Home for the Holidays

Right now I’m curled up in my PJs on my mom’s couch in the house my grandma used to own. Over the past two days my roommate and I drove over 500 miles to get here - we dragged ourselves in last night wet and exhausted, LA traffic finally beaten. 

Last year my family were the last people I wanted to spend Christmas with. I’ve had a rocky relationship with them, and it’s definitely been a long road. Those of you who read my post on stigma and sexual assault may recall that my father dealt with the news of my modeling career in a way that was particularly traumatic for me. If you’ve seen my Flashes of Beauty interview you know that at the beginning of my journey as a model I struggled deeply with how my family viewed me because of it. What I wasn’t as public about was the fact that shortly after that video was published I cut all ties with my parents and didn’t speak to them for over a year.

That was a very difficult time for me. I missed my family deeply, but it gave me the space I needed to grow into a woman who was strong and confident. By the time I was ready to resume contact with them I knew who I was and what my boundaries were. I made it clear that if they wanted a relationship with me my career was a forbidden topic unless they wanted to have a conversation as equals in order to understand why I do what I do. Any further attempts to convince me that I needed to quit, however, were cause for me to end the conversation and, if repeated, the relationship. In return, I try not to speak about any aspects of what I do that make them uncomfortable, and be conscientious about what of my work life I reveal.

Even with those rules things can be difficult. Sometimes I wonder why I let them back in, and other times I wonder how I ever lasted a year without them. I love my parents deeply, quirks, faults, and all, and I’m happy that I am able to have them in my life.

But it isn’t always easy, and in the two years I’ve been back in touch with them this is the first year I’ve found myself wanting to spend the holidays with them. It took a lot of work to get here. Most of that work was on myself - I’ve finally molded myself into an emotionally healthy adult (I know, right?!), and I’m finally able to spend time with family without internalizing their issues. I can appreciate time with them without letting myself be sucked into their drama now.

The thing is, I wouldn’t have gotten here if I’d never started modeling. It might have been the catalyst for a lot of painful family encounters, but it was also the catalyst for a process of self realization and empowerment. Had I never begun on this journey I would still have an ambiguous relationship with my family, unhappy and disrespected but unsure of how to change that pattern. Short term, my family finding out that I pose nude was a painful and traumatic experience. But long term it gave me the space I needed to create the best family relationship I’ve ever had.

I have grown and healed in amazing ways throughout the past five years. Through my conversations and encounters with photographers, fans, and my fellow models I have come to recognize myself as a powerful and beautiful individual. As we wrap up 2015 this holiday season I want to let you all know how much I appreciate your support. Every time you click like, comment on a photo or a blog post, or send me an email, you remind me of what I’ve built - and why.

So thank you, and happy holidays.

About the Author

Eleanor is an accomplished traveling nude model and has been pursuing her art since 2010. Her work has been published in a variety of magazines, books, and galleries, including a special event at the Louvre. To see more of Eleanor’s work you can visit her website.

Contact Eleanor

Horrible Advice We Give New Models (And What We Should Tell Them Instead)

Over the course of my career I have received a lot of opinions and advice from peers, mentors, and random community members who had something to say. Some of this advice was stellar, and some was better ignored. There are many opposing opinions in the freelance modeling industry, and since some viewpoints are repeated loudly and often it’s not uncommon for new models to take bad advice as gospel. In other instances, most of the industry agrees on a piece of advice that is outdated, or perhaps well intentioned but ill informed. In this article I’m going to tackle four common pieces of advice that new models run across, why I think they’re wrong, and what I recommend instead.

Please note that this was written from the viewpoint of a freelance model, and is mainly intended to help freelance models. I don’t know how applicable this article will be to models who have agency representation.

Bring An Escort vs Do Your Homework

This is one of the most hotly contested issues in the freelance industry, and it can make or break a new model. When I first started as a model I lost several gigs by insisting that I had to have an escort present, and I still cringe to think about how unprofessionally I behaved when contesting the practice with potential clients.

Requiring an escort to be present may seem logical on the surface: you’re going to be working one on one with photographers, typically men, and often in their home studios. But it’s frowned upon for a reason. Photography requires trust, and in order to succeed as a model you have to be able to hold your own, be comfortable around photographers of either gender, and behave with the professionalism you would employ in any other job. 

I’ve never found the “you wouldn’t bring an escort to your office job” analogy very persuasive, but here’s an analogy that works better: consider modeling as similar to the employment of house keepers and on call masseuses. Both are jobs typically held by women, and both regularly go to the houses of strangers to work. If they can do that without escorts, so can you.

To keep yourself safe without an escort, it’s wise to screen photographers before every gig by contacting models they’ve worked with previously. Make sure to trust your intuition, maintain professional boundaries, and don’t work with anyone who sends up red flags. Having an escort along in a truly dangerous situation would put both of you in danger - it’s better to avoid the situation completely.

(If you are under 18 this point does not apply to you. You will typically need a parent or guardian with you in order to sign paperwork so that images can be used. If you’re under 18 and a photographer insists against you bringing someone along, that may be a red flag. Please consult an adult.)

Trade Constantly to Build a Portfolio vs Trade Up to Build a Portfolio

When you start out you need to develop your skills and build a professional looking portfolio as quickly as possible. Because of this, it’s often recommended that new models accept every trade opportunity that comes their way and work with as many photographers as they can. While you certainly want to work as much as possible, it’s important to receive images from your shoots that will benefit and improve your portfolio.

Do your research and find local photographers whose work you love. Find those who seem amenable to TFP arrangements (reading their bios often helps), and contact them with a polite and professional message inquiring as to whether they would like to collaborate with you. Make sure to trade with photographers who shoot a variety of styles, and discuss before the shoot what you both want to add to your books. Also make sure that you know ahead of time how many images you’ll be getting, and in what time frame. Keep in mind that as you improve you’ll have to leave some photographers behind and seek out new ones to trade with - the skill level of the photographers you’re working with should be constantly improving. Similarly, you’ll want to be constantly renewing your portfolio as your skills improve. Don’t just add new images, but replace old ones as their quality falls behind the rest of your portfolio

The biggest tip I can give to a new model looking for photographers to trade with is this: rather than merely assessing the images in a portfolio, also look at the dates they were uploaded. For trade it’s ideal to work with photographers who are either new and looking to learn and grow, or already established and still expanding their skillset. If a photographer has images in his portfolio that are five years old and depict the same skill level as those he uploaded this month, he’s probably not a good choice unless he’s extremely talented and well renowned.

Dump Your Boyfriend vs Assess Your Priorities

Many new models become invested in their new pursuit only to find that their partner is jealous or angry and wants them to stop. They often turn to the Model Mayhem forums asking for advice, and the advice given is usually along the lines of “He sounds like a controlling bastard, dump him.”

If your partner really is a controlling bastard, it probably is in your best interest to dump them. But if they are merely dealing with an unexpected reaction to your modeling and are trying to communicate it respectfully, it’s far better to have a conversation with them than with strangers online. Perhaps there is a compromise that can be made, or you two may agree that what you do is your choice and your partner will accept that, though unhappy. If you do find that you have to choose between modeling and your relationship, the best advice I can give you is to weigh your priorities. Were you really going to make an income from this or would it have been a hobby? Are you completely in love with modeling and can’t imagine giving it up, or is it something you could live without? Is your relationship one you see as lasting or was it just supposed to be short term anyway? Which would you most regret giving up?

No one can answer these questions for you. But taking the time to figure them out is going to serve you much better than dumping your partner the second they mention something is making them uncomfortable.

Shooting Nude? Bring a Robe vs Bring a Wraparound Dress

I’ve often been teased by how vehement I am about this, but advising a nude model to bring a bathrobe to a an outdoor shoot in case she has to cover up quickly is ridiculous. How many park rangers or policemen would actually be fooled by that?

Alternatively, investing in a few wraparound dresses provides the same quick protection with a much more plausible appearance. While you certainly won’t look like an experienced hiker, you will have an easier time selling yourself as a tourist out picnicking. I recommend having at least two - one short sleeved, and one long sleeved for morning shoots and cooler days.

I’ve been using wraparound dresses since I first started shooting nudes, and they allow a much higher level of convenience and security. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to have to explain to a ranger why I’m hiking barefoot in a fuzzy pink bathrobe.

My hope is that this post will help new models skip some of the hurdles that held me back when I started out. Please feel free to share it with anyone you think might benefit from it.

In the meantime, I’m curious. Have you been the recipient of some bad advice? Did I miss something that is commonly recommended to new models and really shouldn’t be? What’s the biggest piece of advice you could offer to a model who’s just starting out? 

Let me know on my Facebook page or in the comments!

About the Author

Eleanor is an accomplished traveling nude model and has been pursuing her art since 2010. Her work has been published in a variety of magazines, books, and galleries, including a special event at the Louvre. To see more of Eleanor’s work you can visit her website.

Contact Eleanor

Stigma and Sexual Assault: I Didn’t Ask For This

When I tell people I’m a nude model, the first question I’m always asked is “is that safe?” Though no one ever actually says it, we all know the question actually means “won’t you get raped?”

I usually talk about statistics and aim to reassure them: That though the freelance modeling industry is infamous for sex slavery and assault, the rates of this are actually very low. That this is better combated through education than through telling people not to model. That the risk is largest for new models, and that it can be mitigated and almost entirely removed through research and care. That setting up a bio properly can establish you as an experienced professional who wouldn’t make easy prey. 

I talk about the fact that I faced far more regular sexual harassment working in a hospital and at a law firm than I have as a nude model.

What I don’t say is that their innocent question is part of why the industry can be dangerous. I don’t mention that when people decide that freelance modeling is a predator’s paradise and that the women involved are putting themselves at risk, they’re legitimizing the predators as just a natural part of the industry. I don’t tell them how risky it is for nude models to speak up about this or the stigmas we’ll face if we do. Nor do I tell them that if we do get assaulted or raped, we have far less of a chance of ever seeing justice done - which is saying something, since most rape kits are never processed and most rapists never even face a court, let alone time in prison.

I don’t talk about being sexually assaulted multiple times, by multiple people, from the time I was six, because to do so would mean fueling the agendas of people who believe I must pose nude because I’m “damaged goods”. I rarely mention that I was sexually assaulted four times on a college campus within two years, yet only twice as a model within five years. Even though I’m far safer as a model than as a student, many people will use those facts to justify their idea that I’m working in an unsafe field. 

I rarely tell people that my journey as a model helped me learn to set boundaries and stay safe, because they latch onto the fact that there are dangers in this industry and dismiss the positive in what I shared to focus on those, ignoring the truth that the same dangers exist in for women everywhere within our culture.

I don’t tell people that the day my father proudly announced he had figured out why I pose nude was the day I was told I’d been molested by a police officer as a child.

I don’t talk about having to choose between speaking up about the issues I face as a woman or protecting myself and my peers from further stigma as a nude model.

But it’s all true.

I do face a chance of sexual assault as a nude model. But before you assume that means I should change careers or am ‘asking for it’, please understand that I face a chance of sexual assault as a woman, period. Nude modeling hasn’t changed that, it just means I’m under even further pressure to stay quiet about it.

Out of all my friends and peers that I am close enough with to talk to about the subject, I don’t know a single person designated female at birth who hasn’t been sexually harassed. Many of those friends have also been assaulted at least once, often before they turned eighteen, and most of them haven’t talked about it or pressed charges. There’s little incentive to speak up when claims are so often ridiculed and dismissed - sexual harassment as ‘just the way men are’, and assault as ‘not that bad’. 

The teacher’s assistant only towered over me, grabbing my thigh as he lectured me, and refused to let go - why did I make such a fuss? It took me years to accept the fact that it’s ok, and in fact accurate, to call that experience assault. But I’m urged not to make a big deal about it. The word assault can ruin someone’s life - why would I throw it around and call wolf when all he did was touch my thigh? He didn’t bruise me, he didn’t grab my breasts…. 

But when someone else grabbed my breasts in class, I was warned by campus police that there was a low chance of the complaint going anywhere because while his actions ‘weren’t that big a deal’, it would ‘seriously impact his education’ if the charges stuck. We are taught from the time we are little girls that men’s reputations are more important than our health and safety.

Given this, why is it surprising that I didn’t say anything when a photographer I was shooting shibari with grabbed my boobs while I was tied up, then later told me he thought it was ok because we were friends? I reasoned that it might have just been a misunderstanding, and saying something could ruin his career. I knew that if I spoke up people would say it was my fault because I was naked, because I let him tie me up. They’d say it was a risk inherent in my job, that I accepted it when I chose to pose for him, that I was lucky he didn’t do worse, that I should change careers if I have a problem with it. I’d be viewed as an example of every stigma nude models face - the girl who was sexually abused as a child and decided to pose nude “because” of it, the nude model who was sexually assaulted on the job and thus “proved” that we put ourselves at risk.

When a photographer grabbed my crotch and start rubbing my clit while I was lying down, unable to get away, and continued after I yelled at him multiple times to stop, I convinced myself it was my fault. It wasn’t, but I told myself that because it was the only way I knew to handle the situation safely. I was in Utah, and I was naked in his house. Who could I have turned to?

For a week after he pestered me asking why I was upset. When I finally got mad and told him that what he’d done was beyond inappropriate, that he’d touched me without consent and ignored me when I said no and told him to stop, he started crying. He told me that he had thought I was just playing coy because I was “ashamed of saying yes”, and that in his experience “women always say no when they mean yes”. He tried to make me comfort him, tell him it was ok and apologize for being mad.

Though it was the context within which I met the perpetrators, neither of those scenarios were a case of me being at risk because I was working with photographers. When someone thinks that it’s ok to grab a woman’s breasts because she’s his friend, or that a woman means yes when she yells no, they’re not going to limit predatory habits to the models they shoot with.

I faced these same issues when I interned at a hospital as a fifteen year old and was asked by a patient to give him a handjob during his sponge bath. I faced them when I worked at a law firm at age seventeen and was leered at by male employees, when my computer got a virus and the IT guy teased me about watching porn, when he cornered me for conversations I wasn’t comfortable with and paid me compliments that weren’t appropriate. I faced them in school, in my hobbies, in my jobs, and in every facet of my life. And I always knew that if I spoke up I’d be ridiculed, mocked, examined, and declared a bully and a liar. I was taught that sexual harassment and assault were the woman’s fault long before I became a nude model.

I’m not alone. I wasn’t the outlier who became a nude model to handle the abuse in a way I could “understand”. I can almost guarantee you that every woman you know has faced these same issues. Quite plainly, if sexual assault, harassment, and rape made every woman who dealt with them become a nude model or sex worker, the American economy would cease to function.

Two of my female family members have been raped. Several of my friends have been raped. I don’t know a single person designated female at birth who hasn’t faced sexual harassment at the very least. This is a pervasive issue in our society, and my career and my nakedness have nothing to do with it. Claiming that these issues are because of my chosen career is not only wrong, but it perpetuates the issue and encourages further crimes by punishing the victim rather than the perpetrator.

That is why nude modeling can be dangerous - because accounts of experiences are dismissed as ‘she asked for it’ and predators think they can get away with anything. But it’s also why this industry can be safer than most. The stigma we face has created solidarity among nude models, and when no one else will help us, we help ourselves and each other. We talk, we share our experiences, we help each other heal when needed, and we make sure that predators are labeled as such and pointed out to every new model that comes under our wings. In an industry that refuses to regulate itself we stand as regulators, and we are changing the way things work.

But we shouldn’t have to do this alone. We shouldn’t have to stay quiet about our experiences in order to shelter our peers from stigma. We shouldn’t have to pass on names and stories quietly because speaking out publicly would mean gaining bad reputations as ‘divas’ and ‘trouble makers’. And we shouldn’t have to fight to make an industry that relies on the trust of young women acknowledge that the responsibility of minimizing the risk we take is on them, not on us.

As I #standwithStoya, as I #standwithAmber, as I stand with all the many others whose stories are never heard, I ask that you remember that all people deserve to be protected from sexual violence, and all survivors deserve to see justice done, regardless of livelihood.

About the Author

Eleanor is an accomplished traveling nude model and has been pursuing her art since 2010. Her work has been published in a variety of magazines, books, and galleries, including a special event at the Louvre.  To see more of Eleanor’s work you can visit her website .

Contact Eleanor

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