"Wow, you must be really brave to stand naked in front of all these people."
I hear this all the time. It happens at least once during every workshop, and I’ve been told so several times by people who are new to modeling.
I usually just dismiss it. I wave it off, or tell them that it’s nothing. Modeling doesn’t take bravery, I say. Anyone can do it. You can too, if you want to try it.
I do truly believe that anyone can be a good model; I think it’s a skill set that can be learned. But a recent shoot has convinced me that while it’s mainly hard work, there are psychological obstacles too.
It was an underwater shoot with a friend of mine. If you’ve never shot underwater, it’s an experience unlike any other. I’m often bogged down in heavy dresses or yards of fabric that make it difficult to swim. The water is cold and blinding, but I still need to keep my eyes open for the sake of the picture. The pool is lovely but can become claustrophobic when I breathe all of the air out of my lungs to sink and stay under. And on top of that, I’m often working with the strangest props. I’ve posed with heavy scythes and sharp swords, entangling netting and even suffocating plastic sheeting.
My friend was afraid of being underwater. It took her long minutes to work her way into the pool at all, and several more to even dunk her head. Her first few poses were hesitant, and she bobbed to the surface quickly. But she kept trying, and she kept getting better. By the end of the shoot, she looked graceful and effortless. Over two hours I watched her work through her fear, and turn it into beautiful art. This was incredibly inspiring to see; I was beyond impressed.
After watching her transformation, I realized something. I’ve trained myself to shrug off any exceptionalism concerning modeling, because it’s the polite and socially correct thing to do. But modeling does take bravery. I’m selling other models short by saying otherwise. It’s just that the bravery isn't where you would expect it.
It doesn’t really take bravery to stand naked in front of people—at least, not after the first couple of times. Sure, the first time I stepped onto the model stand and dropped my robe, I was nervous. But I quickly learned that being naked in a room full of people wasn’t very scary at all. Actually, it was pretty fun. In art nude modeling, it’s normal to be naked. There’s nothing weird about it, so there’s no need to feel like you’re taking a risk.
The real nakedness is in making art. It is consistently scary to expose creative work. I know artists of all stripes—from painters to writers—that won’t show anyone their finished work until it’s “perfect.” That’s because showing your work to other people means they can judge you on it, and that can be absolutely terrifying. For a lot of people, it’s easier to wait until they’re sure they’ll get a positive response—or never take the risk of sharing their art at all.
Models don’t have that luxury. Because modeling is collaborative, we always have to put our art in front of other people. We have to pose in front of the painter or photographer, perfect or not (and it’s never perfect). We don’t know whether the other artist will like our ideas or not, or whether we’ll be on the same page. Putting yourself out there again and again like that takes an incredible amount of bravery.
And of course there are physical risks and discomforts that come from consistently trying new things. My friend’s underwater shoot is a perfect example of this. She tried something new, and at first it was painful and suffocating and scary. But she worked through it anyways. The same goes for life drawing models that work through the pain of a bad pose. Or models posing on location that have to cope with the weather and the elements—extreme heat and cold, bugs, poisonous plants, scrapes, bangs, and bruises. And then there are the stressors of traveling and running a business. In many ways, models are braver than I’d ever realized.
I still think that anyone can be a model; there’s just more to it than hard work. In the end, modeling doesn’t take beauty: it takes bravery. Just like any other successful artist, adventurer, or business owner, a good model has to confront their fears, pain, and try new things. It can be scary, but it’s also quite wonderful.