a little uneasy. And he started painting away and painting away just really vigorously; I could hear him. And during the break, I went and looked at all the drawings, and most people were using pencil and chalk. And in some, I looked quite lovely; some I looked like a giant toad. And he had done this almost fresco-like portrait of my rear end. And I have to say I really wanted to buy it and put it over the mantelpiece. It was like the "Mona Lisa" of rear ends. It was really great. I mean, it was much nicer than my actual one.

CHADWICK: Well, maybe not. Maybe this is it. Are you going to continue? You have a--you've launched a budding career as a nude model, as the Human Guinea Pig. Is this something you would continue?

YOFFE: No, I'm not going to continue because I looked up the history of artist models. It's very tortured. You know, they tend to have, like, breakdowns or commit suicide, and I just don't want to go down that path.

CHADWICK: Emily Yoffe is the long-suffering Human Guinea Pig for our friends at the online magazine Slate. You can find her article there on nude modeling at slate.com.

Emily, thank you again.

YOFFE: Thank you, Alex. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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