August 7, 2013

Confessions of an Over-35 Lingerie Model.

Courtesy of Flickr/Matthew Ragan

Over the years, I have held many jobs and had many job titles including research assistant, legal assistant, editor and yoga instructor, but never did I think “lingerie model” would be added to the list.

However, after today, that is one I can truthfully add.

My story as to how this came to be begins with how a lot of my stories currently start. One morning, I was checking my Facebook feed, and I saw that my favorite local lingerie shop was look for real women of all shapes and sizes to star in an upcoming ad campaign.

This shop is a favorite of mine for many reasons: first of all, it is the only locally-owned, upscale lingerie shop in the area. Second, the original owner/founder was a yoga buddy of mine, and I remember her being heavily pregnant with her first child when the doors finally opened. (Alas, she no longer owns it and sold it shortly before the birth of her third child.)

Lastly, I love the fact that it is a shop that caters to a wide range of bodies and was the only place I could find a truly pretty, functional nursing bra after I had my daughter 4 years ago.

So, I decided to enter the contest on a whim. I submitted three photos-all snapshots taken by a friend sans make-up or Photoshop and wrote a short blurb about what beauty means to me. A few days later, I got an unexpected surprise when I received an email saying that I was amongst the women who had been picked. Wow!

I won’t mince words: I was flattered. However, I was also a tad nervous. These advertisements were going to run locally and regionally as well as online.  Plus, while I am hardly a well-known person in the community, I do live in a very small town. Were people who knew me going to see them and think, “Conceited woman! What was she thinking?” Even worse, what if they thought I looked terrible? Also, I strongly identify as a feminist.Was it really a feminist thing to be doing this?

Along with those fears were the practical considerations as well: Should I get a manicure and pedicure? Should I skip the heavy carbs the night before? (After all, I was going to be posing in underwear.)

The fact that I was thinking these things was interesting in and of itself. In general, I  consider myself a very laid-back, unpretentious sort. I rarely wear make-up or do more with my hair than blow-dry it and brush it. I also like to think that I generally don’t care what others think of me. However, it turns out that I do have more vanity than I like to admit, and I care about the opinions of other.

And there was one other thing I had to admit as well: Overall, I like how I look.

This was surprisingly scary for me to admit. I always wanted people to be impressed by my mind rather than my appearance. I  don’t think I am a ravishing beauty by any stretch of the imagination but just admitting that I thought I was, well, attractive for a 36 year old mother-of-one sounded so terribly conceited to me.

Like most women, I struggled with body image issues for a good part of my life. I thought that compared to other women, especially my very tall, very blonde mother, I was pretty unnoticeable.

Technically, this wasn’t actually my first experience modeling. When I was three, my mother entered me, and I won a “pretty baby contest” sponsored by a local Owings Mills photography studio in suburban Maryland. I don’t recall too much of it except that as a result, my mother got free photos and one was used in a local ad. While my mother harbored hope for some time after that I could continue as a child model, I showed no interest.

By the time I was 10 and my mother stopped harboring those dreams, I already knew I was probably wouldn’t have gone very far as model. I didn’t have the “right” look even for local/regional modeling. Given how short I was, I would have probably been too small even for catalog modeling. When I was in college and actually met some girls who modeled professionally as teens and young adults, I was thanking my lucky stars I never entered that world.

The idea of being constantly rejected, told to lose weight, and working in a very adult world while still a child sounded pretty unglamorous to me. Plus, given the body issues I harbored, I felt like this would just have put even more fuel on that fire.

I thought of all this as I got ready for the shoot. It’s funny how life has a way of changing. Now at 36 and after having practiced yoga for over a decade and given birth, I feel far more confident about my looks and body than I ever did. That isn’t to say I don’t have days where I feel bad about myself. I have them, just like everyone else, but I can also say to myself that I am attractive without feeling delusional or conceited.

As it turns out, the shoot was a ton of fun. I liked the photographer immediately. She made me feel very relaxed, and I really got into the session. She asked what made me decide to enter in the first place. I was honest: I thought why not? It could be fun.

I wish all women could experience what I did and feel as good as I did afterwards. It was truly an empowering experience.

Afterwards, the manager/ad coordinator said that they hoped these photos would be part of a long-term project, and asked would I be interested in participating again?

My response: absolutely.

While I don’t see myself modeling for anyone else or consider myself a “real model,” I hope that my experience and the photos I posed for will perhaps encourage others to not just to accept but love their bodies.

If a 5’2″, thick-calved, 36 year old mother-of-one who was told for a good part of her life that she was not pretty can feel confident enough to pose in lingerie, then perhaps anyone can feel good about themselves.

Unlike most of the Victoria Secret angels, I live in the real world; I don’t have millions in the bank or an actor/rocker spouse.

I am actually glad I don’t make a living off my looks, but I am happy I got to have my little experience.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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