How Failing Made Me a Better Model

The most embarrassing thing that I’ve ever lived through happened while I was naked, on a modeling stand, in front of a classroom full of people. 

I was a very new model; I’d only posed for life drawing maybe three or four times before.   For this class at the local college, I was sitting for my first three-hour long pose.

About two and a half hours into the pose, my foot fell asleep.  I had heard that something almost always falls asleep during a long pose, so I wasn’t worried.  What I didn’t realize was that I’d also lost feeling in my whole leg all the way up to my hip. 

In a long pose, the model takes a quick break to stretch every twenty minutes, so when the timer went off, I stood up and stomped on my foot to get my circulation back.  Or at least, I tried to; my leg had other ideas.  Instead, I fell over rather spectacularly.  

That should have been the end of it; falling over naked in front of a group of college students was embarrassing enough.  However, the stand was wheeled so it could be moved in and out of the classroom.  Whoever had set it up hadn’t locked the rollers, and when I fell it went flying in the other direction. I ended up taking out half the class with the modeling stand, and falling headfirst into the lap of a student on the other side of the room while still naked--and unable to stand up, because my leg still wasn't working.  

I was convinced that after that class, I was done with modeling.  I was too mortified to ever come back.  

After the class had finished and I was hoping to make a quick escape, the instructor came over to talk to me.  Things like this don’t matter, he told me.  Nobody was going to remember that a model fell down while they were taking a college art class.  

I think it’s obvious that he didn’t mean it literally.  After all, I’m still telling you about it.  I remember it pretty viscerally, and I’m pretty sure that both the student I landed on and the ones I accidentally bruised with the modeling stand didn’t forget what happened.  After all, how often does a naked woman land unceremoniously on top of you?  But it did teach me an invaluable lesson: nobody cares if you fail.  

They were more concerned about their art than my accident.

I had failed spectacularly.  I had fallen off a stage buck-naked into somebody’s lap.  It was worse than the worst thing I had imagined being possible.  And yet, nothing terrible actually happened to me.  Nobody pointed, laughed, or even snickered behind their hand.  Nobody glared at me for smacking them with a really heavy modeling stand.  Nobody even said anything.  They just picked up their drawings and went back to work.  They were more concerned about their art than my accident.

Realizing that I could make such a big blunder without consequence gave me the courage to go back and model again. 

It also gave me the gumption to try all of the stressful things necessary to build a professional modeling career.  I honestly don’t think I would be a professional model today if I hadn’t fallen off that modeling stand.  Starting any freelance endeavor means trying new, scary things that are easy to fail at.  I had to put naked pictures of myself on the internet, negotiate rates (asking for money is terrifying), and travel alone to places I had never been for work. 

Whenever I wanted to try something new but was afraid, I would ask myself the following questions: “If I fail completely at this, will it be worse than falling off a stage naked into a stranger’s lap?  Will it be more memorable?” 

It very rarely is, on either count.  

Those two questions have helped me with new adventures too, like starting a blog or learning to dance ballet as an adult.  Sure, I still get terrified that I’m going to fail.  Failure is scary and sometimes horribly embarrassing.  It’s also a pretty common occurrence (although rarely as dramatic as falling naked off a model stand).  But I don’t let it stop me anymore.  I let myself fail, because I know that nobody will care.  And most of my successes would have never happened if I hadn’t taken the risk.

Nude Modeling and Body Image

The image I shared.

The image I shared.

When I started modeling, I had body image issues. 

I chose to model clothed for my first couple of shoots, even though I knew that I wanted to eventually pose for art nudes.  The reasoning was prudent enough: I wanted to make sure that I knew how to pose for a camera before I threw nudity into the mix as well.  I figured that if there were going to be naked pictures of me on the internet forever, that they might as well be good ones. 

Since the results were decidedly safe for work, I showed them to a few of my Starcraft II buddies online, some of which had never seen me before in person.  One of these guys responded with, “You’re cute, but a little too skinny for my tastes.”  Oh good, I thought.  That means I only need to lose ten more pounds. 

You would think that growing up as a tomboy would have shielded me from the desire to be skinnier.  But to me, skinny meant boyish, and boyish was my ideal.  I was a natural hourglass figure, and I hated my big breasts and even bigger hips.  I felt like my body was something outside of my control.

*    *     *

One of the common questions I get from attendees at art gallery openings and motherly women who sit next to me on plane rides is, “How do you handle modeling changing your body image?”  Because I am a model it’s always just assumed that this change is for the worst.  That modeling has a negative impact on young women and self-esteem is part of our national dialogue right now.  Most people hear it often enough that they take it to be a fact.  

The truth is, modeling changed my relationship with my body for the better.  

Not just modeling; nude modeling in particular.  I wouldn’t have gotten the same benefit from posing clothed.  When you model nude, be it for a traditional artist or a photographer, you only have one thing to make art with.  That thing is your body.  You cannot rely on props or clothes; you have no other tool but yourself.  Nude modeling forced me to view my body as something useful, as something that could make art.

Modeling became something that I could *do* with my body.  It wasn’t about how my body looked, it was how I could make it appear.  I could emphasize my hourglass curves and make the pose look very classical, or I could stretch my body out and make it seem particularly slender.  I could create characters and tell stories.  Or I could twist and compress into abstract shapes that didn’t look like a person at all.

This fascination with what my body was capable of bled into every other part of my life.  It’s changed how I approach music and backpacking and sex.  I started studying ballet—something I had previously admired from a distance—because I realized that dancing on the very tips of my toes was just another thing that my body could do.  

I value my body for what it is capable of, not how it looks.

Now I value my body for what it is capable of, not how it looks.  I care more that I can dance en pointe or carry a thirty pound pack for 10 miles a day than whether I look pretty.  And I find that when I concentrate on my capabilities, I end up looking better than if I had worked solely on aesthetics in the first place.  I’m now ten pounds heavier than that girl who showed her picture to her gaming buddies online.  Some of it comes from age and a little extra curve, but most of it is muscle.  All of it looks amazing when I use it to make art.  

Does this mean I’m happy with everything about how my body looks all the time?  Not in the slightest.  I still worry about my appearance sometimes, though it usually relates to how I photograph instead of how I am.  I also get frustrated with myself when I’m sick or injured, and I can’t do the things that I derive self-worth from.  But it does mean that I’m comfortable with myself most days, and that’s an improvement.  

Modeling has taught me to appreciate my body for what it can do, so much so that worrying about how I look no longer makes sense.  And now I have an answer to the question about modeling changing my body image.  It’s a lot more positive than you might think.