Models and Prejudice

Hi All,

I’m afraid I’m writing this blog post because I’m cross. I’m cross because of a particular prejudice I observe entrenched deep in people’s attitudes which I see all too often in the attitudes people (men and women) have about nude models.

I encounter this second-hand because I’m married to a nude model, and work with and know a lot of other models.

It is time society grew up and allowed everyone to have a sexual identity without prejudicial judgements being made about that person in other spheres of life. The prejudice exists in many forms, but the one against women seems to be particularly vicious and widespread.

The most pernicious manifestation is that a woman displaying a sexual identity (either her own, or one of a character she is portraying in photos/movies) is “besmirched”, forever after damaged goods who should be ashamed of herself for what she’s done and who isn’t really fit to exist in “decent” society thereafter.

Seriously, FUCK THAT.

I hear the echoes of this attitude endlessly in reported conversations with photographers, friends, family and worst of all in the models’ own attitudes to some of their work, worrying that it has made them “dirty” and not worthy of having a happy and normal family life. No-one should be made to feel that way about themselves.

Sex and sexuality is a lovely facet of human existence. Sex is natural. 99%+ of us are the product of a sexual union between two parents who had sex to have us.

Our bodies have evolved around sex, and some of these attitudes probably stem from our “nature red in tooth and claw” history where wars were fought for control of females of reproductive age. We pay lip service to sexual equality, but there’s a deep reservoir of cultural prejudice to drain before we really mean it.

We have free will, we can think, and we can improve our moral codes to be fair. We’ve abolished slavery throughout most of the world, we’ve tackled the most egregious sexual and racial discrimination so at least the law codifies freedom rather than inequality.

It is time we tackled the “madonna or whore” prejudice, too.

Manifestation 1: No sluts for adverts
There is nothing about advertising shampoo, digestive biscuits, sofas, dresses or shoes that requires that the person so doing be celibate. Many adults who use those products will have sex. Sometimes even on the sofa or after a night out wearing the dress and shoes. So why is the girl who appears in the adverts not also allowed to appear nude for other jobs? The skills needed to make yourself look great are highly transferrable between adverts and nude modelling.

Why should this embarrass the company who makes digestive biscuits? It is hypocrisy- these companies all use pretty young women of fertile age to advertise their products, so what’s wrong with said women also modelling nude or in bondage or stripping off some sexy lingerie or whatever else she wants to do? You don’t see digestive biscuits advertised by and for nuns and eunuchs only, do you? This prejudice needs to be challenged.

Manifestation 2: Level Pushing
One might have imagined that the modelling industry would be better than society in general. After all, half the people involved are the models themselves. One might think that photographers would soon learn that you can’t make value judgements about people depending on how naked they get; models who show more skin are as nice and as nasty, on average, as anyone else. Most professionals quickly figure that out. But not all photographers do.

Instead we get a the “level pushing slut shaming and defilement” ritual which seems to be the main reason some shit-bags do photography in the first place. They always seem to have tracked down the most explicit photos showing the maximum amount of detail of a girl’s genitals. They always push models to shoot more explicit work than they advertise as being happy with, then judge them as a dirty slut if they do (and tell everyone else about it. Ohh, you know Model Mary Mary? Ooooh, she worked to open leg you know, oooh, look at these I’ve printed out…)

It’s utterly reprehensible and pathetic at the same time. If these people genuinely wanted to shoot good work of a certain level of explicitness, they’d book one of the many models who are delighted to do that. They wouldn’t harass girls who clearly DON’T want to shoot work like that, so they can feel a bit like they’ve had sex with her, boast about it, and claim that it wasn’t anything to do with them as secretly the girl was a slut all along so she deserves it. It says nothing at all about the model. It speaks volumes about the arsehole pushing the levels, though.

Manifestation 3: I can’t tell my family
I’m very sad that lots of people who do beautiful work including a sexual element are too terrified of the revelation to tell anyone they know in “normal” life about it. This affects website producers, photographers and models too.

People shouldn’t have to fear being ostracised because they have a sexual identity or because they’re sufficiently intelligent and talented to be able to portray characters with a sexual identity on film.

I know I’m lucky. I was brought up in a very liberal, atheist, secular, non-sexist, scientific and loving family, in a particularly liberal time. My Mum worked in technical industries, was sufficiently bolshy to challenge her employer when she was given inadequately challenging work to do, got her solo pilot’s licence, read Pure Maths at University as a mature student for a challenge, and became a computer program troubleshooter. My Dad is equally accomplished in his fields too. The idea that there was anything that my Mum shouldn’t be allowed to do because she was a woman never occurred to me.

(Parenthetically, I think it is only OK to run a website portraying female submissive bondage because I live in a society where bondage can just be a sexual game for fun, not a daily fact of life enshrined in law for more than 50% of the population).

I’ve never been ostracised or had any worry that I would be and as a result I’ve been able to be completely open about what I do. And because I live in a nice intelligensia liberal bubble, I’ve never encountered a bad reaction that lasted much past the first enthusiastic conversation and proudly showing off some of my work.

Everyone should be able to ask that amount of respect from their friends, families and employers- whatever field they work in. It is time people got over the attitude that sex is sinful. Disowning one of your children because they are gay is starting to be seen as despicable. Disowning them or judging them because they are a nude model should be, too. It is a failure of the prejudiced people, not of the model.

I think it is especially tricky for models because I have observed that many of them have a fluid, hazy self-image. This was the biggest surprise to me about the industry. I assumed models would have to be really confident, especially about their looks. I’m sure some are, but a more common pattern seems to be that their self-image is reliant upon and largely defined by the opinions of others.

I conjecture that this may be an asset in the job for models (and actors, too). Maybe it is easier to step into character for a wide variety of roles if you aren’t fighting a very strong internal image of yourself? But it also means that the disapproval of others can be even more devastating than usual.

Perhaps this is one reason why not so many models boldly proclaim their identity and occupation as a skilled and demanding and artistic job, something of which one should be proud?

Manifestation 4: New boyfriend
Oh, there’s a whole blog post about models and boyfriends to be done. I want to highlight one particular instinct which manifests in a nice way, a nasty way and a very nasty way.

The Nice Way
To an outsider, the modelling industry seems pretty scary. If you’ve never been to a nude photoshoot, it is easy for the imagination to run riot and imagine orgies of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. As with all jobs, the reality is very different, and very mundane. Photographers worry about lights, f-stops, shutter speeds, ISO, white balance, composition, making sure the model is safe, warm enough… one’s mind is entirely too occupied to get turned on, despite the presence of a naked girl. It soon becomes unremarkable. And the model is likewise concerned with where the key light is, which way to turn her body, how much to arch her back, pointing her toes, making nice shapes, relaxing her hands, the expression on her face, what the character in the story might be doing, where the camera is, holding the pose long enough to get the shot, then knowing where she is going to go next.

You couldn’t imagine a less sexy way to look at naked women. The eroticism of the final product is the result of an awful lot of fiddly detail work, not a crime of passion. It is like sewing a dress for a celebrity to wear on the red carpet to the Oscars. The end result is a very glamourous thing, but I assure you that the person sewing the zip in in a workshop is not experiencing the glamour of the ceremony while they do it.

It is natural to be interested, concerned and possibly a bit intimidated if you suddenly start going out with someone in the industry. In the same was it is natural to be interested and concerned if you start going out with someone who works in a nuclear power plant. But you’ll soon learn that they don’t come home radioactive. And models don’t come home having had a sexual experience.

Nice boyfriends soon learn this.

The Nasty Way
The nasty way is to bag yourself a model, then “rescue” her from that life so she can be exclusively yours. Which she likely would have been anyway- models don’t seem to be any more prone to cheating than the general population, and the good ones are too busy driving all over the country modelling to cheat on you even if they have the inclination.

Nasty boyfriends flatter themselves how big a man they are for acquiring such a high-status bit of arm candy, then immediately get wildly jealous and start laying out a hundred and one terms and conditions designed to make it impossible for her to continue in the career which made her an attractive catch in the first place. Hypocrites; these are the ones who would probably cheat given a snifter of a chance and can’t imagine that anyone wouldn’t. So the only safe place for the little woman is locked in the house.

The Really Nasty Way
The really nasty way is to be titillated by the idea of winning a model as a bit of status symbol arm candy, then pimp her out and push her to do harder and harder scenes so you can spend her money, whilst telling her that she’s lucky to have you, most men wouldn’t put up with what she does for a living. The more you can force her to feel degraded, the more you can coerce her to do, the worse she will feel about herself, and the less chance she’ll realise you are an abusive c*nt and dump your sorry arse.

I’ve met this particular model boyfriend so often he has a name: TMB (Typical Model Boyfriend). He’s a photographer (part time) and her manager, and he can get you into Mayfair or the Yorkshire Evening Post Page Three, he shows up to shoots and pesters the photographer, shouts pose instructions at the models, perves over any other models, disrupts the shoot with loud phone calls to other jobs, writes the models’ emails for her (and signs it with a sexual innuendo and a kiss-kiss). I’ve met him in several physical bodies but it is the same person inside, I swear it.

Manifestation 5: I’m not good enough, I feel dirty
Putting to one side my conjecture that models may, as a group, be more than usually sensitive to the opinions of others for their own sense of self-worth, no-one likes to be disapproved of or castigated.

The net result of the general climate of “she asked for it”, “slut shaming”, “oooh, she works to open leg”, “Can’t advertise smarties because you once showed a nipple” is that some models start to feel that they are doing something shameful.

This is a tricky thing, because they are constantly getting these little needling inputs saying that they ARE doing something shameful. It is hard to stay proud and believing that you are doing beautiful nude work in the face of all this.

And that’s the very worst thing. I’ve heard models whose body of artistic work constitutes a absolute JEWEL of which our culture should be rightly proud worrying that they feel dirty, that they don’t know if they even deserve a “nice” boyfriend (i.e. non-abusive non-arsehole) and whether they are fit to be a mother and raise children or do a “normal” job ever again.

YES, YOU ARE FIT TO DO WHATEVER YOU WANT.

Be a good person, work hard, be honest and trustworthy, be an independent woman running her own business, create great art, have fun doing it, and fight the stereotypes and prejudices that say you can’t.

My attitude is to be proud about what I do, be proud of it, let people see that I am, and challenge their prejudices. I hope I’d have the courage to stick to that if the heat ever really turned on me, like it did on some of my friends when the tabloids got involved.

I hope models can too and that by doing so we can help break down the prejudices.

A vast number of people consume erotica and porn.

It is only OK to do so if you treat the people who make it and appear in it with respect and let them feel good about the work they’ve done for you to enjoy.

About Hywel

Particle physicist turned fetish photographer, producer and director. I run http://www.restrainedelegance.com and http://www.elegancestudios.com together with my wife, who is variously known as Ariel Anderssen or Amelia Jane Rutherford, depending on whether she's getting tied up or spanked at the time.

6 thoughts on “Models and Prejudice

  1. I don’t know if anything particular inspired this article but I’m pleased you took the time to write it. I have seen the exact same things over the years with close friends who are career models. Beautiful, successful, talented people blighted with low self-esteem and a need for approval when they have many more reasons than most to be proud of themselves, what their talent allows them to do for a living and the images or performances that delight us all.

    It is a society of stupid people and the lowest-common-denominator press that feeds them that causes such pain among people who, by virtue of their talent and ability to think for themselves, have no place within it, but exist far above it. This is the society that creates the TBM, which I have also seen many times.

    I think that prejudice, wherever it is found, is there to be fought, not just for the sake of our loved ones who suffer it but for our children, who should never have to.

    Thank you, Hywel.

  2. Pingback: Respect For Porn Models – ErosBlog: The Sex Blog

  3. Here Here! Great article, Hywel. I know nothing about the industry but I know that treating people with respect is essential. I’ll do my best to push these ideas forward.

  4. Great article. We can kill thousand of people each year with guns, we can transmit nothing but violence on TV, we can put cleavage and sheer dresses at the grocery store check-out line but oh woe be to she who takes off her clothes — an immoral failure.

    I’m going to date myself but there was a wonderful article in Playboy in the late 50′s or early 60′s. It was called “The Pius Pornographers.” In different words, it said the same thing you say here. Sorry we have not come further in half a century. Misogyny dies hard.

  5. I really prefer not to mix fetish and politics. I’m a libertarian extremist, which means that not only am I closer to Thatcher’s position than to yours, politically speaking, but that you are closer to Thatcher’s position than you are to mine. So talking about politics will most likely result only in hard feelings on both sides.

    That said, I do generally agree with what you wrote in this particular post.

  6. Yet, somehow, I think the reciprocal ideas and validity that a sexual orientation that defines a desire for a particular sex and/or gender has done for ideas like “gay,” and “straight,” have not done the same thing for “submissive” or “dominant” because these “power orientations” (for want of a better phrase) haven’t been recognized as valid pieces of sexual componentry, only of sexual expression. In other words, being submissive is recognized as a valid expression of sexual desire (and even that’s pushing it, I know), but it’s still not recognized as a valid component of one’s sexual psyche.

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