I Posed Nude for Money & Saw How Beautiful My Body Really Is

portrait of nawana toney by drew price

Can't imagine wearing a bikini in public? Or a miniskirt? Even shorts? True, you could continue to wear maxi dresses until they go out of style. Or you can say "F*** it" and do what this mom did: Pose nude for an art class and learn to love the gorgeous and unique body you have.

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This has to be the coolest #bodypositive story ever.

Nawana "Mango" Toney, 44, is a single mom of three in Lake County, California. Although she has a degree in child development, Mango found herself struggling to find work three years ago. Her best friend, the department manager of fine arts for the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, made an interesting proposition: She could get Mango a job as a model -- so long as Mango didn't mind posing nude.

"I was hesitant," Mango admits. "I have never been proud of my body. But, I felt ... I had some fears I needed to overcome."

Mango said yes. And not just once. She's since posed nude abut 20 times. Doing so hasn't just inspired gorgeous works of art (which you'll see in a sec) but also earned her confidence and self-esteem you can see in students' portraits of her.

Here, in an exclusive to The Stir, Mango shares what it's like to view your body not as an embarrassing thing to cover up, but as art:

What was it like posing in the nude for the first time?
I was terrified. I had butterflies in my stomach. It turned out to be just eight students, all male. They had me do a pose laying down on my side. I remember telling them not to make me look fat. I was very nervous, but what could I do? There was no backing out.

The teacher made me feel at ease, making references to classic art work and how the models were never skinny. I posed for six hours. The drawings they did were beautiful! I think it affected me so deeply because I'd never seen myself through someone else's eyes. I left the class feeling better than ever. I had conquered my fears.

How often do you pose in the nude?
I pose for classes almost every week. Not always in the nude, but now when I [do], I rock it! No matter how I'm feeling, I give it my all. Sometimes the artwork shows every roll and blemish, but I have to remember that not everyone sees me the way I see myself, and sometimes the art makes me look amazing.

portrait of nawana toney done by aaron meynall's students

Does this pay well? Or do you feel you get something from it that's more valuable than a paycheck?
The pay is good, but what is really great is how I feel about myself. I never ever want to imagine my daughter to have a poor self-image, and I hope that when she sees these drawings ... she will know that her mother was proud of her body.

More from The Stir: How Much Do You Know About Healthy Body Image? (TRIVIA)

What reaction do you usually get from people when you tell them what you do for a living?
When I tell people what I do for a living, most people want to know how they can get that gig. I've had women approach me and say, "It's on my bucket list to pose nude."

I get high fives from women, and, of course, men want to see the art.

When I recently posted some pics on Facebook, I got only one woman who said I was disgusting for taking my clothes off. Most other people had positive things to say. I now joke that at 44, I finally get paid to take my clothes off.

What does your family think?
My family is proud of me. When I told my 16-year-old that The Stir wanted to interview me, he said that was awesome.

portrait of nawana toney done in timutsu takishema's figure class

How has posing nude changed how you feel about yourself?
I recently had a young girl approach me who wanted to photograph me so she could pick me for her final project. When I asked if she wanted to find a model who was in better shape, she said, "I love your body. It's beautiful."

I now have zero fear when I pose. I'm doing a great service helping young artists reach their full potential. I feel good about my work and even better about my body. I would recommend [posing nude] to anyone who has been ashamed of their body or ever felt insecure about themselves.

nawana toney and children

 

Artwork courtesy of Drew Price, students in Aaron Meynall and Timutsu Takishema's figure classes; images courtesy of Nawana and Emmett Toney

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