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.

This piece, with some edits, is now published in Nasty!, a feminist anthology by Kingshot Press. Contact me to purchase a signed copy of the book.

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

On Haircuts and Presenting “Too Conservative”: Why I Don’t Have the Style I Wanted

If you’ve been paying attention to my social media for the past few weeks, you probably know that I look a lot different now.

For most of my modeling career I’ve had long hair. It was about shoulder length when I started posing nude, and I’ve only trimmed it since - until recently.

My long hair was a source of pride and joy to me. Despite the constant tangles and the half hour struggles to brush it into something attractive, I loved it. It became a vital part of me and how I presented myself to the world. Through my long hair I became a vixen, a maiden, alternately and concurrently desirable and innocent. I wore my hair as if it were a mask, and I built my persona around it. As my hair grew, so did I.

The past five years have been some of the best and worst of my life. My modeling career has shaped me in ways I never imagined it could. I became a nude model before I truly became a woman, and coming of age within this industry was both brutal and empowering. My body became something vitally important to me as it merged from a source of confusion and shame to one of power. In my blog post about my choice to grow my body hair I talked about the ways in which I reclaim my body through choosing what I do with it. 

So when I saw the opportunity to take a hair modeling gig with a prominent salon in San Francisco, I jumped.

The agreement was that they’d cut and color my hair for their campaign, then change it to anything I wanted. For years, I’ve had my mind set on someday getting a haircut to match a photo I’ve kept on my phone. The model has bright pink and orange hair in an asymmetrical cut, and I love it.

This style is why I accepted the low pay offered. Because once we were done, I’d finally have the hair I’d been dreaming of for years. As you may have noticed, that is not the hair I currently have. We’ll get there, I promise.

This was my first commercial shoot. I was excited, and I was nervous. I truly don’t know if they know I am primarily a nude model. I sent a link to my portfolio, but I also sent a few more tame images attached to my application, and they may have only looked at those.

The gig required me to come in to the studio a couple times, and I took pains to dress and behave more conservatively than my norm. I wore a turtleneck, I was quiet, I didn’t cuss or make bad jokes when the opportunities presented themselves.

In short, I behaved extremely professionally. Perhaps to the point of seeming stilted or stuffy. I just wanted to fit into a shooting environment unlike any I’d been involved in before.

It didn’t matter. I didn’t fit in. Probably my own fault - I was too focused on matching who I thought I was expected to be that I didn’t really connect with anyone there.

I definitely didn’t connect with my stylist. I hated everything she did for the campaign, but I had hope that once we got down to my final style, just for me, it would go well.

Go well it did not.

Imagine my surprise when I showed her the photo of the style I wanted and she said no. I was too conservative for that style, she insisted.

Me. Conservative.

I didn’t know what to do, what to say. To my shame, I said nothing. I let her do what she wanted. And this haircut is… ok. Honestly, I’m making the best of it, but I don’t love it. It wasn’t worth my time, my energy, or even the gas I spent for these shoots.

It definitely wasn’t worth all the bleach they put in my hair, multiple times, to create different looks for the campaign. My hair is fried.

I feel cheated. By the stylist who wouldn’t listen to me, but also by myself. I cheated myself by trying to be someone I wasn’t, and I cheated myself by not putting my foot down and insisting on the style I wanted.

Now my beautiful long hair is gone, and I’m just not happy with what I have in its place. My hair needed to go for a while, but I wish I’d done it in a way I could feel good about.

Hopefully, as it grows back in, I’ll find ways to style it that feel more me. Right now, it feels a little too…. conservative.

Imagine that.

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

Choosing Myself: The Social Ramifications of Living With Body Hair

Just over a year ago I got a text from my lover at the time. We were planning to attend an event together and had been discussing our plans and what we would wear. “Shave your armpits for me?” She asked. “Shaved armpits are my fetish.”

I felt like I’d been punched.

For most of our relationship I had tried to find a compromise between my body hair and her preferences. I kept my armpits shaved most of the time and my legs shaved almost all of the time. Eventually she took me to get a bikini wax - my first - and continued to maintain it at home, waxing the sides of my bush into neat lines and taking the hair off my labia. I justified it as potentially being good for my career. Perhaps it would make for better images if no hair stuck out of my lingerie. Maybe I’d book more glamour shoots.

But when I looked in the mirror after that first wax I wanted to cry. My bush, a cherished symbol of everything I loved about myself, no longer looked natural or complete. Its roaming borders had been tamed, and I felt like I had given up a piece of myself I would have been better off keeping.

Even so, we continued to maintain my bikini line, and I kept my legs and armpits shaved and smoothed for her. She was so happy with my new look, and I chalked it up as a necessary sacrifice to make the relationship run smoothly.

Things probably would have continued this way for quite some time if I hadn’t gotten in a car accident last June. My injuries were devastating and during my recovery I ended up growing out all my body hair. Showering was hard enough and I often needed help - neither myself nor the friends and family caring for me were concerned with keeping my body hairless. By the time I recovered enough that shaving was again possible, I found myself vehemently opposed to the idea. I had always loved the aesthetics of body hair and the injury had given me time to remember how attached I was to mine. At a time when there was so little I could control in my body and in my life, I was grateful to have found something I could control - even if it was merely whether or not I took a razor to my armpits and legs.

Choosing to grow or shave my body hair was always a profoundly personal decision for me. Throughout my life I have exercised both options as a way of regaining autonomy and declaring ownership of my body. From the first time I shaved my legs as an act of rebellion to the day I decided I wanted to stop, this was the one aspect of how I looked and behaved that I was always solely in control of. That’s not to say I never faced judgement for those choices, but that I had never let anyone else decide what I should do in that arena. Claiming complete control over grooming decisions was a way to claim my body as an adolescent, then to reclaim my body after assault. Through it I declared my independence, explored personal preferences, and grew to love and accept my body.

When I joined the artistic community with a fully grown bush, the body acceptance I found from artists and fans was incredible. That acceptance led me to dabble with growing out my armpit hair off and on for shoots with amenable photographers throughout my career, and even before the accident I had felt pulled towards keeping it grown full time. For the most part I have found that the people who appreciate the skills and talents I offer are willing to accept the decisions I make with my body as being a part of that package. I have worked hard to feature body hair as a part of my unique look, and I often get hired specifically because I have it.

As such, the shift I was gearing towards was not a surprise for the artists that I worked with, or for my wonderful and dedicated fans. I was merely deciding that, for me, the loss of one or two jobs a month was well worth the personal gains of refusing to modify my body regularly just to increase my income. I had already made that decision regarding my pubic hair at the beginning of my career, and now I decided to expand my brand to include armpit hair as well. Because I already had a good grasp of what techniques I could use to market myself as a model with body hair, I faced very little professional and fiscal loss as I made this change

I knew, however, that personal loss could be imminent. My lover would not be happy about the decisions I had made, but I was determined not to lose these aspects of myself I held so dearly. I didn’t want to shave or wax again, and I no longer viewed my hair as an acceptable sacrifice to make for the good of a relationship. My newly grown body hair was a reminder that I could grow through trauma and tragedy, that my body kept on working and wasn’t completely broken.

The night she texted me with her request, the implication - shaved armpits were her fetish - was that she could not find me sexually attractive unless I complied. It hurt immensely to realize that she saw my hair as undesirable, unhygienic, merely an unnecessary feature of my body to be plucked and trimmed away. The same part of my body that made me feel powerful, strong, and desirable suddenly made me feel small and unwanted. I cancelled our plans that night and stayed home, trying to assess who was right. Was I truly being selfish by denying my lover the pleasure of a hairless body?

Ultimately I chose to feel strong, powerful, and desirable again. I chose myself. And in truth, that’s what my journey with body hair has always boiled down to: choosing myself. I choose to do with my body whatever makes me feel powerful and fulfilled, and I hope that others do the same, whatever that entails.

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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