I am always surprised when people think my occupation is glamorous. I love my job, but I love it because it’s creative, hard work, and an adventure, not because I’m pampered and get pretty pictures. I’ve recently realized that even some of my close friends don’t understand what my job is really like.
For example, one of my friends loves my images—she even wants to hang one in her office. She’s a beautiful girl with a very rare look that one of my photographers wanted to capture, so I invited her out on a shoot to try modeling for herself. She was thrilled.
That is, she was thrilled until she actually got to experience it. We were shooting in early fall during morning light, which didn’t cross my mind as abnormal until my poor friend arrived at my house in the dark to do hair and makeup. I had warned her that a photo shoot usually means an early morning, but as she stated flatly: “this isn’t morning yet.”
Once we got on location at daybreak, she was frozen the entire two or three hours we were shooting. She spent the whole time between shots huddled and shivering. She took to posing very quickly and had no problems with nudity, but I hadn’t even thought to warn her about early morning temperatures. After all, it wasn’t even winter yet!
After seeing this, I realized that most people—even the people that I know and love—don’t actually know what it’s like to be in front of the lens. They may love my images; they may even understand the artistic process behind them, but they’ve never experienced being outside with nothing between them and nature. I feel like I’m doing these people a disservice, since I am so frequently asked, “What is it like to be a nude model?” I thought I would try to share some of that experience with you, rather than the popular misconceptions associated with the job.
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Modeling is a synonym for cold. It’s the first word that comes to mind when I think of my job, and it’s become a part of how I view my world. It means appreciating the warmth of cigarettes and coffee and tea rather than the taste. It means being concerned with the temperature before a shoot like a sailor checks the weather. It means treasuring the amenities of modern life like heat and shelter because you know what it feels like to go without.
You may think that I just have a low cold tolerance, but I often pose naked in situations where my photographers are wearing parkas and wet suits to protect them against the elements. I vividly remember one of my photographers complaining bitterly that he would have to take off his gloves to operate his camera while I watched my bare toes turn white and red from frost nip (I of course still tease him about that to this day). I’ve gotten hypothermia twice. It’s a constant risk of nude modeling, particularly in the winter and whenever water is involved. I heard once from an Alaskan native that if you don’t value warmth, than you’ve never really been cold. That is a truth that I’ve learned from experience.
But it's not just cold that you're exposed to. If it's hot, there's no shelter. If there are bugs (and there are always bugs), then there's nothing to keep them from biting you. Ask me sometime about when I posed nude on what looked like an innocent patch of ground, but was actually home to a colony of carpenter ants.
Modeling means physical discomfort. Psychologists are actually starting to study how life drawing models hold extended poses in order to discover new pain management techniques. Yes, long poses really are that bad; ask any figure model. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chosen an overly ambitious pose and thanked my lucky stars that it was “just painful” rather than causing a muscle spasm, because pain is something you can easily sit still through for the next twenty minutes.
Pain management is a great skill to have, and not just for figure modeling. Shooting outdoors often means having to hike miles out to a location in improper clothes and footwear because they won’t leave marks or lines on your skin. It means scraping and bruising yourself climbing trees and rocks. It means coming home beat-up and filthy and exhausted.
Modeling also means working early mornings, late nights, and weekends. It means lonely days because everyone else is working a “real” job, and going to work when your friends are having fun, or when everyone else is asleep. It means keeping your own records and paperwork, and pulling out your hair at tax season as well as during every slow or overbooked month. Like every freelance job, it requires innumerable unpaid hours on the computer answering emails, booking gigs, and finalizing schedules.
Modeling is not girly, nor are most models. They're highly educated, fearless women living a partially nomadic lifestyle. I haven’t met one yet without some college education, or without an obsession for knowledge and culture beyond what's taught in any institute of higher learning. Most have a bachelor’s, several hold a master’s, and their degrees are usually in obscure and fascinating subjects. One studies primate anthropology in Mexico; one holds a master's in oboe performance. They are all artists, and because of their proximity to nudity, they are all to an extent philosophers. Most are eloquent writers--good communication is key to a successful modeling career. A surprising number are also tomboys--a lack of squeamishness and a sense of adventure is key as well. They’ve all been bitten by the wanderlust bug, whether they come down with the fever for years or just for a few trips. I’m conservative for a model; I have a home and a stable relationship. I have the luxury of roots. Most only have a "home base" that they travel from extensively for tours. Some never stop touring, and don't have a place that they call home for years at a time.
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After she had survived her first shoot, my friend pulled me aside and admitted that she had a lot more respect for my job after she had experienced it firsthand for herself. She had previously thought that I worked as a model because it was creative but easy, something a pretty girl could do with hardly any effort. But it wasn't like that at all. It was dirty, cold, and painful. It was also creative and exciting--and a lot more than just pictures.