The Beauty Myth

It’s tempting and common to think of models as inherently beautiful people.  They have a natural aura about them that we all wish we could have, and that artists merely have to capture in their photographs and paintings. This notion is lovely and a bit magical, but it’s also false. 

I’ve always thought that modeling, like any other art, is a skill. 

It may look easy, but it’s the model’s job to make posing look effortless.  In reality, models are doing something very difficult.  To come up with a good pose, you have to have a basic understanding of composition, negative space, foreshortening, symmetry, line, and even lighting.  You also need the physical fitness to translate your pose idea into reality, and the body awareness to know when you’ve succeeded.

Every time I step on to a modeling stand or in front of a lens, I have to keep each of these concepts in mind.  I think of how a pose will look to the artist, if it follows the basics of composition, and if I have the physical ability to actually create and hold it.  As I've modeled more and more, posing has become a kind of muscle memory to me.  It’s like driving a car: when I had my learner’s permit, I had to think about turning the wheel to turn the car or stepping on the brake pedal to slow down.  Now I just turn and brake—or pose, as the case may be.

But just because modeling is instinctual doesn’t mean that it’s inherent.  I was not someone who was a “natural” at modeling, especially when it comes to knowing where my body is.  I’ve learned what little body awareness I do have through modeling—and through countless hours practicing poses and facial expressions in front of a mirror.  I even made my best friends take snapshots of me for hours on end so I could study them after the fact. 

I am proof that modeling is something that can be learned.  Through years of hard work, I can now look quite graceful . . .at least when I’m standing still for a pose.  I’m still an incurable klutz in the rest of my life.  I’m constantly walking into things—walls, doorways, countertop corners—and I stub my toes and trip more often than should really be humanly possible.  

Beauty is not a talent.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through modeling, it’s that beauty is not a talent.  If I went back five years to when I first started, I would not have been capable of producing the images that I can make now.  Although I was younger and thinner, I didn’t know how to pose as well.  It’s the same for every model.  Just like the photographers and artists we work with, we all have to learn how to create good art.  None of us were born with that gift just because of how we look.  

When I look at an image of a model, I don’t see a naturally beautiful person.  I see an artist who learned their trade well.  I don’t think models should be idealized, at least not for being inherently beautiful.  But like any other artist, I do admire them for their skill and hard work.