My Experience with Planned Parenthood

I was in my early twenties when my period started, like it usually does.  Except ten, fifteen days later, it didn’t stop.  By the time I’d been bleeding for a month straight, I started seeing doctors.  Nobody knew what was wrong.  They put me on triple doses of hormones to try and stop the bleeding, which did nothing but make me cranky.  They ran a battery of tests that all came back normal.  I went to specialist after specialist, and none of them offered me any solutions.  

In the meantime, the bleeding got worse.  On the bad days, I couldn’t get out of bed.  I started doing research myself, and found out there was a procedure called an ablation that could use a laser to remove my uterine lining, stopping the bleeding for good.  I could get out of bed again.  I could live my life.  It had only one drawback: I wouldn’t be able to carry a child to term, but I could still get pregnant.  I’d either have to stay on hormonal birth control for the rest of my reproductive life—and get an abortion if it ever failed—or get sterilized before the procedure.

To me, this seemed like a simple choice.  I didn’t want children.  I had never wanted children.  I would get the sterilization, and then the ablation. 

My doctors had other ideas.  No specialist would do either procedure, and I went to everyone I could find.  They all admitted it would fix my problem, that the procedures were easy and minor.  But none of them would do it because they were worried I would regret it.  They’d rather let me bleed, and hope it would stop on its own.  Eventually.  Some day.  Maybe.  One of them even offered to do a hysterectomy—which would, let’s be clear, leave me unable to have children, and be a much more invasive procedure.  But she would not perform a sterilization because she was worried about regret.  

I had been bleeding for three months straight when I found out that Planned Parenthood would do the sterilization, and would recommend a doctor that would do the ablation if I was already sterilized because it was medically necessary. 

I never thought I would end up at Planned Parenthood.

I never thought I would end up at Planned Parenthood.  I had great insurance, both primary and secondary.  I had savings to cover the surgery.  I had a general physician.  I had a cadre of specialists.  And I was ending up at a clinic.  

This is not to say that everything about Planned Parenthood was rainbows and sunshine.  It was just my only option.  Because I had to go through government funding, they would not waive the one month waiting period, even for medical necessity.  So I sat in bed and bled for another month, waiting for the clock to run out (if you’re counting, this is month four now). I had to go through counseling, to make sure I didn’t regret my decision.  Since I was unmarried, under thirty, and did not have kids, I was told I would be denied the sterilization if I wasn’t in a monogamous relationship of sufficient length, so I lied about being polyamorous.  The day of the procedure, they gave me the wrong paperwork and almost cancelled because of it.  Afterwards, the billing department made my life a living hell for months.  

But in the end, I was grateful.  Because I was allowed to do what I wanted with my body.  And because by the end of it, I could go back to my life again.  For months afterward, I would just stop and remember that I wasn’t bleeding anymore, and I would hug my stomach and feel at home in my own body again.

*          *          *

What does this have to do with modeling?  Well, first there’s the obvious: I couldn’t model while I was bleeding.  Without an ablation, there’s a high probability I would still be bleeding today—or if it ever stopped, it could come back at any time.  

There’s also more to it than that.  Last Saturday was a “National Defund Planned Parenthood Day.”  The day also engendered counter protests to defend and stand with Planned Parenthood around the country.  There was even one such protest in my sleepy little town that I had hoped to attend.  Unfortunately, I was stuck at home with something suspiciously similar to the flu.  So I couldn’t attend, but I can write about it here.  

To get sterilized, I had to fight against other people trying to impose their morality onto my actions.  I had to go through doctor after doctor who felt my decision was wrong, not because it was medically incorrect, but because they thought I didn’t know what I wanted.  Once I finally found that Planned Parenthood would support what was best for me, I still had to jump through hoop after hoop, as if I had to prove I was worthy of it.

I get this all the time with my modeling.  People think that I’m a sex worker, or that there’s something morally wrong with posing nude.  They censor my art.  They write me long and involved emails with all sorts of assumptions as to what I do and why I shouldn’t do it.  They expect apologies for my actions and my images.  Because it’s something they wouldn’t do, they say it’s something I should stop doing myself.    

I write this blog because I want to show others that there’s a person like them behind the model.  That nudity isn’t inherently wrong or even sexual, and that even if what I do isn’t something they would ever do themselves, it isn’t immoral.  

I’ve watched people change their minds about nude modeling.  Sometimes it’s after reading about or talking to a model.  Sometimes they go to their first life drawing class or get to watch a photo shoot and realize it’s nothing like what they expected it to be.  But it’s always through the sharing of experiences that people seem to grow and learn and change their minds.  

Maybe it will work with things other than modeling, too.  Maybe a few people will come to realize that what I did isn’t actually wrong, even if it isn’t what they would have chosen for themselves.  Maybe they’ll see why I believe it’s important that we have places that are willing to listen to women and help them when the established medical community won't.  

So this was my experience with Planned Parenthood.  It was complicated and it wasn’t pleasant, but it undoubtedly changed my life for the better.  

The New Model’s Guide to Posing

You’ve just arrived at the studio for your very first photo shoot.  Maybe you want to work as a model, and this is your first gig.  Or maybe the photo shoot is just for fun: you’re posing for portraits or a private boudoir session.   Either way, you’ve done your research; you’ve arrived on time, ready to shoot, and with everything you need for wardrobe on hand.  You’re standing in front of the backdrop when you realize something terrifying: you have no idea what to do when the camera is pointed at you.

You get to watch a new model grow more comfortable in front of the camera. They transition from being nervous to having fun.

I’ve been lucky enough to coach several new models through their first shoots.  It’s truly one of the most rewarding experiences imaginable: you not only get to see their posing improve before your eyes, but you also get to watch a new model grow more comfortable in front of the camera.  They transition from being nervous to having fun.  

Of course, I can’t coach every model’s first shoot.  So if I can’t be there for yours, here’s a few pieces of information that I always try to share.

Hands are incredibly important for two reasons.  First, they are almost as expressive as the human face.  If you don’t believe me, ask any actor about gestures.  Second, they continue the lines of the pose beyond your body.  A well-placed and shaped hand continues the visual line down the arm and into the rest of the image.  

It’s easy to make hands look awkward in photos, especially for new models.  Put too much weight on a hand and it turns into a pancake.  Too much spread between the fingers and your hand is suddenly a starfish; too much tension creates claws.  

So how do you create graceful hands in your photographs?  I’ve heard proper hand positions described as “holding an orange,” or “creating a cup,” but that never worked for me.  Instead, I learned the most by studying old paintings.  Most people are familiar with “The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo on the Sistene Chapel.  In the painting, Adam reaches out to God with perfect hand position—the fingers are relaxed, the second finger is slightly elevated, the wrist is curved but not limp. 

There are also innumerable spoofs and parodies of the painting.  A personal favorite replaces God with the flying spaghetti monster; I like to think “flying spaghetti monster hands” whenever I’m posing.  

Another good place to study hands are ballet dancers.  Notice that they not only use the same hand shape as Adam, but watch how they angle the wrist as well.  

Feet are almost as important as hands.  Feet continue the line of the pose through your legs, but flat feet often leave a pose feeling static.  One of the best things to do is to pose on your tiptoes.  Just like standing in high heels, posing on the balls of your feet lengthens your legs, defines your muscles, and makes your butt curvier.  It does, however, make it harder to balance and takes some practice.  

Even if you keep one foot flat on the ground, make sure to put at least one of your feet up on tiptoe.  A perfect example of this is in another famous painting: Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.”  Or if fine art isn’t your thing, you can also see it in any Victoria’s Secret catalogue.

—Ever heard someone tell you to “suck it in” for a photograph?  Well, they’re right—partially.  Instead of holding in your stomach, breathe up into your ribcage.  This flattens your stomach, elongates your torso, and lets your ribcage expand—creating more of an hourglass figure and the look of a slender waist.

Also, instead of holding it in, pop your hip by putting more weight on one foot than the other.  This once again creates more of an hourglass figure and the famous “S-curve” shape, which will also make your waist look smaller by comparison.

Don’t just stand there.  You’re allowed to move around and try out interesting, different, and downright weird poses.  Experiment!  Not every pose has to be perfect, and I think creating a new shape with your body is more valuable than mimicking an old one that everyone else has seen before.  I like to think of verbs when I’m trying to come up with a new pose: twist, knot, compress, lounge, reach, bend, sprawl.  

Relax your face.  There’s a reason that this is so far down on the list of things to think about.  If you think about your facial expression first, then as soon as you move your body, you’ll get distracted.  I only think about my face and my connection with the camera once I’ve positioned my body into the pose that I want.

It’s easy to say “relax,” but it’s a hard thing to do on command, especially in a new and stressful situation.  The best way I’ve found is to make funny faces and to laugh.  This is, of course, easier to do in person when I’m coaching.  I stick out my tongue at new models; I tell jokes; I make bunny ears or moose antlers when the photographer isn’t looking.  It’s all a little bit immature, but as soon as I get the first tentative smile at my goofball antics, I get to watch a new model’s face light up for the camera as well.  

Fake it ‘till you make it.  At my very first photo shoot, the photographer commented that I was one of the easiest models to work with that she had ever shot.  She couldn’t believe that I had never modeled before.  It had nothing to do with inherent talent, beauty, or posing skill.  I did one thing differently: I didn’t wait for her to tell me what to do.  I tried to always have an idea for the next pose, and then to take the initiative and move into it before I was asked.  I moved, acted confident, and pretended to know what I was doing.  That alone put me above all of the local competition.

So if you don’t know what to do at your first shoot, pretend that you do.  Try something; try anything.  Even just faking it will get you far better results.

—And last but certainly not least, have fun and be proud of yourself.  Getting in front of a camera can be terrifying.  It’s like getting on stage or giving a speech to a crowded room.  You have to perform, and you have to be aware of yourself and your body.  But on top of that, you also have to face your own self-image.  If you go to a photo shoot, remember that you’re doing a brave thing.  But also remember that there’s room to make mistakes.  Even if you think you’re doing lots of things wrong, merely acting confident made me seem great to work with.  The same is true for you.

Although it’s challenging, modeling should also be fun—and if you’re enjoying yourself, that will come through in your images.  So think about how to pose, and about your hands and your feet and your face, but also remember to smile and laugh and make funny faces.  Try to enjoy the process of creating art while you’re modeling.  If you do so, you’ll probably enjoy the final images too.