One of the things I have never questioned is the idea that when you’re nervous – perhaps you’re standing in front of a room of people about to make a speech – the best way to overcome it is to imagine that everyone else is naked. I suppose the logic behind this was that by picturing other people in a state of insecurity and vulnerability, you would feel more secure and powerful. But, after speaking to life model Steve Porter, I am starting to think that we have got the wrong end of the stick. Maybe, instead of picturing everyone else naked, the trick is to imagine you are naked, or, better yet, to get naked. With Interview, Steve talks about empowerment, body image, and relationships.
Steve was not so much drawn to life modelling as pushed into it by a life modelling friend who had experienced the same body-image issues Steve was experiencing fifteen years ago before he became a life model. Recounting how this woman had brought him along to one of her modelling classes, Steve told me that during the break, the model came over to him and said she wanted him to get up there and do the second half of the session. “And the next thing I knew,” said Steve, “I was naked in front of a room full of people. I found it so empowering.” While taking your clothes off and being met with silence instead of laughter is a sure-fire way to reassure yourself, life modelling has been a source of empowerment for Steve in other ways, too. Despite how it may look, Steve tells me, life modelling is hard. It is a skill that requires knowing your body and your body’s limits; which poses your body can support; and how your muscles work. While posing, particularly if it is a short pose, he is often thinking what his next pose will be, “because you have to hold yourself in a certain position for a certain amount of time. When you’re first starting as a model, you hold poses, or you start to hold a pose, that you possibly can’t hold for that long.” Being a successful life model requires trial and error, patience and practice. Harnessing a skill is irrefutably empowering.
At the same time, turning to a career in life modelling opened Steve up to new things and experiences. When asked whether life modelling has made him more appreciative of art, Steve tells me that one of his favourite things about being a model is seeing people interpret his body and create art: “I just enjoy watching what people draw, an impression of what they see, from the different angles. I find it fascinating that people can actually look at something, a shape, a figure, and put that on a page.” In the same way, despite having no artistic talent, Steve has challenged himself to try something new by drawing other life models. When he first started modelling for the Durham University Art Society life drawing sessions, there were six or seven models who would rotate. “I would turn up every week and have a go at drawing the other models,” he recalls, “if I wasn’t modelling.”
This tapped into a recurring theme in my discussion with Steve, that life modelling exists in a culture of support and warmth. That these six or seven models would turn up each week to draw the other models testifies to the kind of friendship that fosters in this unique environment of vulnerability: friendships which are built on mutual respect, support and curiosity. Steve says that, though it is hard to make friends in the model world because it is rare that you encounter other models, “we were all a big circle of friends […]. I know them all, I’ve drawn them all, I’ve modelled with them all.” At the same time, Steve’s career as a model has been an area in which his partner has been able to show her support for him and get involved. Not only does she help design his classes, but Steve’s tells Interview that his partner “helps me with my poses because she stands and watches me practices [them]. She’ll give me constructive criticism as to why I shouldn’t try that pose or why I should try it differently, or if it looks right or doesn’t look right.” When you open yourself up to vulnerability, deeper and more meaningful connections, it seems, find their way into your life.
The support exhibited in the life modelling community is clearly in abundant supply, as Steve shares with Interview that he enjoys helping keen artists take up life modelling. He tells me, “[I] love getting people into life modelling, because getting that first job, first chance, is very, very difficult, especially as a male model[…].” Just as he was introduced to modelling through a compassionate friend, he gives back to the community that has helped him overcome his body image issues by coaching new models.
In an interview full of positivity, perhaps my favourite part came at the end, when Steve said that life modelling had it possible for him to be able to stand naked in front of a mirror and say, “I am perfect in my own way, I’m unique, there is nobody else who looks like me.” Whether getting less-than-scantily-clad in a room full of fully clothed people appeals to you or not, it is clear that life modelling is a holistic way to improve your life.
Image Credit: Archives of American Art via Creative Commons