On constructing boundaries

One thing a lot of people have trouble with, I find, is constructing explicit boundaries for themselves. It's not a thing you really think about, if you've spent your life in the company of reasonable people. Reasonable people have a sense of 'that would be insane, why would I do that to someone else?' that crazies and creepers lack. If you've always gotten by just fine with a Stewart-like definition of out-of-bounds behavior ("I know it when I see it"), then suddenly being confronted with someone who has no qualms about doing whatever they damn well please, crazy or not, is really baffling and dangerous.

The best I can do with advice here is just tell you to sit down and think it over. If something someone else is doing or trying to get you to do is making your stomach twist, then it's probably a bad idea. If you can figure out what about the situation is giving you the willies, then you can more easily recognize it when it comes up again, and flat out say "no".

I say this as someone whose parents once whined at me to come home for Christmas break, and upon being told "I can't, I have to work," asked how much I'd make over the vacation and offered to write me a check. The thought that perhaps I had coworkers who were counting on me to be there, that perhaps my job was more important than their dream vacation, and perhaps I didn't really want to spend two weeks doing nothing but listening to my mother and sister hold dueling monologues in the kitchen, did not occur to them.

(Also, they had spent the previous several years of my college career telling me that I was costing them a mint and they could barely stay afloat while they helped me through school. It evidently didn't occur to either one of them that "you are bleeding us dry!" followed immediately by an unrehearsed offer of "we'll just write you a check for several hundred dollars!" when they abruptly wanted something might be kind of a giant blinky sign that they either needed to figure out a consistent position on this, or learn to lie better.)

Sometimes, it's a little easier to figure out where to draw lines when the subject is less emotionally-complex. I work as a model. It's not quite like you see in the movies -- the only real cutthroat competition is in couture and catalog work, where the casting director gives a set list of physical characteristics that they need for the show or the catalog, and doesn't care what you look like beyond that. You are quite commoditized there; any other qualities you have, like personality or intelligence, or skills like dance or martial arts, are irrelevant, and you just go into a pool of bodies for someone to pick from. It's rather like temp work, except instead of "can type and answer telephones", the qualifications are "can show up sober(-ish) and fit into our sample sizes."

I am short and constructed along the same lines of Mae West, so I fall into the catchall category of "glamour/art/editorial". It covers everything from the bizarre alien fashion spreads in Vogue to "Woman Laughing Alone With Salad" to gallery works and coffee table art books to the kind of good old-fashioned pin-ups they used to print on playing cards and distribute to the US Army. Because there's no set conventions for this type of work, some of the requests get really weird. You learn how to filter things very quickly, lest you end up stuck in the woods somewhere with an avant garde photographer who tells you, just a little too late for comfort, that what he really wants to complete his artistic vision is to take snapshots of you halfway up a tree, wearing nothing but a headpiece made of lentils.

It's considered good form to list on your online profile or comp cards what you generally will and will not do. Some people have more trouble figuring this out than others. Personally, I'm willing to do art nudes and some tasteful fetish photography, but this is because I'm aggressively uninterested in any career that could be destroyed by the revelation that I was once naked in the same room as a camera. I'm not willing to do hardcore porn, and I've had to explain this to several people who think that "art nudes" are functionally the same as "posing for Hustler". I've also had to explain that I do not do art nudes for trade (models often work TFP, or Time For Prints, exchanging their billable time for the photographer's billable time in order for both to get new work for their portfolios). My feeling is that pictures of me in the buff are worth money, but not worth just having the pictures -- this is a personal choice, subject to nobody else's approval, and I get to assert it no matter what the photographer wants or thinks.

(The boundaries for "erotica" are somewhat fuzzier; some I am willing to do, some I am not. My personal litmus test is "would I be embarrassed if my drunken friends passed these photos around at a party?" I did once submit snapshots to Playboy, which I feel handles sexual objectification classy fashion, being honest about the fact that their models also have other interests and personality traits and so forth but what we are interested in here are the tits, and also is reputed to treat their models with respect. I can vouch for the fact that they do handle submissions cordially and professionally; I'm not Playmate material, and I didn't expect to be, but apparently they shoved my photos into someone else's submission pile, since they told me that it's possible I'd be contacted for one of their other projects. I probably won't be, but I do appreciate the communication.)

Despite the fact that most models and photographers/clients try to handle this as a business relationship, you still get a lot of scammers and complete creeps asking you to do skeezy things. I had one recently who posted a call for a model who wanted to work in black and white. I sent him a reply asking, "Would you be interested in something like this?" and attached some old studio publicity shots of Clara Bow and Jean Harlow. He said "oh, yes, and I had some other ideas", sent me back a load of stuff that I had to click through an age warning on Flickr to see, and capped it off with the suggestion that we look at some other "inspiration" over drinks before shooting in his hotel room. This is way the fuck over the line and I said so, but guys like this continue to try it in the hopes that they'll accidentally find a model who lacks the spine to say no.

They don't stop because models refuse, and it's not any one model's job to make them KITFO. But we do, usefully, have a community where we tell one another horror stories and exchange names of people it's not safe to work with, and dole out 'atta girl!'s when someone stands up for herself and leaves a shoot that's gotten out of hand. It's a lot more support than I often see in the wider community, and I think it's partly because you need to declare explicit boundaries in this biz -- it gives people something concrete to work with, rather than letting them wibble along going 'is this okay? am I just being a bitch? nobody else seems to mind'. If you say it, the 'tog is not allowed to argue with it, and the girls posing get support on this from the photographers who aren't creepy fuckers.

The point is, the creepy fuckers whine at models for the same reasons they whine at everyone else: They feel entitled, and they're all butt-hurt when they don't get their way. The fact is that having a business agreement that the model will be doing X for the camera doesn't stop them from trying to weasel their way into Y. I am not obligated to explain to a 'tog why I don't want to do something, ever; it is socially acceptable, in modeling circles, to just say NO and not do it. If he weasels more, leave. It's understood that this happens, and while the creepy fucker may whine harder, there are fifty other people who will tell you 'good for you' when you do it.

I know not everyone wants to work as a human art supply, but it's useful, in many ways, to learn to think like one. Your time, attention, and participation are things that have inherent value. If you feel someone is taking unfair advantage of them, you can choose to stop giving them. I don't have to work with creepy photographers, and you don't have to give away your presence to creepy people.

A brief reminder that my birthday is next month and I'm running a pledge drive of sorts. Carry on!