Someone asked me a while back why I don’t go into cam work or model for sexy photoshoots to make money so I don’t have to go back to the dreaded office job. On the surface, it seems as though cam work and fetish modelling are similar to life modelling: either way, my job is to show up and be partially or fully naked for the benefit of others who aren’t allowed to touch me. But to me it’s not the same thing at all.
Life modelling, to me, feels like it takes place in a different, more sane, more egalitarian world than my regular life. In the “real” world, there are two general attitudes regarding a woman’s body: that showing it makes her vulnerable (“of course that woman was sexually assaulted! Did you see the dress she was wearing?!”) and that showing it makes her powerful (“Oh, guys turn into drooling idiots when they see a hot body! A naked woman has total control over them!”).
In the “real” world, I feel pressure to conform to the standards of what’s considered attractive. I feel that people are constantly judging me: she’d be prettier with long hair/her body’s an 8 but her face is maybe just a 6/what’s with those baggy pants, is she a dyke or something?/what’s with that cleavage, is she a slut or something? – random people are constantly deciding whether I meet their standards of fuckability, even though I’m not asking to fuck them but just out buying cat food or something. Welcome to the patriarchy.
In Life Modelling World, there is no sexual component to my nudity. Let me say it again: there is no sexual component to my nudity. Therefore, when naked in class, I am neither vulnerable nor in control. Or rather, I guess I’m both at the same time and it balances out: I’m vulnerable because I’m exposed and may become too cold or too hot or get a leg cramp, but I’m in control because the students need someone to draw – if I get pissed off and leave, they’re screwed – so it behooves them to treat me nicely and make sure I’m comfortable.
It’s a very workmanlike atmosphere. For the most part, the artists don’t talk at all, let alone hoot or leer*; they have a job to do, and that job is drawing. I also have a job to do, and that job is holding still in different positions. When someone does talk to me, it’s as an equal – they’re not ordering me around like a peon or being all weird and intimidated. We’ll just have brief and totally casual exchanges re: whether I need the space heater on or whether I’d be able to hold my arm like that for twenty minutes. Imagine being treated like a human being even though people can see your entire boobs or even your hoo-ha! OMG crazy.
Being pretty or sexy doesn’t matter in life drawing; they just need bodies to draw, and all shapes/sizes/ages are welcome. And! Conventional prettiness has very little to do with being fun to draw. I’ve been told my face is fun to draw because I have prominent cheekbones and a bulbous nose (the lady didn’t actually say “bulbous” but it’s totally what she meant). I’ve been told a particular pose of mine formed some really beautiful curves – and the person was partly referring to my pot belly. I’m totally being objectified when I pose, yes, but not in a sexual way – in an analytical way. People are breaking me down into shapes, angles, and curves, and finding them beautiful. I know this mindset because I’ve been on the other side of the easel; it becomes an act of love, trying to accurately render the human figure. Everything about the person’s body starts to seem miraculous.
When I’m posing, I have a lot of agency. I get the odd instructor who’ll adjust my longer poses sometimes (“Could you stand for this one instead of sitting, please?” “Could you open up your body language a bit?”) but the vast majority of the time, I choose how I pose. If I feel like being graceful and fine-arty, I’ll do that. If I feel like throwing punches, flexing muscles, or firing imaginary guns, I’ll do that. I’ve started bringing props to a lot of my classes, just to keep myself entertained, and so far that’s gone over really well. There’s a lot of freedom on the posing stand. I think the individuality of each model – their unique way of posing and moving – is probably part of their appeal. Nobody’s trying to make me conform to some idea of what a life model “should” be.
Cam work and fetish modelling, by comparison, are entirely about conforming to the audience’s idea of fuckability – which means jumping through hoops to please them. Pretty much the polar opposite of the “I’m gonna do whatever the fuck I want and you’re gonna draw it” dynamic I enjoy as a life model. In cam work and fetish modelling, the sexual component is back, as are the twin spectres of Control Through Nudity and Vulnerability Through Nudity. It’s all the shit I hate about living in the world…magnified.
And fetish modelling, god, where do I start…I’ve been perving a lot of fetish photos on FetLife lately and I’m pretty disappointed in it all. a) These photos rarely show any creativity – it’s just “here’s a conventionally hot, able-bodied white woman standing around being sexy…except instead of being a blonde in a bikini she’s a brunette with red lipstick and a corset.” Where are the interesting poses? Where are the interesting situations? b) About 95% of the fetish photos I see portray women as submissive (and I refuse to play the submissive ever, in photos or otherwise). c) Even the rare “dominant” woman in these photos doesn’t look particularly dominant or powerful.
The last fetish photo I saw of an allegedly dominant woman featured yet another white, able-bodied, conventionally-attractive-in-a-goth-way chick, standing pigeon-toed in her high heels as though she could barely keep her balance, and pouting at the camera. I know she was supposed to be dominant only because a riding crop was dangling slackly from her fingers. Just…no. Fuck that. Fuck that right in the ass.
I suppose I could try to change the paradigm by making my own damn fetish photos – ones in which I actually appear dynamic and engaged and flex a muscle every now and then – but I’m not a photographer and I don’t know if there would even be a market for such photos. Also – and this is kind of important – I’m not photogenic. Truth be told I’m a bit hesitant to have fetishy photos of me drifting around on the internet, anyway; I’m hoping I’ll never again have to apply for the kind of job where the HR department would Google me as part of their hiring process, but I don’t actually know.
I’ve come pretty close to applying for various kinds of foot fetish work; foot modelling wouldn’t show my face, so being identified wouldn’t be an issue, and in-person stuff might be kind of rewarding since my feet are a huge erogenous zone for me and I love having attention paid to them. But I keep balking and never actually going through with any of this – probably because that kind of work seems like it would combine the worst aspects of customer service and sexual objectification.
I really am pretty spoiled, working at a job where I mostly do what I want and am regarded with respect despite being naked. I don’t want to do other kinds of modelling work; I want more of this work. I just don’t know if I can get enough of it to live on.
*There’s generally a “no talking” rule in these classes, and also a rule that if someone is going to talk about my body, they need to use the proper terminology: “breasts,” not “fun bags.” It’s part of making me comfortable and teaching the students respect.