I spent a large portion of my young adulthood picking apart my appearance. It was common practice for me to berate myself for parts of my body that were completely outside of my control. Whenever I walked past a mirror, I found something else wrong. I manipulated my weight, burned my hair, and slathered myself in makeup, all to hide things that I thought made me somehow defective.
If you don’t believe me, here’s a short list of some of the body “flaws" that have made me uncomfortable in my own skin, from top to bottom:
• Curly, large, frizzy hair.
• A circular scar on the bridge of my nose that I swear everyone is staring at.
• My cheeks, which get bright red from blushing, the sun, heat, cold, wind—basically anything.
• Freckles on my arms that won’t fade no matter what.
• My breasts. They're different sizes, and the nipples are different sizes too.
• A birthmark on my rib cage that looks like a bruise.
• Large thighs from riding horses for my entire childhood.
• Big, flat feet that will never look like a ballerina’s, no matter how hard I try.
Trust me, I could keep going. But besides all these, I apparently won a genetic lottery. I’m lucky enough to fall relatively close to society’s impossible beauty standards: I’m tall, thin, white, and blonde with big boobs. My best friend’s nickname for me is tits-on-a-stick. You’d think, of all people, I wouldn’t have self-doubt about my appearance. But I used to think of my appearance as a negative thing; as a collection of flaws that needed to be analyzed, criticized, fixed when possible, and hidden when not.
Actually, one of the reasons I started modeling was this insecurity with how I looked.
I did my first modeling shoot on a dare from that same friend. Because of my long list of body image flaws, I was convinced that I was unattractive. My friend believed the opposite. She dared me to have photos taken. She said that once I got the images back, I’d see how pretty I really was. Of course, I didn’t believe her. She was my best friend: it was her job to tell me that I was beautiful. But I did a little fashion shoot anyway just to prove her wrong.
I still didn’t believe her when I got those first images back, either. Although whomever I showed them to agreed that I looked attractive in the images, I just didn’t feel it. I’d been wearing tons of makeup and had my hair styled. I’d borrowed a friend’s wardrobe for the shoot. I felt like all my flaws were covered up by something that wasn’t me.
But something really important happened because of that shoot: I discovered that I enjoyed the process of modeling. Not the hair and the makeup and the clothes, but the feeling of posing in front of the camera. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to explore other ways that I could model. That exploration is what eventually led me on a roundabout path to nude modeling.
Fittingly, my best friend was there for my first nude shoot, too. She drove with me to the old, graffiti-covered brick warehouse where the studio was located. She met the photographer with me, and hung out in the studio while we shot. She got to watch as I shakily dropped my robe for the first time, and as I grew more comfortable with each pose. She got to see me having fun with it. She was the one that high fived me at the end—and even stepped in for a few shots herself.
You’d think posing nude for a photographer would be intimidating—I certainly thought it would be that first time I tried it. When I walked into the studio, I was hypersensitive about my appearance. But once I dropped my robe, I just stopped thinking about it. There was something oddly reassuring about being in front of the camera without clothes or anything else. It was everything I had loved about modeling clothed, but condensed. It was liberating, and it was comforting.
I've realized that as I’ve modeled nude over the past several years, the voice in my head that used to critique my appearance has almost completely faded away. It’s not that I feel flawless; I’m still not a fan of my thighs or my curly hair. It’s just that I think about these “flaws" less often. And when I do think about them, they don’t make me feel uncomfortable like they used to. They don’t trigger such a negative emotional reaction anymore. They’re just me. If I’m being honest, sometimes I even like them. Most days, I now feel comfortable in my own skin.
For me, there’s a difference between art nude and other types of modeling. And although I now model in other genres as well, art nude will always be the dearest to my heart. With art nude work, it’s not that sometimes I look pretty or like I don’t have flaws. It’s that the flaws become an integral part of the artwork. I guarantee that if you look at my pictures, you can find all the flaws on my list and more. You will see my curves and rolls and uneven breasts. And they only make the image stronger.
Modeling alone wouldn’t have made me comfortable with myself. Frankly, it didn’t: that first little shoot that I did on a dare was clothed, and it did nothing to quell the voices in my head. I just put up with them because I enjoyed the shoot. I didn’t start feeling happy with my body until I started posing naked, and the more that I model nude, the more comfortable I get. Sure, I still remember that list on occasion. But now I know better than to believe it.
I think too many people have a list of body image flaws like I did. And not enough of us have best friends to help us out. So if you have a list like mine, maybe consider posing nude for a trusted photographer. I think you’ll still see your flaws—you’ll just see them in a new light.