As a professional naked person, I learned a long time ago not to apologize for what I do.
I’ve spoken to countless people about my profession as an art nude model—at gallery openings, at parties, at family events and weddings. Not everyone liked it. I quickly noticed that if I apologized to someone who was offended by my art, they would take it as an admission of guilt. It was only further proof to them that what I was doing was wrong. After all, if I didn’t think I was wrong, I wouldn’t have said I was sorry for it in the first place!
I eventually realized that I couldn’t fight this. Some people were going to understand what I did, and some people were going to hate it. It didn’t matter whether I explained myself or apologized—their responses wouldn’t change. Some people would ban my art from galleries; other people would hang it in their living room. I learned to thicken my skin, celebrate the good things, and move on from the bad.
It was a hard-earned lesson for me, and one that took a long time. So you’d think that I would transfer that lesson over into other areas of my life. But no: I still apologize for just about everything else.
For example, here’s a quick list of descriptions I’ve sent to my editor along with my blog posts over the past year:
Like I said, nothing special.
Okay, I’ve honestly got no clue if this one even works or not.
Not bad for half a day.
I’m just not happy with this one.
Not sure I’m in love with it.
I kinda like it. Maybe I’m wrong.
All of them are apologies and self-criticisms. If you look at my emails to him for the same time period, you won’t find any that are positive or confident about my writing. Not one. Instead, I hedge. If I think it’s good, I doubt myself. When I think it’s bad, I don’t just acknowledge it: I make justifications for it. And in both cases, I apologize for my work not being perfect. No matter how good it is, I always think that I should have done it better. And I’m always sorry that I didn’t.
Once I noticed that I wrote my poor editor only negative emails, I tried to stop immediately. It was almost impossible. I would stare at my computer screen for long minutes, unable to think of anything I could type. I was so frustrated that I almost cried. I think the best I came up with is “here it is,” which was at least not negative, but I still struggled to say something nice about my writing.
After I realized how negative I was about my own writing, I also started noticing how often I apologized to other people when I didn’t need to. Like I said, I apologize for everything. I apologize for every piece of art that I make. Sometimes I even notice that I’m apologizing to myself when no one else is around! So I decided the only thing to do was to consciously identify when I was apologizing and to stop doing it.
I had a hard time saying positive things, so I started by presenting my art without comment. If I showed someone my modeling portfolio, I would just show them, without explanation of how I could have modeled better. If I played piano for someone, I wouldn’t apologize for my lack of practice; I just played. I even started posting my blog with only the essay title, rather than a blurb. I sent my editor comments like, “here it is, let’s have lunch soon!”
It was a lot easier said than done. If writing an email was enough to make me wring my hands in frustration, you can imagine how much trouble everything else caused me. I slipped up a lot. I wrote and deleted a lot of emails. I reconsidered a lot of conversations, both internal and external.
But it did help. Once I stopped apologizing, I stopped thinking "this isn’t good enough" and started thinking "I’m doing it anyway.” I put in more work and felt less doubt. I’ve still got a long way to go. And just like talking to all those people about being an art nude model, it’s going to be a hard-earned lesson. But it’s one that I’m finally on my way to learning.