Nudity is to fashion what the banana is to the Nutella crepe: Unnecessary, superfluous to the main event, and innocuously edgy. And, like banana slices stuck to gooey chocolate, so too are tits and ass inextricable from the visual culture of fashion. It’s obvious that nudity, ranging from the subtle to the blatant, is everywhere in the industry, and arguments about the cultural significance of nudie pics — what the photos represent, how they make people feel, what they say about gender roles – continue with the release of each new flesh-baring fashion spread. As a participant in the making of these images, I thought it might be interesting to consider the politics behind posing nude from a model’s perspective.
Being comfortably naked in front of the camera, let alone in a room full of strangers, is a ‘skill’ I had to acquire. I have posed topless several times, and once fully nude (though not full-frontal), and even though I’ve gotten used to the nudity, I still consider the consequences each time I strip down: In what way will I be naked? Which photo will the photographer choose? How will it be retouched? Where will it turn up? Will my name be credited? Is it going to show up on the Internet?
The Internet, in all its reproductive, critical glory, is perhaps the biggest factor to consider, because I have no control over its (lack of) censorship. Personally, I do not like the idea of my, er, goods being visible (reproduced, commented on, zoomed in on, talked about) in Googleville. Since I plan to move away from this job and into a more conservative (read: clothed) profession, I fear that naked photos – topless or otherwise — might hinder my chances at getting into grad school, or prevent me from getting a good job. It’s different with supermodels, who have lasting modeling careers in which their nudity is sought after and glamorized. In posing nude, I’m also consenting to an invasion of privacy. What if old professors or current peers come across such photos, even if they aren’t sexual, and change their opinions of me?
So when it comes to the production and reproduction of a photograph, I still make my best efforts to exercise what little control I have by telling photographers and stipulating in contracts that I don’t want my full name credited in photos involving nudity, and by telling my agency not to put said photos on my online portfolio. So far I’m still, more or less, in the clear.
As an unknown female fashion model, then, is posing nude a bad idea? Is it irresponsible, unnecessary? It’s difficult to answer, because though I can choose to opt out of posing naked, it’s such a staple in fashion, and so consistently in demand, that I am certain I would lose work. Even if I don’t want to model forever, I want to do as best as I can now, and it seems that in order for any fashion model over 18 to do so, she has to at least be comfortable with taking her top off. This said, I have found the experience of posing nude or partially nude to be empowering. It has made me more comfortable with being in my own body. Before I started modeling, I was very self-conscious about being naked, and though I’m slim (slim, not thin), I was insecure about my body and its flawed parts. But then I had to learn to change outfits out in the open. There was something comforting about being in nothing but a nude thong and no one caring or scrutinizing or even looking at my body. Suddenly being naked had no sexuality attached to it – it was just about stripping down to get into the next outfit. I realized I was just a body. After all, modeling is, essentially, the act of using one’s body, in combination with clothes, as a tool to create form; nudity, if it’s done well, is just a different tool to help create that form. If fashion is like painting, then nudity is like charcoal drawing: A medium used to evoke something raw and minimal.
This, of course, isn’t always the case. There is a lot of intentionally sexy nude photography in the fashion industry. In my limited experiences with posing partially nude photos, some shoots were fine while other left me feelings uncomfortable. Just because I’ve done it once doesn’t mean I’m going to do it a thousand times, though sometimes it feels that way. Since I’m the one getting naked, I am responsible for asserting what I am and am not comfortable with.
Which brings me to the most important factor to consider: the client. If an important or esteemed client wants me to be naked, I’ll do it. That might sound like I’m selling my body for big jobs, but it’s a lot more nuanced than that. Chances are clients want the nudity for something tasteful on behalf of their brand / magazine (more YSL and less American Apparel). And when a model has the chance to work with a top photographer, she will try her hardest to make a good impression. Posing nude, or partially nude, is part of that. Indeed, it’s expected. And complicated.
So for me, getting naked in front of a camera comes down to a decision, one in which I try to further my current career without endangering my future one, or without finding myself in an uncomfortable situation over which I have no control. I generally prefer the Nutella crepe, but sometimes, depending on the situation, it’s great with banana too. That’s not innuendo.