When I first thought about trying to model, I wanted to have some idea of what it would be like before I actually did it. Being the control freak that I am, I was too scared to start until I knew exactly what to expect. I spent over a year doing research before I ever stood in front of a camera. I didn’t want any surprises.
Unfortunately, most of what I thought I’d learned was wrong. Yes, the techniques I taught myself about posing, makeup, and composition were pretty directly applicable. But what I had heard about the culture and the actual experience of modeling was completely inaccurate. These are a few things that past-me would have liked to have known beforehand.
Names are important.
As I’ve mentioned before, “Katja Gee” is a stage name. I didn’t know what to call myself as a new model, and I didn’t think it was that important. So I derived something from my “real" name. Katja is a childhood nickname that I’ve always loved, and Gee comes from shortening my legal last name.
I can’t tell you how lucky I got by choosing this name. First, Katja Gee sounds like a full, legal name, but also slightly larger than life. People want to get to know the real person behind it. They’re intrigued—I’ve landed a couple of gigs from my name alone. Second, it’s unique, googleable, and relatively easy to spell, so people can find me without trouble. I didn’t even think of it at the time, but my name was helping my marketing.
As a new model, I was only thinking about making art. I wasn’t thinking about marketing, or attracting photographers. I figured that the images were the most important thing, and that the rest would follow. But modeling is a business, and there’s an endless stream of email to answer, shoots to schedule, tours to book, portfolios to update—and marketing to do. And how well you complete all of those things determines how much art you get the chance to create.
So in an indirect way, my choice of name improved my modeling, by giving me more opportunities to work and improve.
Modeling is glamorous. Sometimes.
Once when I was a new model, I ended up shooting on location in a mansion. As I walked up the marble steps to the carved wooden double doors, I was struck by this incredible feeling. I couldn’t believe that this was my life. I was getting paid to lounge around naked in one of the most opulent houses I’d ever seen. This was my job.
In contrast, one of my next shoots was in an abandoned meth lab. I spent a lot of time trying to avoid broken glass and rat shit while I tiptoed around naked and barefoot. Instead of reclining on an antique velvet love seat, I was gingerly lying down on the rodent-eaten, moldy couch that the previous tenants had left behind.
When I was first researching modeling, I never believed that it would be drinking champagne and lounging around on period furniture. But I was surprised in both directions—modeling actually can be that glamorous. It can also be the opposite: dirty, dangerous, and physically exhausting.
Everyone has an opinion.
When I say everyone has an opinion about nude modeling, I don’t just mean the people that know me and are close to me. I expected this from my friends and family, and have been incredibly lucky in that everyone in my life has been in favor of my choice of artistic expression. Even my mother has been ridiculously supportive: she has a nude painting of me hanging up on her wall. What I didn’t expect was the outpouring from strangers.
For as long as I’ve been modeling nude, I’ve gotten well-meaning but poorly considered advice on a regular basis. Over the years, I’ve noticed this tends to fall into three categories. I get “you won’t have a job when you’re no longer young and pretty, so you should have a fallback plan” (Thanks for your concern, but I already do, and I have for years). And “you’ll regret your decisions when you get older” (I’d rather risk regret later than guarantee it now because I didn't take any chances). And my personal favorite, “God still loves you” (I’m not sure what your religion has to do with my art, but thank you?).
At first, I was completely flustered by these comments. Now, I allow myself to just delete these messages. I’ve learned that doing something outside of social norms apparently gives people the belief that they have the right to comment. I don’t know how to fix this, so I just have to roll with it.
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Modeling certainly isn’t what I expected it to be all those years ago. Sometimes it's worse—sometimes it’s all meth labs and email. Most of the time, though, it's better than I thought it would be. And it’s always different than what I researched.
I think most things are like this—different than expected, with unpredicted ups and downs, but ultimately worth it for reasons we never would have anticipated. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from modeling that I’ll take with me into other fields, it’s this: try new things. Don’t wait until you think you “know enough”—you’ll most likely be wrong anyways. The only way to know for sure is to try it and find out.