Local artist uses art to promote the beauty of the female body

Emma Shapiro speaks to the self- confidence and positive body image she finds by creating art


Lexington Women’s Rights Rally. Photo by WDBJ7

Rachel Hicks

Rhode Island School of Design graduate Emma Shapiro shared the body confidence benefits of figure modeling and the anxiety-curing capacity of art in a workshop at Washington and Lee University last Wednesday.

Before moving to Lexington, Virginia, Shapiro lived in New York City. Burnt out from college, she stopped producing artwork. As Shapiro struggled to pay rent, she questioned her career path and began to suffer from crippling anxiety.

“Making it as an artist is basically not a real thing,” Shapiro said. One of Shapiro’s previous professors asked if she was interested in

figure modeling for a class. Initially, the job was just a way to make money. Soon, it became Shapiro’s saving grace.

“I have to make art in order to live. It’s a health concern for me now,” Shapiro said. “Anytime I feel miserable in my life it’s because I haven’t been making artwork.”

Shapiro uses her body along with a medium to create her artwork. She videos, photographs or uses powdered charcoal to preserve her work. The goal is to promote the female form as a timeless and fleeting yet unforgettable entity.

Figure modeling became the outlet that rid Shapiro of her anxiety. It also gave her the confidence necessary to overcome the body image issues she had been dealing with for most of her adolescent life.

“My beauty as a figure model has nothing to do with what society says beauty is,” Shapiro said. “When I’m on the stand, and it’s for someone else, it’s just the canon of beauty. I trust the objective of the artist and that their eyes will create beauty from me.”

Last year, Shapiro moved temporarily to her parents’ hometown in Lexington. She wanted to get away from the pressures of the city and gain more artistic and showcasing opportunities.

Shapiro currently models for Washington and Lee University’s figure drawing class, has artwork hanging in the Lenfest atrium and works at Lexington Coffee Shop. She recently held a workshop for the figure drawing class.

During the workshop, Shapiro introduced gesture mapping, an exercise where participants draw each other on a large sheet of paper on the floor. Everyone moves around, but everyone keeps drawing, creating a memory of bodies that are and were there.

“It’s awesome how generous Emma is with her talent,” said Abraham Murphy, who works with Shapiro at Lexington Coffee Shop. “You can tell she’s put a lot of work into it.”

Shapiro frequently designs the chalkboard at the coffee shop. Murphy’s favorite composition of Shapiro’s depicted the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. The board included a rally of passionate- looking women with posters displaying their different reasons for marching.