Line A Day

_DSF5613.jpg

Sometimes, I think New Year’s Eve was made specifically for me. It’s a night where getting dressed to the nines in something gold and sparkly is never questioned, where you get drunk on champagne (cheap champagne is my favorite party beverage), where you are encouraged to make out with your lovers at midnight. And even better? It’s a holiday about goals. Now that, in my book, is a proper celebration.

Along with the bubbly and the kisses and the resolutions, it’s become another New Years tradition for me to write a post about productivity for my last blog of the year. I spend a lot of my December finishing up goals for the current year, and setting new ones for the next. It seems like the perfect time to share the tools I use to do so.

In years past, I’ve talked about my life list, my three year plan, and my annual review. But this year I felt like doing something different. I wanted to share something that I’ve found just as life changing, but which may not seem so directly—gasp—goal oriented.

In January of this year, I started writing down a line every day about what I did: what I enjoyed, what I wanted to remember. My only rule for myself was that, whatever I wrote down for the day, it had to be positive.

I wasn’t sure how long I would keep it up—after all, the whole thing was an experiment—so I started out by writing on a piece of loose lined paper. By the time mid-April had rolled around and I’d covered that page front to back and filled the margins, I knew I loved it. One of my partners even bought me a special “line a day” journal for our ten year anniversary. (Best. Anniversary. Present. Ever.)

If you know me, you know I can be stubborn. I’ve read all the articles about gratitude journaling and its positive effects, but it always felt so forced to me. “List Three Things You’re Grateful For.” Out of everything? How do I choose? And how do I keep from defaulting to basic things like “having a roof over my head,” which, although true, does nothing to change my perspective?

My line a day became a way to focus on something I was grateful for that was also tangible and immediate. I didn’t expect it, but honestly—despite a terrible political climate and a lot of things that need fixing—I’ve been happier this year than any other. Is that weird? Maybe. But I also know I’m a better, more motivated artist when I’m happier. I have more energy and opportunity to change the world.

Writing down a line a day had other benefits than making me happy (although if I had known, that would have been reason enough). I have a terrible memory. If I did not have multiple calendars and to do lists, I would never remember to get anything done. In the same way, memories fade quickly for me—even moments that I want to keep forever.

It turns out that writing down memories, at least for me, fixes that. The first couple of lines on my scrap of paper said generic things like “Date night with A.” Those didn’t do much good. But I started honing in on unique details, and those stuck. How the light through one of my partners’ sheer curtains looked one particularly sunny Saturday morning while we had coffee in bed. A specific turn of phrase my piano teacher used to describe Debussy that just made sense. The taste of dishes cooked and shared, the names of movies watched and books read. The topics of conversations and the feel of connection.

I was remembering more of my life, and not just documenting it.

It made me pay attention to the little things that otherwise would have slipped by. I was remembering more of my life, and not just documenting it. More events felt like they had significance, where before all I could remember was the generic.

All well and good, you say. I’m very glad that you’re now happy so much and can remember why. But how is this about productivity and goal setting? This is a New Years post, remember?

Well, my one requirement was that I write down something that made me happy that day. So yes, a lot of what I recorded were moments of love and connection. But I also wrote down a lot of the work I did on my art.  

This served a couple purposes. First, it required that I look at my work in a positive light. Where I previously would have grumbled about not getting enough done, I now celebrated what I did do—and ended up more motivated because of it.

Second, it let me look at my work as a process, a series of steps forward and little accomplishments, not just one “finished” goal. Plus it’s easy to see overarching patterns. When was a project particularly motivating? When did I get distracted or frustrated? I feel like I have more of a relationship with the art I make now because I remember so much of the process. I’m now more present in my own life.

So maybe this New Years, make a resolution to remember the details. All you need is a piece of paper—you can get a journal later if you end up liking it. As we’ve already established, New Years Eve is clearly the best holiday. So what will be your favorite memory of it?

A Look in the Mirror

the light within and without.jpg

Recently, I’ve been wearing a lot less makeup to my photo shoots.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s still some. The camera doesn’t see the world as it is, and I need to compensate for that. Nor do I have a moral stance against makeup. Part of my motivation is that, now that I’m only shooting part-time, I can experiment. Makeup is one of my tools of expression: it helps me create an image. I want to know what I can make with more of it, and with less, now that my livelihood doesn’t depend on me presenting a consistent image.

But why the interest in changing that image in the first place?

Nude modeling has been one of the most positive forces in my life. It has taught me to love my body as it is. It has taught me not to just accept my physical imperfections, but to value them. And it’s given me a space to create art with my body in a non-sexualized way.

So you can imagine my surprise when I looked in the mirror and noticed that I didn’t recognize my own face.

I started thinking about it, and I realized this has been going on for quite a while. I don’t remember the first time I looked at my reflection or a candid snapshot or a selfie and didn’t get a thrill of recognition, but it’s pretty constant now. I wouldn’t know myself if we met on the street.

It’s not just the face in the mirror. It’s my modeling images too—or should I say, especially.  Let me tell you a little secret: no model looks like their images. And it’s not just the makeup. Or Photoshop. Or lighting—although certainly all those things contribute.

I’ve said it before, but I will say it again (and again and again): posing is a skill set. And that skill set includes the expressions a model uses, or the angle of face and body we choose to present to the camera. I sometimes jokingly refer to myself as a “professional pretty person,” but I don’t mean that I’m naturally gorgeous all the time. Quite the opposite, in fact. Models are artists, and it is our job to create moments of beauty. These moments are so perfect and fragile that they can’t exist in anything but the time it takes for a camera’s shutter to click—and are often only visible from that one angle. Just like any piece of art, these moments aren’t natural or real.

All we models have to create these moments is ourselves—our faces and our bodies—and some basic tools like hair, makeup, lighting, and post-processing. It’s actually pretty cool. But it also means that, to be successful at this creation, I’ve had to develop a repertoire. When I walk into a studio, I’m not Kat. I’m Katja. And Katja has a completely different set of mannerisms and postures than Kat. Katja holds herself differently, from the way that she angles her hips to the way that she cranes her neck. And she also has different emotions and expressions. They are not inherently better or worse than Kat’s, but they are inherently more photogenic.

All this leads to images where I don’t always recognize myself in the finished product. Yes it’s my face, but at such a strange angle. And that’s an expression I would never use—I rarely smolder in real life. Or look wide-eyed and innocent, for that matter. As any of my friends or lovers could tell you, I suck at playing innocent.

It’s gotten so bad that I will often look for the bridge of my nose in images. I sat for a portrait painting class once, where the instructor took measurements of my face with a pair of calipers. It turns out that the bridge of my nose is exceptionally high, and I can’t change that with my angle or expression. So now whenever I see it, I feel more grounded. But when I noticed I was also checking for it in the mirror, I knew I had to change something.

I’ll admit that I blamed Photoshop and makeup at first, since they are both external ways to alter my appearance. I know several art models that refuse to wear makeup to their shoots or be post-processed. Previously, I had thought this was a bit silly—why would I give up a tool of artistic expression? But now I wasn’t so sure. Maybe they knew something that I didn’t.

The evils of post-processing models is particularly in the public eye right now. Mostly the debate is concentrating on editing models to appear thinner, and how this contributes to negative body image. But we’re also seeing blemishes like stretch marks erased, and skin tones lightened on models of color. The argument is that we’re creating a beauty ideal that does not exist in the real world. It seemed reasonable that the same problem would also affect how I viewed my face. Maybe, with a combination of editing and makeup, I was creating an image of beauty that I just couldn’t live up to in real life.

There isn’t a lot of discussion about how we edit models’ faces, so I looked deeper into how we edit models’ bodies, hoping there’d be something in common. I found out that we’re to the point with post-processing that fashion models are editing even their snapshots on Instagram to look skinnier, which is horrible and frankly unhealthy. But I’m not sure that’s a good reason to ban editing fashion photos, like some are arguing for. Would believing that how a model looks in an image is “real” because they aren’t edited make me feel better about myself?

I think it might make it worse. There will always be women younger and skinnier than I am modeling. Plus, even if they banned post-processing, they would still be posing. They’re models. They’re professionals at creating an image that isn’t actually real, so they’re still going to look unnaturally thin, even if we take away one tool.

On the other side of the same coin, I’ve had women see my modeling and contact me more times than I care to count. They tell me they wish they were as skinny as I am, and ask how much weight they need to lose. I am usually fifteen to twenty pounds heavier than these women. I am not post-processed to look thinner in my artistic photos. It’s how I pose, how I angle myself, even how I breathe. It’s just a skill set.  

So maybe editing models to look thinner is only a symptom of the problem. Maybe the problem is, in these moments of beauty we’re creating, we’re only allowing skinny to be beautiful—and even I as an art model am falling prey to this belief! Maybe the problem is we have a terrible, unhealthy social norm that we need to look at deeply and work to change.

And maybe it’s the same thing with my face in photographs. I could go into a shoot with no makeup on at all and request that the photographer not post-process the image, but I still wouldn’t look like “me.” I would still be posing. I’d still be creating a moment of beauty. Maybe my idea of beauty is too restrictive as well.

So as a model, what can I do? I don’t want to perpetuate bad norms with my images, and I want to recognize myself in the mirror.  Like I said, I really don’t think vilifying the tools is going to help. But I do think I need to be very conscious about what I’m using these tools to depict. I’m trying to create moments of beauty. Now I think we need to expand what our definition of beauty encompasses, for all our sakes.

We need to start hiring and showing more models of different ages and weights, and different races and genders too. If we only show beauty as young, white, and skinny, we’re going to have a lot of people looking in photos and mirrors and not liking what they see—even people who are all of those things. We need diversity in our beauty. We need options. We need to be allowed to grow old or have belly folds or have melanin and still be considered desirable.

Who gets to be considered beautiful is incredibly important. But so is what we get to do with it. Remember those “photogenic” expressions? The smolder? The wide-eyed innocence? Why the fuck did I think those were beautiful expressions on my face, and not a wider range of emotions? Why is Katja “inherently” more photogenic than Kat?

I hadn’t seen anybody else do it, so I never dreamed of the possibility.

Because that’s basically all I’ve seen. Those are the expressions a “beautiful” woman is allowed to have in media. Nobody ever told me this. Nobody pulled me aside and said “don’t wrinkle your nose and do that goofy squint-eyed smile of yours in front of the camera.” Nobody had to. I hadn’t seen anybody else do it, so I never dreamed of the possibility. And now I don’t recognize my face when it’s not expressing a pre-approved feeling, feelings I as a human being rarely have.

So why am I actually wearing less makeup to my photo shoots? Because it’s a cue to myself. My face looks and feels different, which is a subtle reminder to use a wider range of emotions and expressions, even when they’re not traditionally “photogenic.” Yes, makeup is one of my tools of expression. But it’s not really about the makeup. It’s about my face when I’m wearing it, and what I chose to do with it.

The results have been almost universally positive, which honestly surprised me. I assumed that the people I’m posing for would be frustrated that I wasn’t as “pretty” as my portfolio. I was wrong. Instead, the photographers I’ve been working with recently have been thrilled, and I’ve gotten far more bookings interested in emotive portraiture. It’s made me incredibly hopeful that we can do a lot to change these norms.

Plus I see more of Kat in my images—you know, that person in the mirror. And she gets to be beautiful now too.