Terry* has worked in nude modeling on and off since the 80’s. She did it to put herself through college and to later support herself as she started her own therapy practice. Money was not the only reason she did this – she also used nude modeling to aid in healing her body image issues.
Here is a bit of her story.
Nude modeling is an interesting career choice for some with body image issues.
I felt like I was fat. The first time I modeled I was afraid when I dropped the robe people would run screaming out of the room. When they didn’t, I felt accepted. Nude modeling was really helpful in helping me feel ok about my body.
I imagine it would be pretty terrifying the first time you did this even if you did not have body image issues.
I honestly do not remember the first time very well. I just remember having anxiety that people would have some kind of horrific reaction and when they didn’t I felt ok.
How does it work? Do you come out in a robe or nude?
You come out in a robe and then you take it off. The positioning happens once you are nude.
How was seeing the renditions of yourself?
It was part of the evolution of healing my body image issues. I would look at the pictures as if they were mirrors. I would look at them and think, “Oh my God am I fat?” But I started to notice a pattern where thin people would draw me as thin and the fat people would draw me as fat. I realized the artists were drawing themselves. There was something inside of them being projected on to me.
What is it like to feel like your imperfections are being emphasized?
Nowadays it is more about my aging than my weight. Some people will draw me with big lines and creases and circles under my eyes. Some people draw me a lot younger than I am. I know their drawings of me are not a true mirror. Sometimes I do get caught up in it thinking, “Are my wrinkles really that obvious?”
What about the creepy guy factor?
I have not had any creepy guy factor. There tends to be a strong sense of ethics or etiquette around how to treat a model. It tends to be very non-sexualized.
You never had any sense someone was getting aroused?
Not that I could tell. Nothing overt.
Have you ever been put in any uncomfortable positions?
I had a professor at one of the universities hang me over a chair face down. My butt was up in the air. My legs were kind of spread. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if students could only look at me from one angle but people were all around me. Some of them were looking right up my crotch. In retrospect I wish I just refused to do it. For some reason I did not feel empowered that day.
Being someone who has tried to resolve body image issues, do you have any recommendations on how people could heal if they had similar issues?
I would recommend more of a therapeutic response other than nude modeling – a therapist, a dance class, pole dancing class, or striptease class. I used to do an erotic dance workshop to help people realize no matter what kind of body they had, it was beautiful, sensual and sexy. It is not about looking a particular way. It is not about looking like models in the magazines.
Do you notice any difference between the way men and women artists perceive nude models?
I do get the feeling women artists are more accepting of the broad range of body types than men who seem to still be looking for the female model type.
Would you recommend nude modeling to a friend?
I have suggested it to some of my friends when they were desperate for money. It is an easy way to make money. Other than the stress on your body it is easy work. Your mind is free. You can think about whatever you choose. Some models even read while they do it. You do not take your work home. You are not responsible to anybody for anything. Compared to being a therapist it was so much less stress and it pays more per hour.
How much does it pay?
Between $15 – $20 an hour.
Do men and women nude models get paid differently?
No. Strangely enough, now that I only doing clothed modeling I get paid the same amount as I did doing it nude. You do get paid more for photography — about $30 – $50 an hour.
Why did you stop doing nude modeling?
I believe in past lives. I believe I have been a prostitute in past lives and I have been in various lifetime situations where I had to sell my body in one way or another. As I came to the end of nude modeling I realized it brought up a feeling that I was prostituting myself. When I made the decision to stop there was a fear, a very deep and ancient fear which was “Can I support myself if I do not sell myself?” It was a healing process for me to set a boundary not to do it anymore.
Do you believe it is prostituting yourself?
Not in the sexual sense. It is a tricky thing. I do not know how much of it is personal to me and how much applies to other nude models. I am sure if you interviewed other people they might say they never think about modeling as prostituting yourself. It is hard for me to say why but I do feel like it was or it could be.
Did something trigger these feelings of prostituting yourself?
It started to shift for me last summer or fall. I started to have physical problems with my back and neck which made modeling physically uncomfortable. Around the same time the psychological discomfort started to come up. I had a feeling that harkened back to a past life element of selling myself. There was a feeling I was locked into nude modeling and I started to feel less and less comfortable about being naked around people. In the past the discomfort was there but I pushed it down so I could do the work.
If you were to take a sample of 100 models do you think the majority of them are comfortable with their bodies or do you think they have body image issues?
I have never really ever talked to the other models about it. As a therapist I know even women with very beautiful bodies have body image issues. I talked to a teacher who took his own personal survey of nude models. He found the majority of models are exhibitionists.
Have you had any memorable experiences?
There is not one particular memory which stands out. I have really enjoyed being in the creative environments. As a generalization I enjoy artists. They are unconventional, creative, accepting.
Have you ever run into any of your students outside of the classroom?
That worst nightmare has yet to come to pass. But, from time to time I Google my name. A few months ago what came up was gallery with a full frontal nude painting of me with my first name on it. The artist did a good job. It was very recognizable. The name of the gallery had my last name in it. It was a freaky coincidence. I was upset. I was able to contact the artist and get the name of the painting changed to “The Model”. It really put my antenna up to the fact that these images could show up anywhere.
Have you ever had a bad reaction to telling people you are a nude model?
No . A lot of people say, “Good for you. I could never do that, but good for you. Good for you that you have the guts to do it.” I think people actually admired me for doing it.
Have you ever dated anyone that had an issue with it?
One of my partners was a little jealous other men got to see me naked. I did date a guy once who got off on the idea of me being a nude model. He would suggest I do provocative things and purposely try to arouse the men. That was weird. I did not stay with him long.
Does someone’s finished work make you feel more or less confident?
Generally, I have really liked the finished products.
What are the pro’s and con’s of nude modeling?
The pros are low stress, no responsibility, no prep time and nothing to do afterwards. You can make your own schedule in many ways. There is a lot of freedom. There is the freedom to use your mind however you want when modeling. You can meditate or think through a problem. I use it for my writing projects. During the breaks I would write down my ideas. The cons are it can be stressful on the body and the psychological feeling that you are overexposed or selling yourself.
How long do you have to hold each position?
Usually the longest class is 3.5 hours. Sometimes they want you in the same pose the whole time but it is broken up into 20 minute segments with 5 minute breaks.
Do you get cold?
Sometimes yes. That was definitely a con for me. Sometimes even with a space heater I was not warm enough. Sometimes the air conditioning is so intense.
How do the teachers treat you?
Different teachers are different as far as their sensitivity to models. Some teachers do not want you to be uncomfortable but other teachers are pretty much like, “You are the model. You are here to do a job. If it is uncomfortable, that is the job.”
Is there anything I have not asked you?
One thing I would like to say is it varies how much I feel like an object and how much I feel like a person. I really appreciate when the students reach out to me on breaks out and ask me questions, or when teachers say something about how to treat the model as a person. A lot of time in college classes the teachers do not say anything about how to treat me in which case I do feel like an object. I feel like I am in a bubble, I am isolated and alienated.
Do you think a lot of models suffer from being objectified?
I think there are a lot of exhibitionists who are very comfortable with nudity. I think it is more particular to me and maybe to other women who have similar issues. Not long after I stopped doing nude modeling I was doing clothed modeling and a woman I worked for mentioned my whole aura seemed different. She said I seemed more self confident, I seemed to feel a lot better about myself and I was projecting myself in a whole different way. I could feel this on the inside as well. I felt better about myself when I stopped doing nude modeling. I think it would be interesting to ask other nude models these same questions and see what they said, but that is my story.
*Real name is not used.