Why I’m Not A Model

 © B.J. Connor, 2018

© B.J. Connor, 2018

As I mentioned in my last essay, I’ve been moving steadily from modeling full-time and writing part-time to the reverse. Or as I put it in a more click bait-y way: “I’m no longer (just) a model.”

Earlier this summer, I was on a shoot with a new photographer. Or rather, I should say “new to me:” we had never worked together previously, but he came highly recommended from several of my fellow models and friends. We had an incredible shoot. It was fun: creative, rewarding and artistically challenging. And it made me realize that, if all my shoots were like this one, I’d probably still be modeling full-time.

Once the shoot wrapped and I got back to my car, I texted one of my close friends to tell her how great the shoot had gone. She was thrilled, but she also asked me a very important question: what made this shoot so good?

I had to sit and think for a while before I had an answer to her question. And that answer is one that I’m still uncomfortable expressing.  

I came out of that shoot beaming. I had an amazing time working with a fellow creative in an art form that I love. I spent a whole day hiking around, climbing naked on rocks and trees, and sprawling precariously on abandoned cars and architecture. By the end of it I was covered in rust and dirt, exhausted, and by a miracle of some sort not sunburned. I was in heaven. I had been burned out from modeling, and shooting less had given me the time and distance to really appreciate the best parts of modeling.

But that same space made me notice some of the problems too, and helped me understand why I had burned out in the first place.

I don’t want to discount or downplay all of the amazing moments on this particular shoot. But it boils down to just a few basic concepts that made me wish all my shoots were like this, or that made me reconsider going back to modeling full-time.

The photographer did four specific things:

—He secured a shooting location where I could pose nude with the consent of the owner, and without risking arrest.

—He made sure I was physically safe on said location, respected my opinion of what poses I was capable of, and even scheduled short breaks over the course of the shoot so I could rest and stretch.  

—He did not try to coerce me into shooting erotic or explicit content beyond my stated boundaries, and he did not ask me to do emotional labor for him or act as a “naked therapist.”

—He paid me without wheedling, whining, or demeaning me. And he never once asked me to work for free.

A good shoot was one that didn’t require me to risk arrest, physical harm or bodily autonomy.

That’s it. It turns out a good shoot was one that didn’t require me to risk arrest, physical harm or bodily autonomy, and where I’m treated with basic professional respect. Not all shoots are bad ones—quite honestly, a majority of them are pretty good. But not enough of them are that I can work full-time in this industry, maintain these three boundaries, and get paid a living wage

I was a little worried about responding to my friend with that. Was I the only one with these problems? Did I not know how to run a business? In the same vein, I’m more than a little worried about putting this out on the internet too. I don’t want to offend previous and possible future clients.

But I feel like it’s important to discuss this out in the open. Plus it turns out that it’s not just me after all. I started asking around and it turned out my friend—and every other model I’ve talked to about this topic—has experienced the same thing. That was one of the reasons this particular photographer came so highly recommended.

As I said previously, I have a path forward where I can still enjoy all the positives of modeling—and there are a lot of positives—but supplement my income through other sources. I’m still modeling, both with artists I’ve worked with before, and new photographers too. I adore art nude modeling. When I don’t pose regularly, I miss it. I value the connections modeling builds with fellow models and other artists. I love being able to create beautiful images with my very human and therefore imperfect body. I love creating art that is by necessity a collaboration between two artists. I love writing, but I refuse to give all that up. Modeling part-time allows me to keep those things, while still being able to write and have roots and relationships at home. I think it’s the right balance for me.

But not every model has that freedom. So what can we do to improve our industry?

Well, if you’re a photographer, you can go a long way by treating your models with respect. Pay them. Don’t ask them to put themselves in physical or legal danger. Honor their limits.

And this isn’t just for photographers. Are you a model coordinator for a life drawing session? Posing for life drawing is incredibly, surprisingly physically strenuous, and can result in long-term injuries. Make sure your models get a break to stretch and rest every twenty minutes. Don’t push them to hold a longer pose straight through, even if it’s “only” twenty-five or thirty minutes. Pay them the market rate. Tip jars are great, but don’t depend on them to make up the difference.

And if you’re a model, what can you do? Communicate your limits clearly, and insist on your boundaries being respected, especially ones concerning your safety. Don’t work for free—always make sure there is some value being exchanged, whether that’s money or something else like improving your portfolio, or giving you images you can use for your Patreon.

Already doing that? Thank you. No really, thank you. I mean it.

If you are coming up with excuses and arguments as to why these minimums are unreasonable? Trust me, I’ve heard every permutation of why as an artist I shouldn’t be paid, and why as a nude model I shouldn’t be allowed boundaries or expect safety. If you maintain these beliefs, I certainly won’t be shooting with you.

I also know that many models do not have the economic leeway to be “picky” about their gigs—I know I certainly didn’t always. So just because you can still hire other models, don’t translate that to their agreement. Understand that you might be negotiating from a position of power. Don’t use that as leverage against consent.

Nude art is truly a respectful celebration of the human form—something I think is more important now than ever. It’s certainly one of the reasons I love it so deeply. So let’s keep creating it, and sharing it. Let’s celebrate it. And let’s treat the people making it with respect too, on both sides of the camera.