What I Miss from Art Nude Modeling

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I know I’m not even remotely the first person to say this, but it doesn’t make it any less true: change is hard. I am just over a year into my transition from modeling full-time to primarily writing, and this year has shown me what I’ve missed with my career change.

There are some parts of modeling that I didn’t notice until they were gone. Long gone. As in well over a year behind me. Maybe I’m just particularly unobservant like that.

However, I think that mostly has something to do with what we associate with modeling. Even though I’ve modeled professionally for eight years, I still find myself falling back on narratives and clichés when I think of it.  I expected to miss the collaborations with other artists: writing is pretty solitary work, while modeling was always posing for somebody. Finished products were another: getting images back from a shoot takes a lot less time than writing a manuscript.

And of course, there’s the nudity. I miss the experience of posing nude regularly. There’s nothing quite like making art with just my body. It’s an addictive and empowering experience. It’s creative and an exercise in self-reliance. And like I’ve said many times before, it’s not at all sexual.

But none of those things prepared me for forgetting to go outside.

When I talk about a photo shoot, most people picture something in a studio, on set with artificial lighting and a seamless backdrop. In actuality, the majority of my images were taken on location. And most of those locations required a fair bit of hiking to get to them.  

I have never thought of myself as a terribly outdoorsy person. A tomboy? Sure. But not one of those people that “commune with nature,” or who talk about the Great Outdoors with capital letters you can hear, or someone whose wardrobe seems to come exclusively from REI.

But when I stopped modeling full-time, I stopped going outdoors nearly as much. I stopped communing with nature. And I missed it.

Luckily, the internet sent me the perfect solution at just the right time in the form of Alastair Humphrey’s newsletter. If you don’t know Alastair, he’s a professional adventurer and writer. He’s even been named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year.

I, however, follow him not for his large expeditions, but for his concept of microadventures. A microadventure is exactly what it sounds like: something that’s a little more short-term and close to home than your average odyssey. On previous microadventures, I’ve done things like sleeping under the stars and skinny-dipping in the ocean. (Okay, in retrospect maybe I am more outdoorsy than I thought).

This year, Alastair has been climbing a tree every month. “Aha!” I thought when I read it. “I haven’t climbed a tree since my last outdoor shoot. This is exactly what I need.”

That afternoon I pulled on my boots, grabbed a book, and headed out to my favorite childhood reading tree for a couple of uninterrupted hours.

The tree was shorter than I remembered, but just as secluded and comfortable. And the book, which was also a favorite from my childhood, was a page-turner. Now I too have a recurring monthly event in my calendar to go climb a tree. And I couldn’t be happier about it.

Was going outside to climb a tree occasionally really all I had been missing from modeling? Or was there something more to the experience?

However, the whole experience got me thinking. Was going outside to climb a tree occasionally really all I had been missing from modeling? Or was there something more to the experience? Did it have more to do with changing my perspective and routines than just being a few feet off the ground?

As I’ve mentioned in previous essays, I have OCD. One of the ways I cope with my disorder is by creating what I think of as “safe bubbles.” I’m a checker, so I will often go back to light switches, faucets, and locks again and again. Being in a place I’m familiar with and following routines makes this process a little easier. I sit in the same chairs, use the same sinks, and fill up my car at the same gas station.

However, the problem with staying in a familiar place is that I get stuck in my bubble. And when I don’t push the edges of it, those boundaries slowly but inevitably shrink.

To be fair, I don’t think this is a problem exclusive to OCD. My mental health just makes it more pronounced. I think it’s normal for people to build routines and environments that make them feel safe. And I think pushing on those bubbles is one of the scariest things a person can do. After all, change is hard.

Modeling gigs were a built-in way to keep pushing outside of my comfort zone. They required me to go somewhere new, try something different, and take artistic risks. Each one was a new and unique experience, which meant that each one was terrifying and challenging—and good for me.

Writing, on the other hand, doesn’t require me to leave my couch. I have a very safe, comfy couch. I’m quite fond of it. And after a year of working from it, my comfort zone is smaller than a soap bubble.  

So now I’m actively trying to expand my boundaries again by doing things outside my normal writerly routine. Like climbing trees, for instance. It’s not going to cure me of my OCD, or keep my bubble from ever shrinking again. Going to a new gas station is still going to scare me.

But it’s good to remember that I can keep practicing at pushing against my norms and routines, whether I’m modeling, writing, or just climbing a tree.

How To Be Wrong

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I recently had a truly awful shoot. I was posing for art nudes on a far too public beach, although I was hidden behind a large rock formation. The rocks were a blessing for several reasons, really. Not only did they block line of sight from the beach, but they also gave me something to grab when the high surf came crashing in. I’d been to this location many times before, and I’d never seen waves this rough or wild. I’d also lived around the ocean long enough to recognize the characteristic pull of a riptide as the water surged away from the rocks below me.

So there I was, clinging to the rock, trying not to be seen or swept out to sea. I was working my ass off and cold and wet and worried and frankly miserable. As one particularly energetic wave managed to soak me, I had a realization:

Oh you fucking idiot. You said you weren’t going to do this ever again. You even wrote a blog about it, and proudly posted it to the entire goddamn internet.

Sadly, this is one hundred percent true—in my essay about problems in the modeling industry and why I am no longer modeling full time, I said I would not be taking bookings anymore that violated my boundaries, or put me in physical or legal danger. And yet, I found myself risking both my life and arrest at the same time for the sake of a few photos.

I wish I could say that this was the only time in my life that I had forgotten to listen to advice from my past self, but that would be a blatant lie. I often think of my blog posts as reminders for future me: “Here’s this thing you figured out the hard way! Write it down so that you don’t forget it again. And if it was a struggle for you, maybe someone else out there will find it useful too.”

It’s a noble goal, but I still often make the same mistakes again and again—even when I’ve already figured out and written down the solution. It’s gotten so bad that my partners and friends will mine my blog archives before they give me advice on a problem, just so they can quote myself back to me. After all, who am I most likely to listen to? Sometimes, I even preempt them and do the keyword searches myself.

On those perusals of my past work, I’ve noticed a second, completely different type of being wrong that I’ve apparently also had a lot of practice at. Sometimes I don’t make good decisions, not because I forgot the right answer like during my recent shoot, but because the conclusion I came to in the first place was just flat out incorrect. And worse, I wrote blog posts about those, and also posted them to the entire goddamn internet.

This was honestly one of my biggest fears when I started writing: that I’d be one of those people. You know, somebody that was wrong on the internet. Now I’m in the bemusing situation of having my worst fear come to pass.

It turns out, being wrong does suck.  (Although if I’m being completely honest, not quite as much as I had imagined). Sometimes it has immediate consequences, like having a miserable shoot. Sometimes people judge me on what I’ve previously thought, and not what I currently believe. And sometimes I worry that what I currently believe is wrong, too! I will always be changing, and what I think is correct right now will probably be wrong in the future. But at least I think it’s like that for everybody else, too.

I can’t stop being wrong. But through abundant amounts of practice, I think I’ve learned how to be a bit better at it.

The best thing I can do is not fear the inevitable. I’m going to make mistakes. But I find that if I’m afraid of that possibility, I tend to double down on being wrong and hold on for dear life, which is frankly the worst thing that I can do. Better to mess up spectacularly and admit to it and learn and apologize. 

And if people are going to judge me on things I’ve grown past? Well let’s just say they definitely are wrong about a thing or two themselves. Like how they judge people. I hope they learn too, and that it doesn’t bite them too hard in the ass.

I am only able to learn the lessons that I’m ready for.

I also try to remind myself on a regular basis that I am only able to learn the lessons that I’m ready for. I can run across a better idea—hell, angels could come down from the heavens and tell me the meaning of life itself—and it won’t make any sense to me if I haven’t put the work into creating the scaffolding to hold it. Ideas need context, and sometimes it takes time to build that.

For example, I can’t tell you how many times in my adult life I came across the concept of white space under various guises—free time, leisure time, creative play. I read studies on the subject, and I still thought people who practiced it were weird at best, and harmful at worst. It wasn’t until last summer that it finally clicked. And oh boy, was I wrong. So best not to beat myself up now, or I’ll just hold onto current beliefs and it’ll take me that much longer to learn.  And who knows how many times I’ll forget it before it sticks.

Now, let’s just hope future me remembers to read this the next time I fuck up.