There’s a pretty big leap between late-night homework and posing nude in some magazine. This is the story of how it happened.
I was up late one night finishing a paper that I hadn’t had the wherewithal to start in a timely manner, so naturally I was intermittently checking my Facebook. What caught my eye was one of those specialized advertisements that they run along the right side of Facebook, the ones that are eerily in-tune with your personality: “How do they know I like Iron and Wine?” How do they know that I’ll probably suffer from Postpartum Depression?
The ad that caught my attention read something like, “SMART AND ATTRACTIVE MODELS WANTED.” I’m not sure how the ad found me. Am I that obviously vain? Yes, but at the same time it was weirdly obvious that the ad was geared toward Ivy League kids. For whatever reason—early morning delirium or some higher nudie pic power—I clicked the link. Make no mistake about my motives here: I certainly like to look at myself, pretty much all of the time, but I don’t assume that other people like to do so as well. You must understand that that fateful click was made in jest.
The ad was linked to a website for an online magazine featuring college students in the buff. It was founded by an Ivy League grad based on the values of “sexual freedom, confidence, and abundance.” I only scanned the articles as some bits seemed a little hokey, but I was nonetheless intrigued. Who doesn’t want to be “expressive about sexuality in a manner that could be conducive to stimulating and edifying dialogue”? More importantly, who doesn’t want to earn $200 for a few photos?
It seemed to me that the basic idea was an interview, a photo shoot in varying degrees of undress, a magazine with a small following, and—Bam! Cash money! Hell, yeah, I applied right away! What could go wrong? I did not think I would hear from the magazine again.
The next day, as I was dozing in a chair by the big screen in Frist, my cell phone rang. I did not recognize the number.
“Hey, Margaret? I’m calling about your application to model for my magazine.”
“So I got your application and I think you’re really cute and had some interesting things to say. When can we get you into the city for a shoot?”
It was the editor who had called. It turned out that he wanted to shoot immediately to get the issue out before Halloween. I agreed, thinking I probably wouldn’t go through with it.
I told a few friends. They were skeptical: “How do you know you’ll be coming back alive?” “Don’t you want to get a job in the future?” “Are you being a little bit stupid?” Interestingly, my female friends were much more supportive than the boys.
As D-day drew closer, I still had no idea as to the location of the shoot. The lack of that rather important detail seemed further proof that my modeling career was going to end up as no more than a few phone calls.
The editor was pretty diligent about calling me every few days to make sure I was still interested and to see if I had any ideas for the shoot. I assured him that I was still interested, although intrigued would have been the better word. The girl on the magazine’s information page looked like tacky porn chick with drawn on eyebrows. I have real eyebrows. Sensing my apprehension, the editor sent me some photos from another model’s spread. This girl didn’t look tacky or overexposed, and he had allowed her to edit her photos herself. At that point I was sold.
The day of the shoot finally rolled around, and I still wasn’t sure about the location. While I was on the train, the editor text messaged me at least two different addresses. This was unsettling.
I ended up waiting on the corner of Some Street and Some Other Avenue for him to come get me and walk me to his brother’s apartment. I sat in the apartment for a good 15 to 20 minutes while the editor printed contracts and manscaped. I didn’t realize he would be appearing in his magazine as well. In the first issue, he had been the only nude model, and that was part of the reason some critics had bashed the venture. This time he wanted to appear again, only with less hair. I was a little freaked out. Mostly because chest hair gives me the willies. His poor brother, meanwhile, was trying hard to make me comfortable while the editor shuffled around without acknowledging me. His brother asked me about school and my interests and even tried to entertain me with some music, astutely noting that I didn’t seem like the kind of girl who would be into Beyoncé.
After the editor was finished at his brother’s place, we took a cab to the photographer’s apartment. There was an attempt at a hasty interview in the taxi, but disillusioned by these weird, unorganized proceedings, I was rather unresponsive.
The man with the camera turned out to be a fashion photographer. He was really professional, but damn, did I have to put on a lot of make-up just to look like I wasn’t wearing makeup. He also said something about using lighting that would cut down on the shadows from my Cyrano de Bergerac nose. So much for “confidence.” I was intimidated to be working with a photographer who makes a living by photographing people who make a living being beautiful. After I had fixed my makeup, teased my hair and got sprayed with some shiny stuff, we started the shoot.
The shoot itself ended up being remarkably easy. I took my clothes off and took direction. The hardest part was remembering not to raise my eyebrows in order to keep my forehead from wrinkling. Also, apparently, facial expressions that I think are kind of appealing actually just make me look scared—good to know. Surprisingly, the experience did not feel frightening or awkward. First, I went topless in a long white skirt. Easy peasy. The editor stayed in the room, but I didn’t really mind. He helped the photographer change filters and lighting and only made one inappropriate comment about his erection. After that, I lost the skirt and curled up in a chair like a fleshy cat. At that point, I still had on my underwear. I had told myself I would not be taking said underwear off. Then the editor and photographer asked me to do a few shots sitting on a trunk, sans panties. I told myself I wouldn’t do any shots where my lady part was not at least slightly concealed.
In between sets, I scrambled to the side to slip my underpants back on so I wouldn’t feel so naked. In the midst of all of this, another male model turned up who had already posed for his part of the magazine. I waved, half-naked, from my chair. At that point, I was pretty comfortable. Then the photographer asked me to do a few photos with this other model. He wanted us to pretend we were dancing. I’m not sure how I suddenly managed to find the courage to be flagrantly naked, but I shucked off my underoos and just did my best to crane my body away from the male model’s penis.
I ended up bearing all, and it was for the most part liberating. I felt genuinely attractive, even if my jaw line is rather undefined and I carry a little weight on my belly. I wasn’t spreading my bare legs for the camera. I wasn’t puckering my lips or trying to lick my nipples. And that’s just as well, because I can’t.
Ultimately the photos were not, and are not, about sex. They’re about self-expression. Of course they are sexual. It would be ridiculous to claim that nude photos are not. It would be more absurd, however, to deny that any man or woman’s sexual nature is a part of his or her “self.” I made a conscious effort to let the photos and interview provide commentary on objectification. When the editor tried to ask me questions about relationships: “Did you do this photo shoot to attract anyone?” I declined to feed into that kind of question. “No, I did not participate in this magazine to attract anyone.” I participated in the editor’s project to say that I think I can flaunt my body without being objectified. This is not to say that some nude women aren’t objectified, but objectification is a two-way street. I am not an object unless I allow myself to feel like one, and I am not something to be possessed. Those who know me will attest to the fact that in fact I am generally uncooperative and kind of a pain in the ass.
People have voiced concern that for a relatively feministic woman, my actions took a few steps backwards for the cause, but I disagree. I took ownership of my body, and I am proud of it. I didn’t fast for three days before the shoot. You won’t find any pictures of me prancing around in sexy lingerie. I look like myself, like a real woman (plus gobs of make-up), and I’m pretty happy about that.
Originally, I had counting on keeping all of this from our community. I didn’t even use my last name! Still, the Boston Herald called me on Sunday. The Prince sent me an e-mail. I’m not sure how I thought I’d get away with all this without anyone finding out, but I figure it’s best to tell it my way.
All told, my little joke of a late-night experiment turned into a fully surreal experience. It wasn’t incredibly professional, but neither was it incredibly uncomfortable. I made $200, and I got to ham it up for the camera. Most importantly, of course, I learned a lot about myself and my limits and that maybe I’m a little more confident than I thought I was.
Just don’t tell my mother.