Model Pro Tips #8: Saying "NO" When You're Uncomfortable &/Or Unsafe
It's Monday! Thank you to everyone for tuning into the first photographer interview I did last week. I hope that was helpful for some of the beginners in the industry! Don't worry- there will be more if you missed it. If you wanted to read the write up, you can find that HERE.
This week we will be talking about getting yourself out of awkward and uncomfortable conversations with pushy and/or inappropriate photographers (or... photographers: flip this and use it with models, make up artists, hair stylists...). I cannot believe how often I am in weird situations in this industry, man. People are strange, and I really do think that technology and social media have made it extremely difficult for some people to communicate properly. As some of you may know, I have a background in mental health work. At the facilities I worked at, we worked on communication with patients all the time. I feel like everyone should be in classes for basic, appropriate human communication and boundaries. Some people just don't get it, and they aren't even aware. Oh, and...
DISCLAIMER FOR THIS TALK- DISTURBING REAL STORIES FROM MY TIME IN THIS INDUSTRY WILL BE DISCUSSED. ALL PHOTOGRAPHERS WILL REMAIN UN-NAMED AND SOME SITUATIONS MAY BE WRITTEN WITH SMALL CHANGES (TIME, LOCATION, ETC) FROM WHAT REALLY HAPPENED FOR THE PURPOSE OF PRIVACY. IF YOU ARE READING THIS AND I WROTE ABOUT YOU BEING A CREEP... 1) Hey hey hey and 2) Don't be such a creep or you're going to be an example in the model community for... well... forever.
As an attractive human whose job is literally to be a subject... sometimes an object... (sorry guys... I'm all for advocacy for "models are people too," but that's literally what a model is) you WILL encounter people who are inappropriate. I love being freelance because if someone is acting out towards me in a way that I don't like, I can tell them to f*ck off, nicely, without repercussions from an agency/agent. Hell. Yes. Self advocacy.
I was inappropriately touched by a photographer at one of my very first photoshoots and it was sort of traumatic. I didn't know what to do because I was a starry eyed nineteen year old. Growing up, my absolute best friend in the world had done pageants and shot for Seventeen Magazine. It all looked so cool, and I really wanted to be a model too. I was very naive and probably should have taken more time to do some research on, well, everything. After the incident, I had a sort of mentor who I reached out to, and she told me a few things about the industry that I've kept in mind since the start of my career. Here they are... along with some stories about what NOT to do:
1) NO ONE SHOULD BE TOUCHING YOU UNLESS THEY HAVE PERMISSION. Yes, hair, makeup, and wardrobe crew will be touching you regardless, but a photographer has NO right to touch you for anything. I allow people to touch me for hair and wardrobe adjustments, but only with permission. If someone wants to adjust me and I see that they're a little too "excited," if you know what I mean, it's a hard "no" from me. I'll get a mirror and fix whatever needs adjusting myself. Five years into doing shoots now I am still shocked when I notice that a photographer is enjoying himself a little too much at a photoshoot.
Story 1: In one particular incident, I was supposed to be doing a fashion and lifestyle shoot for my portfolio. I was a little confused when I was told that my parents were not allowed to be present for the shoot. I was more confused when I was given lingerie to put on, and was told to basically strip my fitness wardrobe for the images. Even more disturbing was being told to remove other articles of clothing. I was confused as to why I was being touched. I was nervous because I was alone. I was so embarrassed by the images that I couldn't really even look at them myself. I paid over $500 for a traumatic experience and images that were no good. If someone tells you to take your bottoms off and that's not the type of shoot you were supposed to be doing, kick them where it hurts and leave. I think what is most disappointing for me with this whole situation was that this photographer was recommended to me by someone I trusted. I was so excited and naive. If this happens to you, you're not the only one. It's very easy to fall into a situation like this when you are just starting out and don't know any better.
2) DO NOT TRUST ANYONE AT THE FIRST SHOOT. The story I have for this is pretty comical, but still pretty scary. Friends who know me well have heard me say, "Well, I've only ended up in someone's basement once so far and it's been ___ years!" That joke is true. I've only ended up tied up in a basement once, so I'd say for a freelance model I'm doing pretty well. You really should not be trusting a photographer at all upon meeting them for the first time. Do your research, please.
Story 2: I showed up to a shoot with a photographer who stated that he made his own "clothes" (out of a piece of cloth) and wanted to shoot me in them. I did not sign up to stand almost naked in front of a photographer who was tying a piece of cloth around me (I was not happy with this dude touching me). He said that he didn't want to make me uncomfortable and that his wife was upstairs (which I now know means absolutely nothing). I actually ended up going back to shoot with him again (still in the learning stages of this game, clearly) and that was when it was crazy. After we shot the clothes, he told me that he shoots in house porn to send to other countries, and that it's great side money for models. I politely declined and blocked his phone number after the shoot. I'm going to leave details out, but the therapist I spoke to said that this motherf*cker was trying to groom me for porn. I clearly did not do my research on this dude. Do your research and don't trust anyone the first... or second time around.
3) LEARN HOW TO SAY NO... FIRMLY. If you want to be a model and you aren't great at sticking up for yourself, now is the time to learn.
Story 3: I shot art nude a few times back in the winter, but stopped when I realized that quite a few of the people wanting to do these shoots were complete perverts. Many claimed to be renting studio time that their wives didn't know about to do these shoots (weird). Many stated that they "probably wouldn't post" the photos, and just wanted to "practice" shooting this style. Okay, bud. Whatever you say, but what this started to sound like to me was "I really like seeing beautiful women naked, and if I pick up a camera, I can call myself a photographer and pay women to shoot nude on nights off from work." No more. After a super weird experience shooting for a man who literally refused to sign and crossed out more than half of my standard, three page contract, I decided to be done. He would take a few shots and then stare at me, making full eye contact. Luckily, this was a workshop session with a super cool photography school and the teacher told the dude to knock it off. I probably would have left the shoot at the start of the session upon discovering that the man was a creep. Never work with anyone who won't sign a contract that states your pay and that you wish not to be touched.
After that, for those of you wondering...
I'm fine. Really. I'm totally fine. I've become a lot smarter in the way I manage myself, and this is why I have these talks in the first place. To educate young aspiring models who may not know better and were in the same, starry eyed place I used to be in.
Now, for what you SHOULD be doing. I've gotten very good at sticking up for myself and saying no and have put together a few different scenarios for you all. After reading these I recommend role playing them with a friend, fellow model, photographer friend you love, etc.
Scenario 1: You're at a boudoir shoot and notice that the photographer has a full-on boner, is heavy breathing, starting to say inappropriate things, touches you, a combination of these things etc.
What to do: State that you need to take a break for a second. Text your "contact" who knows where you are that you are uncomfortable and will be leaving the shoot. Have them call you in ten to fifteen minutes to make sure that you left safely. State that the shoot needs to end and that you will be leaving. Make sure that you were paid upon arriving at the shoot, pack up, and leave... especially if they don't appear embarrassed. If you are sexually assaulted, call the police. We cannot let creeps stay out there with their cameras.
Scenario 2: You've been chatting with someone about doing a shoot. All of a sudden, the conversation changes from shoot dates to "Do you sell your worn lingerie?"
What to do: If this is something you are not comfortable with this... be very direct. Leave no room for outside interpretation. Here's a real response I gave someone: "Hey, I wanted to let you know that you are making me uncomfortable. You initially contacted me about a shoot for _____ and now you are asking to buy my outfits. Those are two very different things with different meanings and I am uncomfortable with this interaction now."
Scenario 3: You didn't know how to voice that you were uncomfortable shooting a certain style, and now you've shot it and there are photos. You signed your rights to the photos away on a release, too.
What to do: Contact the photographer, explain what happened, and ask that they kindly delete those photos. I feel like there isn't too much you can do, otherwise. You did sign a release, after all. If they paid you for the shoot, perhaps offer to redo the shoot for free in exchange for erasing the photos. How to prevent this? Make it clear what you are shooting ahead of time. Ask that they delete any photos of nip and ladybits slips/junk slips (if you're a male model).
Scenario 4: You show up to a shoot ready for fashion. You shoot fashion for a little while, but then the photographer suggests that you should start taking off articles of clothing.
What to do 1: If you are comfortable with this photographer, remind them of the style of shoot that they booked you for. If YOU are okay shooting sexier at that moment in time, state that if they would like to shoot a sexier style, your rates are higher and you will need to be compensated at that time for a different style before beginning that portion of the shoot.
What to do 2: If they are making you uncomfortable, remind them of the style of shoot they booked originally, and state that that is what they will be shooting. If they are pushy, text your "contact," inform them that you are leaving, and inform the photographer that you are leaving. Leave.
Scenario 5: You are changing wardrobe and look over to see that the photographer is taking photos of you changing.
What to do: Pack up and text your "contact," inform the photographer that you saw what they were doing, ask that they delete the photos, and leave.
Scenario 6: You are working on arranging a shoot with someone but they are rubbing you the wrong way. They are messaging you over and over on social media, texting you when you don't reply on social media, and trying to call when you don't text back. You are trying to iron out details, but their interactions are strange and obsessive.
What to do: I've been in this one at least four times in the last year. What I've ended up doing is giving two chances for them to calm down with the messaging. I will usually send them a message that states that I am busy and need time to reply, and the interaction is feeling uncomfortable. If they don't let up and something feels off, I restate what I said the first time and block them on social media and block the phone number. Here's a real response I gave to someone who had become very obsessive and creepy, and immaturely lashed out at me on social media after I didn't answer his texts, calls, and messages: "Hi ______, I've gotten increasingly uncomfortable with how much you want to shoot with me. I have not seen credits for models on your posts and feel very uncomfortable with how much you have texted me. I voiced that I wanted to wait to shoot until after I got my hair color redone. I take collaborations very seriously and am very picky about them. After the comment you just made on social media I no longer want to shoot with you. Thank you."
Scenario 7: You arrive with your own wardrobe, but the photographer suggests that you wear some lingerie that he has in his studio.
What to do: I'm biased with this one because I've worn the lingerie and gotten a skin infection, back in my naive days. State that it's great that they have wardrobe too, but your contract states that for your health and safety you will only be wearing your own wardrobe for the shoot.