The Magic of Modeling

Long before I ever started modeling, I was drawn to images of models. Not surprising, right? Together, photography and posing can create some truly beautiful images. It was more than that, though. It was the stories that these images spun. It was the idea that the model in the image was a “model” human being—ideal somehow. You can see it easily in fashion magazines, were the models are all society’s picture-perfect idea of an exemplary person: young, rich, and beautiful. But I loved the artistic images too, ones that had narratives to them and showed me someone who was strong or clever or brave.

Recently, one of my photographers received an award in a juried show for one of our underwater images—the one which features for this essay, in fact. It was so popular that they even made it the banner image for the entire show and hung it on the outside of the museum. It was such an incredible feeling to see my own image gazing serenely down at me from the side of a building, lamp in hand.  

When I visited the show, I also got to see a child run up to my image on the wall and stare at it. I watched from across the room—pretending to look at the picture in front of me—as he dragged his parents over to look, too. He was obviously fascinated.

I knew that look. That was the same look I had when I was drawn to a model’s image. Suddenly, *I* was the one in the story. In this kid’s eyes, I was the model human.  

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I’ve helped host a lot of gallery openings in my time. Oftentimes, people want to talk to the person in the photo more than the photographer. They want to hear the story of how the image was made or what it means from the model, even though the photographer was on the shoot or in the pool with us. Sometimes I think about it like the difference between a director and an actor. Both contribute their art to the film, but something about the figurehead position of the movie star really captures the public’s imagination.

This obsession with the person in the picture seems to contradict another common response I get at gallery openings. I’m told that I just stand there and look pretty. That what I do is easy. That the photographer is the real artist.  

I always try to dispel these beliefs when I come across them by describing the process of modeling. But I still get incredulous looks when I say that I believe that I’m an equal artist and collaborator when compared to the photographer.

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It took me seeing that kid react to my underwater image to realize that these two responses to my modeling aren’t in opposition at all. 

They’re responding to the image because the feel the image is real—or at least, that the person in the image is real. That’s why they want to talk to me: when they have an emotional connection to the image, they assume it’s to the person in it. And that’s why they think my job is so easy. They think I just have to stand around and be myself.  

I thought that if I was the person in the image, I’d be what the image depicted.

We all know that this isn’t true, but I fell prey to the same trap when I started thinking of models as ideal human beings. I thought that if I was the person in the image, I’d be what the image depicted.  

But I’m not that serene woman with her lamp. When that picture was taken, I was freezing because the pool hadn’t been properly heated. I was struggling with the many layers and yards of the dress, which felt like it was personally trying to drown me. I was miserable, grumpy, and flawed.  

To believe that models—or any other type of artist for that matter—are images of perfection is to miss all the process. We see the magic of the finished product, assume it’s reality, and ignore all the hard work that goes on behind the curtain.  

I’ll never be that magical woman with her lantern. And yet, I’ve become more of a “model” person because of all the hard work that modeling has taught me. All that stuff behind the curtain caused me to change, to improve, to grow. And maybe that’s the real magic after all.  

 

Public Pubes

When I first started dating one of my boyfriends, I was nervous about him seeing me naked for the first time.  Okay, let’s be honest: there were a lot of reasons why I was nervous about that.  But one of the big ones was my pubic hair.  

I liked having hair, but I’d had a couple of previous partners that didn’t like it at all, so much so that they requested I shave it off.  I was much younger at the time, and they had such a strong preference that I figured why not?

Today, I would never consider it, for many, many reasons.  One of those reasons is my job.  Models in my genre are expected to keep an “art model bush.”  It’s part of how I market myself.  Without it, I would have to change shooting styles—or consider a different career.  

Before I started modeling, I never considered how much my pubes would become an important part of my life.  But it made me start thinking about why we prefer pubic hair in our art nude photography.  I constantly hear two reasons for it: first, it provides coverage.  And second, it looks more “natural” or “traditional.”  

All that sounds reasonable at first blush.  As a model, I can get away with a wider variety of leg positions without showing off the fine china if I have full coverage.  It allows me a greater range of expression in my posing without tipping the scales into erotic imagery.  It’s essentially a tool that I can use as an artist.  

But there’s a downside: pubic hair is often banned from galleries for being too explicit.  This has happened to me and my images several times.  And I certainly can’t show any pubic hair on Facebook or other social media sites.  So in many ways, having it is actually limiting.  I have to come up with implied poses that are appropriate for display by covering up my bush.  In some ways, posing-wise, it’d be simpler if I didn’t have it.  

As for the people that believe pubic hair is more traditional, I have one name for you: John Ruskin.  In the Victorian era, Ruskin was a prominent art critic.  He’s also famously known for leaving his marriage unconsummated—supposedly because he was unprepared for his wife to have pubic hair.  He was so shocked by her appearance because it was never depicted in the classical art of the female nude that he studied.  It’s possible poor John’s story may be apocryphal, but it is certainly believable: until recently, the female nude was rarely shown with pubic hair.  So it’s not like my bush is hearkening back to any glorious tradition.  

I’d argue that art nude photography’s obsession with pubes isn’t coming from “natural beauty.”

But I’d argue that art nude photography’s obsession with pubes isn’t coming from “natural beauty” either.  Sure, having a full bush is certainly a more natural look than shaving.  But art models are still expected to have shaved their legs.  Keeping armpit hair as a female model is a controversial act, one that relegates you to an “alt” model.  At best, it becomes a distinctive marketing feature; at worse, it loses you work.  Having armpit and leg hair is certainly not the industry norm, like you would expect it to be if the genre were truly about natural beauty.  

All of this is to say, I think the art model bush is just a genre style.  There’s not much reason for it besides differentiation from glamour and porn, both of which are known for a more hairless look at the moment.  

I’m personally glad that it’s the style though, even if the justifications for it seem a bit silly.  When I’m asked why I prefer having pubic hair, I categorically cite laziness.  It’s far easier to trim a bush than to deal with stubble and razor burn and ingrown hairs.  

That’s not the entire truth though, not by a long shot.  If I’m being honest, I’m actually a little bit uncomfortable with my pubic hair.  So much so, that they made it onto my body flaws list.  The curtains don’t match the drapes: my pubic hair is distinctly red when the rest of me is dirty blonde.  There are also two differing textures to it that just make me feel like it looks weird.  

You’d think I’d be happy with shaving it all off.  But I remember the first time I shaved for a boyfriend.  It felt…off.  Young.  Uncomfortable.  

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with shaving.  Pubic hair, like anything about our appearance, can be a form of self-expression.  Leave it, shave it off, dye it purple—whatever makes you happy.  I just think I did it for the wrong reasons.  

Now my pubic hair has become a part of my physical self-identity as an art nude model.  I like it, just like my long hair and my distinct lack of a tan.  There may be something problematic about my self-expression being determined by the whims of market forces, but I chose to go with it and I’m happy with that.  Here’s what I can say: I won’t be shaving anytime soon.  Even if I stopped modeling.  Having pubic hair feels like me now, and I like it.  

And luckily, the boyfriend liked my art model bush too.  I’m glad they’re both here to stay.