I was breathless with excitement when I first went to college.
I’m a small-town girl, and I was going to one of the best universities in the country. It was a chance to meet new people and shrug off my former dull life. I broke up with my high school boyfriend, sure that I would meet some exotic guy from some remote corner of the world who would dazzle me with his intellectual brilliance and bedroom eyes. Well, I did have an affair with someone worldly, someone exciting, someone exotic, but it was with my art history professor — a 55-year-old woman.
Isabelle, as I have come to call her, was the instructor of an upper-level course on the depiction of the female form in painting. I didn’t have the prerequisites, but because I had AP credits I was able to apply for a waiver to enroll with the instructor’s permission. I got an email summoning me for a meeting with the professor. I had no idea who she was or what she looked like, so when I met with her I was stunned to see an older but beautiful women. She had a wonderful figure and strawberry blonde hair. Her face was largely unlined. Isabelle was authentically sexy.
She spoke with a soft French accent and asked me about my academic interests. I planned on being an art history major and already knew the basics. I could tell she was impressed. I gave her a paper I had written on Georgia O’Keefe, and she said she would read it and let me know her verdict on my request to take her course. By the time I got home, she’d sent me an email saying I was in.
On the very first day of the class, our small group of all female students met. It was a seminar, not a lecture, so we had to be on our game — no sleeping in the back of the room. Isabelle introduced herself, and we went around the room, each saying a few words about ourselves. When my turn to speak finally arrived, I found myself blushing as Isabelle stared intently at me.
Then she began. Isabelle had a laptop and a projector, and the first image she displayed was Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde, meaning The Origin of the World. If you’ve never seen it, it’s basically a close-up of a woman’s vulva.
Well, if Isabelle wanted our attention, she got it. Even a conservative, small-town girl like me has seen porn, but I’d never stared so long and intently at a giant picture of female genitals. She then spent the rest of the class showing female nudes: Goya’s The Nude Maja; Matisse’s Blue Nude; Modigliani’s Reclining Nude; Lucien Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Sleeping and John Singer Sargent’s Nude Egyptian Girl. She didn’t do much talking, instead prodding us into discussion. Were they pornographic or anti-feminist? Most of us didn’t think so, and more than once, the word “tasteful” was invoked. Then she put up a photo taken from an adult magazine. The model was a beautiful young women, and she was nude with her legs spread, her labia parted.
Isabelle asked us if that picture was pornographic, and some of the self-described “womyn” said it was. Isabelle asked why, and the offended women said the pic was exploitative. Isabelle mused out loud, asking if the models who posed for the great artists of the past were being exploited. Some of my classmates sputtered in indignation.
I thought her lesson was great. I had no agenda one way or another. Isabelle asked us if we would pose nude under any circumstances. Most of the class said no, but I blushed as I imagined stripping down for an artist’s appraising eye. The idea turned me on. Isabelle then told us she had posed nude years ago for painters and photographers when she lived in Paris and said she had no regrets.
Isabelle’s class soon became my favorite. It was more than an analysis of nudes. We talked about how the female form has been idolized in different ways throughout history. I opened up a lot more as class went on, and I paid a shy visit to Isabelle during her office hours a few weeks into the semester. I didn’t really have a question. I just had a serious crush on her.
Isabelle was welcoming and kind, asking me a lot about myself. Then she seriously shocked me by saying. “You may not know this, but I’m an artist myself. Would you consider posing naked for me?”
I must have turned bright red because she laughed. “Don’t be so nervous, Gabriella. You don’t have to do it. I just find your face intriguing. I don’t know exactly what your body is like, but you have that sylph-like look that I like to capture in oils.”
Isabelle looked at me, a warm smile on her face, and in those few seconds my life changed. Somehow, I stammered yes. I wanted to be naked in front of her. Not only that, I wanted to see her naked, too. I hoped I’d get the chance.
I agreed to come to her house in the early evening the following Saturday. She told me I didn’t need to bring anything, just my body. I was visibly shaking when I rang her bell. She answered the door wearing only a kimono, sashed so that her torso was visible from her neck to nearly her navel. She was barefoot, her toenails painted a fiery red. When she laid eyes on me, she laughed gaily.
“You look like a scared rabbit,” she said merrily. “Come in, and let me give you some wine.”