Growing up, I was the type of girl who was always “forgetting” her gym clothes during middle and high school, because I absolutely hated changing in front of the other girls.
(Luckily for me, they stopped mandatory showers a few years before I entered high school, so at least I did not have to endure that.) Therefore, I was as shocked as anyone when fast forward a decade later, I was earning extra money during graduate school posing in the buff in the name of “art.”
Like so many things in my life, I did not plan this. Rather, I was working part-time in a health food store in London and going to school full-time and barely had enough money to cover my travel and grocery bills.
A regular customer, whom I later learned was a fairly well-known fashion photographer, first suggested that I could get work posing for art school and photographers.
Full-disclosure: Had I not know this nice old man for several months and developed a sense of camaraderie with him, I would have been seriously freaked out by this suggestion. I was skeptical, but the cards and numbers he gave me seemed legitimate. I also took a friend with me to the first couple of meetings with various associates, and it turned out they’re the real deal.
Hence, I made a fairly decent amount of money each month showing up and undressing while various art students and photographers drew or snapped away, respectively.
Posing for the art students didn’t bother me at all. After all, they were just drawings or paintings. With photographers, though, I was more cautious.
I knew that photographs could last forever and that something from the past could come back to bite me one day. Therefore, I always made it point to bring someone and made it very clear what I would or rather would not do. My list of what I wouldn’t do was pretty extensive: no cheesecake or pin-up type photos, nothing involving me posing with another model-male or female-and absolutely no crotch shots or anything that could possibly end up in a porno mag.
Honestly, though, I needed not to have worried about that last one. At 5’2″ and with “strong” (read: heavy) legs and a decidedly non-Playboyesque figure, I was a favorite for photographers who wanted to shoot avant garde stuff.
In fact, in one of my favorite photos ever taken of me—either candid or professional—my entire face was obscured by an elaborate hat and my knees were drawn against my chest. Although I was completely nude, the only thing “naked” about it was the shadow of my breasts and that was only from the sides.
(In all honesty, my senior prom pictures were more revealing than that picture.)
Despite the fact that the experiences had about as much eroticism as getting a passport photo taken, I chose not to share my other job with a lot of people. Those who did know more often than not responded by nodding in empathy saying something like, “Well, sometimes we all do things we don’t want to do for money!” or else let out a barrage of tittering giggles and winks and asked questions about what it was really like.
Neither seemed to get that it was neither an act of desperation nor an erotic experience. Rather, it was an easy way to earn money. (To give an idea of how easy it was, I would bring along a book and read between classes or photo takes.)
Plus, few seemed to believe ( much to my chagrin I should add) that I never had so much as a single art instructor, student, or photographer hit on me or fluff up my ego to the point where I felt like some sort of sex goddess. At times, I would receive a compliment on my flexibility, my ability to hold poses for long periods of time , and even my breasts (in the words of many, they were “great”), but even the last one was said in such a way it was more like a professional evaluation than a compliment.
I noticed something—I was suddenly a lot more comfortable naked and a lot more comfortable living in the body I inhabited.
The former probably was not a huge surprise considering that at most of these assignments, I would spend at least an hour or more naked in front of strangers. Furthermore, I also learned that the old saying really is true: it is all about the lighting.
In fact, the lighting would often take more time than the actual photo shoots. I was always amazed how the brilliant lighting person(s) along with a skilled photographer could create an image that had little or next to nothing to do with reality.
Having a perfect or even a great body was not needed—just good enough was often fine.
Indeed, for most of the time that I was modelling, I had a chronic case of adult acne. At my very first assignment, I asked if I should attempt to cover it with foundation and was told not to worry because Photoshop could take care of it. It was true. As I recall, the skin of that woman in the picture—I could hardly call her “me”—was as poreless and flawless as that of a baby.
Knowing these tricks made me not only look at myself different but others as well. I stopped comparing myself to other women either in person or in print. Indeed, when I would get the occasional glimpses of “top shelf”girly magazines, more often than not I would find myself critiquing the lighting or wondering how much post-production time was spent on the photos in order to achieve the desired effect.
If I had to bet money, I would imagine that the models in those deliberately erotic poses found the experience no more erotic than mine.
Once graduate school ended and I moved back to the United States, I thought my nude/semi-nude modelling days were over. However, two years ago, I posed for a local photographer for an “arty” type of college in which he used only my bare back and as I recently shared, I posed last month for a local lingerie shop clad only in underwear.
While both were great experiences, oddly enough, I felt far more exposed in the lingerie than I did posing in the raw.
Perhaps that is because I knew that these photos were going to be used to sell a specific product or that just the word “lingerie” conveys notions of sexiness which is something I truly never felt or felt was expected from me whenever I posed nude.
Indeed, if I learned anything at all from being both nude and semi-nude is that sexiness has nothing whatsoever with what one is wearing or not. I do not think I could have posed nude if I was meant to convey sexiness or desirability.
Interestingly, I tend to feel the sexiest when I am fully clothed, but most comfortable naked or nearly naked.
While most people will probably never step in front of a roomful of strangers naked, I happen to believe it is one of the liberating things one can do especially in this culture with a deep taboo of nudity and a desire for physical perfection at all costs.
Even if most never end up doing so, perhaps by reading this they will see that:
1. The physical perfection they see in photos is nearly always the result of smoke and mirrors or rather, skilled lighting pros, talented photographers and Photoshop.
2. True eroticism and sexiness has little to nothing to do with nudity.
3. While some types of nude modelling can be exploitative and involve models being taken advantage of, often times it is not the case.
In any case, I don’t regret my time as a semi-professional naked person if only because the lessons I learned were even more valuable than the money.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise