Drawn and Quoted: Lisette Model + Anaïs Nin

This will be the first post in a new ongoing series I’m calling Drawn and Quoted (as much as I’d like to claim credit for this clever title, it actually comes from a joke by Fred Allen), and I think it’s the perfect one to kick the series off.  Here goes . . .

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically.  We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly.  We grow partially.  We are relative.  We are mature in one realm, childish in another.  The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present.  We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”  – Anaïs Nin


Lisette Model – Untitled (Teen Age Beauty) (1944)

There are some interesting facets to the pairing of Nin’s quote with this photograph.  Nin is of course correct, and that is why setting an arbitrary age of majority is always problematic.  I think we would do better under a system much like that proposed by Dr. Robert Epstein in his excellent book Teen 2.0, which has been highly praised by liberals and conservatives alike.  Anyway, what we see here are two young girls barely into their adolescence striking overtly erotic poses.  But questions arise: Are these girls seriously trying to attract sexual attention, or are they being manipulated into playing up their budding sexuality by the artist?  Or, are they perhaps just hamming it up for the camera?  And if they are trying to catch the eyes of boys/men, are they fully aware of what they are doing?  Those questions are at the heart of the ‘sexualization’ of children debate now raging.  But there is another layer of  irony here: according to Model’s brother and several other sources, she was sexually abused by her father (a doctor with the Austrian Imperial Army and the International Red Cross), something she never spoke about publicly but which may have affected her deeply. Even so, she was a complicated human being and we can never know for sure what really happened between her and her father.

Anaïs Nin was herself a complex woman who is most noted today for her erotic fiction.  Born into a Roman Catholic family, she quit school early and proceeded to embrace a bohemian lifestyle which included a passionate fling with author Henry Miller, an abortion (in the 1950s) and a bigamous marriage to a man sixteen years younger than she.  She was a model of the sexually empowered female well before feminism took hold.

Lisette Model

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