What to Wear, According to an Art Nude Model

We've all heard the phrase "clothes make the man."  I always attributed the truth in this statement, what little there was, to the perception of others.  People look at you differently depending on how you present yourself.  Dressing well to make a good impression is not a new concept; neither is being judged for your appearance.

Recently, I ran across a new study that posits what we wear not only affects how other people view us, but how we subconsciously view ourselves.  Not only that, but what we think about what we're wearing will change how we act.  Researchers split their subjects into two groups: they gave each group the same white overcoat, but told one group that it was a scientist's jacket, while the other was told that it was a painter's smock.  The researchers then gave their subjects a battery of tests.  The "scientists" performed higher than the control group on logical and rational thinking problems, and significantly lower on creative thinking.  The "artists" were reversed--they scored poorly on logical thinking, but significantly higher on creativity.  

This is incredibly cool, because it means that all those people who tell you fashion "means something" are right.  You really can change who you are, inside and out, just by changing your wardrobe.  And yes, going on a shopping spree can now be seen as self-improvement.  Think about it: if what you're wearing can make you smarter or more creative, what will you now pull out of your closet when you want to accomplish a specific task?  I've always had what I refer to as my writer's wardrobe, or freelancer attire.  It's just about what you would expect from the chronically self-employed: holey sweats, oversized men's flannel shirts "borrowed" from various closets that aren't mine, mismatched fluffy socks, and boxers with googly eyes glued on the butt.  Despite how positively frumpy those items are, I would swear that I write higher word counts on days that I'm wearing them, and that I answer emails more efficiently.  And I probably do--I have them associated in my mind as what productive, self-employed people wear.  

All this is great for non-costumer facing days when I'm writing or catching up on all of the little tasks and chores that are an inevitable part of working for yourself.  But my primary form of employment is posing for artists in the nude.  What if you're naked at work?  How is my normal "work attire" affecting me psychologically?  

I'm immediately reminded of Mark Twain's quip on the subject: "Clothes make the man.  Naked people have little or no influence on society."  Being a professional naked person with no less influence than any other freelance artist I know, I'd quibble about Twain's statement.  It does, however, bring up an interesting point.  There's a general belief in nakedness as being "less"--and not just in terms of yardage.  There's a certain stigma associated with it.

The primary association in people's minds with nudity (at least here in America) seems to be sex.  I'm always wary when I tell someone that I pose nude--I can assure you that their first assumption about me is rarely an artistic one.  People equate what I do to being a porn star, a stripper, or a whore.  Even people that respond politely have an inherent judgement about what I do: they're often overly supportive of my being so "in touch" with myself.  Both sides make a big deal out of nudity, either positive or negative, when I don't really think a lack of clothes is that interesting.

It all boils down to one question: is posing nude a sexual act?

In the same vein, the most frequent questions people ask me about my work are sexual in nature.  I'm often asked if posing nude is an erotic experience, or if I am physically attracted to--or even sleep with--my artists.  It all boils down to one question: is posing nude a sexual act?

My answer is not the one that they want to hear: there's nothing more or less sexual to posing nude than any other human interaction.  If you don't believe me, I would encourage you to try it out for yourself.  Go sign up to pose for an art class and drop your robe in front of a room full of strangers.  I think you'll learn something both about your sexuality and social norms.  You may also learn to ask more interesting questions.

Wait a second, what about those previously mentioned porn stars and strippers?  Don't they pose nude too--and they're obviously sexual!

Well, yes.  Like I said, posing nude isn't not a sexual act; it's just not an implicit link.  But there are some things that you can do to increase those sexual associations.  One of them is a style of posing: you won't generally see an art nude model spread her legs and stare into the lens with a "come-hither" expression.  It's just body language, and body language can say a lot about how you're viewed, and how you view yourself.  If you're interested in this, there's been a lot of recent talk about the idea of "power poses," and how you can use them to improve yourself in the same way you can wear a painter's smock or a lab coat.  You can check out the TED talk here.

However, we're talking specifically about how we clothe ourselves--or not--and there is one thing you can do concerning clothes to make an image more sexual: you can wear them.  Let me give you a few examples: a classical art nude image, and a lingerie image. 

art nude


I am actually more comfortable shooting naked than I am in lingerie or revealing clothing.  Why?  Because I know how to pose for an art nude image. I know what body language to use or avoid to make a pose look non-sexual.  The context of the final image is within my control.  Lingerie, however, is like the white jacket: lingerie is a big mental cue to yourself and others around you that what you're doing is sexual.  The act of removing clothing, or being half-naked instead of fully nude, is even more so.  Sure, the final statement of the image is entirely dependent on context: how is it presented?  But that context isn't in your control; it's in the photographers'.  For that reason, I won't shoot partially clothed or in any glamour styling unless I'm familiar enough with a photographer to know what context the final image will be presented in--or unless I am completely fine with being viewed sexually.

Unfortunately, the realization that being partially clothed can be more sexually provocative than being fully nude is counterintuitive to a lot of new models.  I see many women who want to "get more comfortable" with posing nude start out by posing topless or even in glamour lingerie, and then find themselves negatively objectified as sexual objects.  I actually started in the opposite way, and I would recommend it to any aspiring model interested in posing nude.  Start as an art nude model, and avoid anything glamour-like or sexualized.  Once you're comfortable completely naked, you can start putting your clothes back on if you still want to shoot glamour.

The second negative perception around nudity seems to be one of weakness.  You'll often see nudity as a way to make someone feel powerless or vulnerable around a clothed figure.  There's a bit more truth to this association with nudity--but not in a way that you might expect.  I've shot nudes in nature more times than I can count, and often in adverse weather conditions.  Shooting this way has taught me how fragile human beings really are without their tools.  It's cold outside--and you don't realize just how scary and uncomfortable being truly cold is until you experience it without any barrier or buffer.  But it's not just the shelter of clothes that I'm referring to when I say "tools."  I always carry a pocketknife with me because it's a useful tool.  Hands and teeth aren't very effective at cutting things.  Same with my flashlight--human eyes suck at seeing in the dark.  When you're naked, you don't have any of those things.

However, that's exactly why I would suggest you try posing nude--doing so can give you incredible perspective.  I suppose you could look at the list of uncomfortable things you have to endure by being nude as a negative.  But it's also a method of self-discovery.  Literally everything else is stripped away.  You realize that you're surviving those uncomfortable situations--and that the only thing you have at your disposal is. . .you.  It's enlightening to realize how different the world is outside of the shelters we've built around ourselves, and empowering to learn that we're still capable without them.

So, if we can change who we are by our clothes, what would I recommend that you wear?  Nothing, of course.  Try going nude--maybe you'll have some of the insights that I've experienced.  It doesn't have to be for a photo shoot or a drawing group, although those are two good ways.  Just working on being more comfortable in your own skin can give you epiphanies of perspective.  Even if you don't, I hope that you at least think about two things: first, that nudity probably doesn't mean what you think it does.  And second, that you should carefully consider what you're wearing as it pertains to what you want to accomplish.  It's too easy of a thing to use for your advantage; don't ignore it.

Oh, and if you want higher daily word counts, don't forget to glue googly eyes to the seat of your boxers.  It works wonders.