Story and Photos by Meredith Wagner
Harsh light casts shadows on the curves of his hips, chest and legs. The surrounding room is dimly lit. Twenty sets of eyes study his every detail. He felt he was perfect for the job, in exactly the way, shape and form he came.
Junior theater performance major Kristopher Coker, originally from Birmingham, Ala., arrived to his first day on the job as a figure drawing model in the Baylor University art department determined to prove a point.
“Others don’t think bigger people can be comfortable with their bodies,” Coker said. “But just because I’m not conventionally beautiful doesn’t mean I’m not beautiful.”
Confidence in tote, Coker sports only his boxer shorts under harsh studio light in front of his peers. Each week he models, he is assigned two tasks: Strike a pose. Be still.
“All of my curves and every part of my body can be drawn beautifully and seen in somebody else’s eyes as absolutely incredible,” Coker said. “Hopefully I’m inspiring people who are bigger to think, ‘Oh, I’m beautiful too.’”
Be it on a stage or a platform in a drawing studio, many at Baylor and in Waco use their bodies in controlled settings to make statements and inspire others to do the same. Holding a single pose for an hour, these individuals must strip themselves of any and all insecurity—and, in some cases, their day-to-day clothes—for the sake of both education and expression.
Coker said he decided to be a figure drawing model for associate professor Mack Gingles’ figure drawing class because he dedicated the fall 2018 semester to listening to his instincts and saying “yes” more often to ideas that scare him.
“If I have a gut feeling that something is the right thing to do, I’m just going to do it,” Coker said. “I feel way more empowered and comfortable doing all sorts of things, moving around, existing in the world.”
Coker approached the opportunity to model hoping to inspire others to think differently about figure drawing and self-love.
“When I think of a model, I think of somebody super built and muscular all-around,” Coker said. “But people also look like this. This gives [students] opportunities to draw natural human bodies… real, living people in this world. I’m beautiful. So why not let people draw me?”
Other students at Baylor are also interested in taking risks and sacrificing their comfort in order to build confidence.
Sophomore theater arts major Henry Beard and senior geology major Ashley Trappe also model for Gingles’ figure drawing class, switching off with Coker week by week.
Beard and Coker share similar sentiments in their approach to modeling, both embracing a positive attitude, and both willing to feel uncomfortable for the sake of personal growth.
“In life, I think it’s very important that you take risks,” Beard said. “And you never say you don’t like anything if you haven’t tried it yet.”
Beard said it’s easier to feel vulnerable yet comfortable as a model because of Gingles’ open mind and respectful vocabulary.
“He’s really great because he’s objective in the way he describes the form,” Beard said. “I’m a bigger person, but he says things like, ‘Look at the volume that Henry has.’ He’s not saying, ‘Because Henry has this flaw, you have to incorporate it.’ He’s saying, ‘Because he has this quality, we can learn and do more with it.’”
Despite experiencing an emotional low point early in the semester, Beard said being a model has allowed him to grow content with himself, which has in turn influenced the way he treats others.
“In the early part of the semester, I had a low moment. I wasn’t in a very good place. Modeling was the jump-start I needed to keep going—being open, and being looked at in a positive way,” Beard said about his transition to a healthier state of mind. “I’ve noticed myself looking at other people in the same way. You just want to send that [positivity] to others. I think there are a lot of people who need to feel that.”
After seeing drawings of himself, Beard said he perceived the characteristics others typically consider “flaws” as beautiful and embraceable.
“The things I want to fix about myself are the things the students make beautiful. It’s not like they’re trying to hide my flaws or stage how I look. Their job is just to draw me,” Beard said. “I’m getting better at looking in the mirror the more that I look at the art.”
Beard acknowledged that modeling might not be empowering to everyone, but that those interested in improving their self-esteem should raise their voices, insert themselves into vulnerable situations and try what scares them most.
“Anytime you get the chance to read out loud, to talk in front of people, or to take positive social command over a situation and make it for the better, you should,” Beard said. “Vocalize the things that make you happy and chase the opportunities that scare you.”
Trappe, the female model for Gingles’ figure drawing class, similarly acknowledged that her body may not be perfect, but under an educational context, is beautiful in its own way.
“I don’t have a perfect body, and that’s fine. Most people don’t,” Trappe said. “I think at a certain point, as an adult, you should start seeing other people through a more wholesome lens.”
Trappe said her favorite task on the job are grand-gesture drawings, which students draw for 30 seconds to one minute per pose. The resulting drawings are vague but allow students to practice perceiving and imitating human proportions without focusing on specific details.
“You can tell it’s a human figure, but you can’t tell who it is,” Trappe said. “I think that’s really beautiful.”
Trappe said modeling has influenced the way she approaches other opportunities in life, adding to the positive, transformational narrative established by Coker and Beard. “I think I feel more confident and comfortable going out and doing things that are unconventional. I think it has helped me to say ‘yes’ to things,” Trappe said. “Being vulnerable is an opportunity to shine at your brightest.”
Basking under the glow of harsh studio lights, Baylor students are using their bodies to express themselves and inspire others. Trappe echoed this idea wrapping up her thoughts about learning and loving a new skill.
“Feel beautiful, and understand that even if you’re not exactly where you’re meant to be, whether it’s physically or mentally or with friendships, if you’re being yourself, it will all fall into place.”