**Disclaimer: deals with the distribution of sexual content without consent.
This shouldn't be difficult.
I'm making it more complicated than it is. I can paint the galaxy just off a glimpse. I can recreate a moment in time with a few brushstrokes and the right palette. Give me charcoal and thirty minutes, and I could sketch anyone, anywhere, just from a glance.
Yet my canvas is still as untouched as it comes. An expanse of white so stark it mocks me.
Maybe I should turn in the blank canvas. I bet I could convince Madame Dubois it's some philosophical evaluation of the idea of one's self. We are what we make of ourselves and blah, blah, blah.
But that would be a cop-out.
"Having trouble drawing yourself, Catalina?" Margot calls from behind her own canvas. Her pseudo-concern is for Dubois's sake. Margot Harris would watch me die from dehydration while drinking a glass of water. In other words, she hates me. But not as much as I hate her.
I ignore her while pretending to mix two greens together for no other reason but to look busy. I don't even need green. My hair is black, my eyes are so brown they're almost black, too. I don't even think I own anything green, and the only time I'm around greenery is when I take a wrong turn at the superstore and end up in the gardening section.
"Maybe I can help inspire you," Margot says, suddenly standing right beside my easel. She's got a glint in her eye that doesn't match the sickly sweet smile on her face.
She turns her phone toward me.
Of course, on the screen is the photo that's been going around. The whole entire school has seen it. I've even been called into the Dean's office about it. Because at Focus Pointe University, it's the victim's fault they were photographed nude. Even though the girl in the picture is clearly drunk, her eyes are barely even open.
It doesn't matter that I was with someone who I thought actually liked me. It doesn't matter that it was my first frat party, first time drinking. It doesn't even matter that I wasn't aware someone took a photo of me with no clothes on and posted it on a 'FPU Exposed' page. All that matters to anyone is that my breasts are on display for the world to ogle, criticize, and ridicule.
"I think this is your best angle, don't you? See how the light really captures the drool on your lips," she sneers.
"Which upsets you more, Margot? That mine are bigger than yours or that you found a screenshot of them in Tanner's phone?" I don't actually know if her boyfriend did that. But at this point, even my own brother has seen them, so I don't doubt that there could be some truth to it.
Regardless, what I said lit a fire in her narrowed blue eyes.
"You're just loving all the attention you're getting, aren't you?"
Yeah, I absolutely love seeing the 10,000 comments about how fuckable my tits are. Or the 5,000 from other women nonetheless calling me every name but my own.
"I'd say you should try it out sometime, but it's illegal to distribute pictures of minors. People might confuse your chest for a twelve-year-old's, and then you'd be arrested...actually, that doesn't sound like a bad idea after all. I'd love to see you in handcuffs," I say.
She exhales an aggravated breath. This wasn't going how she wanted it to clearly. Did she think I'd take off crying? Have some dramatic break-down in the middle of class?
"Ms. Harris, is there an issue?" Madame Dubois calls in her terribly fake French accent from her corner of the large room. A few students look up from their work and stare in our direction.
"Of course not, Madame. I was simply giving Ms. Price some pointers about self-image. She seems to really struggle in that field."
"Yeah, at least if her clothes are on," Walker Hayes whispers loud enough for the entire circle of students to hear but not loud enough for Dubois's old ears to pick up. A few snicker or snort, but none of them look me in my eyes.
"Please, take your seat, Ms. Harris."
Margot turns on her heel and returns to stand in front of her own easel again, picking up her paintbrush while throwing the occasional glare my way from above her canvas.
My eyes drop down to the increasingly frustrating blankness in front of me. Why should I have to paint a self-portrait when there's not a single soul who hasn't seen what I look like. How is it fair that everyone has access to a vulnerable and private part of myself? Access I didn't consent to?
Everyone can stare unashamed at my naked body, but when it comes to facing me, the real girl behind the screen, they all turn away. They don't want to accidentally personify their sexualization of me. No, because then they might feel guilty. When it's just pixels on a screen, there's no consequences. No harm, no foul, right?
"Remember class, the winner will be selected to have their art framed in an actual gallery and may have the chance for it to be auctioned off," Dubois reminds us for maybe the fifth time since she gave the assignment. I think she just likes to hear herself talk.
But it does give me an idea.
I pick up my brush, dip it in some color I'd already mixed that matches my skin tone, and get to work outlining my silhouette. I don't even need to take out my reference photo- that picture is engrained in my head.
This is my last class of the day, and we're the last students who will be in this room today, so I don't get up even when the rest of the class eventually stand and leave. I think even Dubois leaves at some point, but I don't look up to acknowledge her exit.
My brush glides easily over the paint as I add in details. The shine of my hair, the whites of my eyes, my beauty mark next to my nose, the mauve color of my lips and areolas. I decided to take an artistic approach with the background since random frat boy room doesn't scream masterpiece. Instead I opt for various gradients of blues, yellows, and grays. Almost like my naked image is floating in the sky. Like I'm a goddess descending down from Heaven. The way my black hair seems to almost bleed into the background makes it seem like I'm being cast from the galaxy itself. We are one.
"Beautiful," says a deep voice from behind me, making me startle mid-stroke. Thankfully, I didn't mess up the portrait.
I look over my shoulder and see Damon Yaro behind me. Tall, dark, and handsome is too overused a phrase to describe him. Too simple. He's not just tall; he stands almost a foot above me. His skin is deep umber, whereas mine is light sienna. And handsome? With those gleaming white teeth and rich brown eyes, tight short coils, and that little singular dimple, he's damn near perfect.
"My work or my breasts?" I ask.
The corners of his mouth lift with his brow. "Both."
It's suddenly so very hot in here. The heat from the front of his body so close to my back seems to be almost stifling.
He reaches an arm around me to point at my portrait, and I can smell his cologne waft off of him.
I swallow hard against the lump in my throat.
"You lost perspective of the lighting here. The shadow should reflect more on this side."
I nod along when I realize my mistake.
"Thank you," I choke out.
He moves away from me, rounding the circle of deserted easels. I watch as the muscles work under his dress-shirt when he reaches to grab his briefcase from his desk. It's not as nice as Dubois's since he's just a student teacher.
He turns back to me with a smile and gives me a two finger salute before heading to the door.
"Mr. Yaro," I call to him, stopping him in his tracks.
"You know I've told you before you can call me Damon."
"Damon...Did you see it?" I ask. I'm not even sure why I want to know the answer. I guess I want to know if I should be even more embarrassed than I am. If he's seen it, too? I think I will fall right through the floor.
"I don't even know what you're referring to."
"The picture...of my..." I glance down at the canvas and back up.
"Catalina, the only pictures I have interest in seeing are the ones you create with your own hand." He flashes me an assured smile.
I nod to myself as he leaves.
And that's the only image people should have the right to. What I choose to create and put out there. My painting reflects the sexualization of my own doing. With this painting, I'm taking back my power. I'm taking back my self.