Lessons I’ve Learned Modeling

I turn 28 this week.  Which means two things: one, I survived the 27 Club, so it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be a famous musician. And two: it’s technically been a decade since I’ve been an official “adult."

I realized that I don’t talk much about “Before Modeling” Kat.  This is partially because I’m writing about the creative process, and most of my experience comes from modeling.  But mostly, it’s because pre-modeling Kat was a very different person.                          

Modeling has changed me fundamentally, and—I think—for the better.  It taught me how to be a responsible adult through running a successful business.  It’s helped me become comfortable with my sexuality and my body.  And most importantly, it’s helped me calm the fuck down.   Nude modeling is many things, but predictable is rarely one of them.  I’ve had to abandon my perfectionism and instead embrace things as they occur. 

So here are a few things I’ve learned from modeling that I wish I could go back and tell 18-year-old Kat.  They’re all lessons that modeling has taught me that have deeply affected my life.  They’re also all things I never would have expected to learn from posing nude.  

Happiness is a lot more valuable than you think. 

I graduated college at 19 with a 4.00.  This might sound impressive, but it’s actually one of the things I’m least proud of.  It meant that I spent all of my time studying, and not enjoying life.  I never once went to a party while I was in college. I barely had friends.  I was obsessed with accomplishment, and didn’t care the cost.  And I regret it. 

Modeling taught me that how and why I do something is as important as what I do.  And that if I'm not happy doing it—at least most of the time—it’s probably not worth doing.  When I first started modeling, I approached it much like I did school.  And I burned out, fast.  My best friend saw what was happening, pulled me aside, and asked me the most important question of my career: why was I modeling?  I wasn’t going to get rich in the arts.  There wasn’t an end goal like graduation.  So why was I running flat-out instead of enjoying the process? 

Once I realized that I didn’t have a good answer, I started approaching modeling differently.  I didn’t try to model as much as humanly possible.  I didn’t try to be the best model in the world. I just focused on being in the moment, making good images, and enjoying myself while I did it.  And that made all the difference: by changing my perspective, modeling became fulfilling.  Now, I wouldn’t quit it for the world.   

Don’t make art solely for other people.  

Or to put it less poetically: don’t do it for the money.  

I should have learned this lesson when I took a writing gig straight out of college to do a vanity biography.  I was young, with a brand new English degree, and determined to be a professional writer.  I took the assignment solely because of what it would pay.  If I finished it within a year (which I naively thought was about twice as long as I would need), I’d be making as much as a “real” job.  I’d even be making more than my friend who was hired as a technical writer in the Bay Area—the only other person out of my class to actually get a job writing anything. 

Unfortunately, I had never heard of the term "scope creep.”  I was right: it took less than a year to write the first version.  Which was rejected.  Two more drafts and a-lot-longer-than-a-year later, and I still never wrote something my client was happy with—or saw all the money. 

However, sometimes it takes more than once to learn an important lesson.  This is one I had to relearn through my modeling.  When I was new and inexperienced, I figured I should say yes to every opportunity.  I also thought that it was my job as a model to be a blank slate, to embody whatever the photographer wanted.  But whenever I shot with a photographer whose work I didn’t resonate with, the money was never, ever worth it.  I’ve never felt wrong posing nude—despite what people have said I should feel on the subject.  But propagating art into the world whose message I didn’t agree with made me feel dirty and depressed.  

Models are not blank slates. It’s our job to bring our own contributions to the image.

In a way, I’m glad that I took all those terrible jobs, because I learned a very important point: if you aren’t satisfied with the art, the money isn’t going to be worth it.  As it turns out, models are not blank slates (neither are writers, or any other type of artist for that matter).  It’s our job to bring our own contributions to the image. 

Now I make sure that I bring something to the table that’s me making art for myself, and not solely for my client.  Maybe I do this through my choice of poses, by suggesting an inspiring setting, or by creating a narrative for the images.  Just as long as I’m creating something I want to see in the world—otherwise, it’s not worth it.  

Life doesn’t have to go how you planned for it to be good.

I had a grandiose plan when I was 18 on how my life was going to go.  I was going to be a professional writer, straight out of college.  And because I was an over-achiever with no sense of scale, I was also going to be an accomplished musician.  I had an entire list of all of the amazing things I was going to do with my life.  

And let me tell you: modeling wasn’t on it.  Modeling was something that I stumbled into by accident, when my grand plans to be a writer failed miserably and my backup career as a musician didn’t quite work out.  I almost didn’t pursue it because modeling didn’t fit in with my master plan.  I was worried that it would be frivolous.  I was worried about doing something just because it was fun. 

Now I can’t imagine a life without it—I would have been a completely different person, and a completely different artist.  As much as I tried to plan things out ahead of time, I failed.  And I’m glad that I did.  Because of that failure, I discovered something that I didn’t know I wanted.  I ended up building a life defined by making art in a way that I didn’t previously think possible—one that involved actually being happy about my work and making art I believed in.  Shocking, I know. 

I can tell you one thing: I learned more from modeling than from anything I could have ever planned.