Trigger: Sexual Assault
So many people have this idea that being a model is glamorous and beautiful. That you get whisked away to exotic locations, wear beautiful clothes and live the ideal lifestyle. In reality, that’s far from the truth for many, myself included. I’ve been a model for close to ten years and have done hundreds of photoshoots; some amazing and others … questionable. I’ve been in all sorts of situations and I’ve never really been vocal about any bad experiences in fear of being black listed or not taken seriously. Many models feel the same which in turn leaves bad photographers to continue behaving badly. Today I want to lift the veil on an experience that has haunted me for many years; it’s stayed with me for a very long time and I still replay it in my head and wish things had happened differently. For privacy reasons, I will not be naming names.
There was a photographer who was pretty new at this stage and was pretty friendly. He started out learning landscapes and then moved onto fashion. After getting bored of that, he started to lean into lingerie, bikini and nude modelling which is the area he eventually stayed in. I had worked with him before having done a few group photoshoots with several photographers and models all coming together to work and network. I kind of wish I listened to my gut that something was off but being newish to the industry, it wasn’t right to ruffle feathers. Normally, when I feel uncomfortable with a photographer, I always have a friend or someone there with me as a deterrent. It’s always your right as a model to feel comfortable no matter what you are shooting or who it is with. Never let a photographer tell you that you can’t bring someone if it makes you comfortable.
Back to the photographer in question; around this time, he started selling lingerie and corsets. I think he wanted to combine the two businesses together or give girls the option to shop lingerie and then be photographed in it. Honestly, I’m not sure of the connection because I didn’t want to talk to him after the event in question. The day came when he reached out to me telling me he wanted to practice some new studio lighting setups and to ask if I was keen to help out. This is a common request from new photographers, sometimes you just need to practice and it’s nice when a model can be a bit of a guinea pig as you learn. I am always happy to help out someone who is learning, we all need to start somewhere. He didn’t really mind what I was to wear so, ironically enough, I found a cute pinup inspired dress (this is very much before pinup MonMon even happened but you can see her starting to appear). He was happy with that. A few days later, he contacted me again to ask if I could model some outfits which had just arrived in his store. I asked to see them and found they were all corsets and lingerie.
Now I was not comfortable photographing corsets let alone lingerie so I went through the images at his request. He wanted me to choose a Christmas inspired outfit so he could use that as advertising later in the year so I chose the one with the most coverage. Even then, it was still pretty short but at least it wasn’t a red bikini with white fur trim. He insisted on me choosing a corset or a lingerie piece; he was very pushy about it telling me the photos will be classy, he’ll make sure I’m comfortable and he just kept telling me it would be fine. I was tired at this stage and chose the most modest corset I could find. It was pink with black lace over the top. Now I can’t remember if I had chosen a second corset but we’ll get to that later.
The day of the shoot arrived and I wasn’t feeling happy about it. I just had a weird gut feeling so I asked my partner if he could be there at the shoot with me. I told my partner I felt uncomfortable and pushed into shooting a corset so of course, he said he’d be there. I told the photographer I was bringing my partner and he said it wasn’t necessary, I insisted and said he was my driver and even though he said I didn’t need to bring anyone, I still said I wanted to bring someone. We arrived at the studio and I found out we were shooting in the basement. No drama, I’ve shot down there before and it was mid remodelling. When the photographer saw my partner I could tell he wasn’t happy and he tried to convince my partner that he would be bored, it was such a nice day and he could walk around the city and go shopping but my partner said he’d stay.
The photographer grew visibly irritated. It wasn’t as though my partner would be peering around his shoulder and voicing his opinion, he was just going to sit in a corner out of the way and play games on his phone. That’s also when I noticed a second photographer…what? He got upset when I told him I was bringing someone but he never once mentioned he would be bringing a friend. Luckily I had met the second photographer before so I wasn’t too thrown off but he should have let me know he wasn’t the only one shooting.
We started shooting, I think I had a few outfits which I chose but I remember wearing my short pinup inspired dress. The photographer pulled out a long piece of red fabric and said he thought it might be fun to play with. He showed me example pictures on his phone which were all nude or semi-nude models draped in fabric and using a fan to create interesting shapes. I knew what he was hoping for, that I would suddenly strip and model with the fabric so instead I said: “yeah sure, turn on the fan” and played with the fabric whilst still in my dress. The second photographer was really lovely and I could see him enjoying the process of taking photos with flowing fabric so I was actually happy he was there.
Now a little time had gone by and it was lunchtime. That’s when the photographer asked my partner if he could walk to the grocery store and grab us some lunch. Oh no, we can’t get out of this one. Of course, my partner who thinks he will be helping says he doesn’t mind and tottles off but I can’t remember if the second photographer goes with him. The stress of the situation gets a bit muddled with some details. Once my partner had left, the photographer said it’s time to shoot his lingerie. He pulls out about 5 or 6 corsets even though I had only chosen 1. I grab the original choice and he says to go put it on and he can lace me up. I go into a little side room and start to panic, I don’t want to do this but I don’t know how to get out of this situation. I open up the corset and a small black g-string falls to the floor. Oh no, he never said anything about wearing a g-string. I put the corset on and made sure I wasn’t spilling out the top. I used a doorknob to pull the lace at the back as I didn’t want him to lace me, it looked fine. I put on my jeans and walked out of the room.
I could see his face fall when he saw I was wearing jeans. I had seen photos of girls wearing corsets with jeans before and I did own an underbust which I wore out so I didn’t see it as a huge problem. The photographer obviously did. He commented on the styling and I said it’s a fun and casual way to wear a corset and jumped back into the studio lighting. After a few photos, he said he wanted another corset modelled but this time, “no jeans, please. Something a bit more ladylike”. Oh no, where was my partner? Why was he taking so long, maybe he got distracted? The grocery store w=he went to was closed so he had to walk to a further one which is why he was away for so long, it was also the weekend so the city can be very busy. I had another corset shoved into my arms and he escorted me to the changing room. Oh no, what do I do now? I took my jeans off and my corset, that’s when I heard my partner return. The photographer told my partner I was fine without him and he could go enjoy his lunch in the sunshine. My heart fell when I heard my partner leaving, I wanted to say something but I wasn’t clothed so couldn’t leave the room and due to renovations, I couldn’t be well heard over machinery. I was alone and in an uncomfortable situation.
I opened the new corset and another g-string fell out. Luckily, in my model bag, I had an emergency pair of ruffle booty shorts (burlesque thing). They cover your bum in ruffles but you don’t see through them nor does your bum pop out. I put them on, laced up my corset and was ready to just finish this shoot as fast as possible. When I came out, I covered my crotch with my jeans and the last corset, the photographer looked pleased until I put my clothes into my spare bag and he saw my ruffle shorts. I remember this plain as day, he said: “you don’t want to wear the cute little panties?”. I couldn’t help but burst out laughing, I said “nah I’m not really into wearing dental floss, it’s just not me and I don’t think I’d be comfortable”. Queue a 5-minute discussion of him trying to tell me I would look amazing, I had a great body, he’d love to be my first proper lingerie photographer, that these photos would help boost my career that they would show the diversity and that I had said yes to a corset so why not the matching set. I stuck to my guns and said I was happy in my shorts and that I don’t see myself being a ‘sexy model’.
He was not happy. He was very angry and got very short with me. Whilst shooting, he kept suggesting I lean in certain ways (which I know would make me look more busty) and I just said I cant lean in a corset which wasn’t true but it was all I could think of. He ended up grabbing a small wooden ladder and asked if I could lean on it, I did but used my hands to cover up my cleavage and bust. I could see him growing more and more annoyed. He asked if I could sit on the ladder, open my legs more and lean forward. I leant forward, kept my knees together but pulled my feet apart from each other and once again covered my chest with my hands. He was angry. He came over and grabbed my arm, put it on my hips. He then said I should put my arm somewhere nicer like my inner thigh. He then reached out and placed his hand on my inner thigh. He said “you see? here!”. He then rubbed my inner thigh, I froze. He opened his hand and really held onto my inner thigh, he was so close to touching my genitals what I almost had a panic attack. I was frozen in both horror and shock, I didn’t want to be touched but I couldn’t move. I completely went blank and couldn’t think of what to do.
There’s a huge rule in modelling, “don’t touch the models”. Even when I’m working with friends, I always still ask if I can brush aside a hair or fix up a strap. You never know when someone might be feeling vulnerable or uncomfortable so being touched could be really upsetting even if it is just being fixed up. When I finally snapped out of my brain freeze, he was back to shooting. I remember feeling physically ill. A few minutes later he said he was going to fix up my corset and he touched my breast, my lower back and my bum. I couldn’t react. There was nothing. I was still sick from him touching my inner thigh so when he touched me again, I still couldn’t move.
After a few more photos I said I think we have enough and walked off the set. I went into the back room and tried not to vomit. I ripped off the corset and put my normal clothes back on. I texted my partner to run back to me as I wanted to leave now. I took my time in the room and just sat on the floor trying to breathe. After 5 minutes, I came out and put the rest of my things into my bag. The photographer kept telling me how happy he was with the photos, how beautiful I was and how he can’t wait for the next shoot, but to me, he just sounded like an adult from Peanuts/Snoopy; all I heard was waahh wahhh waah wahh. I don’t remember what I said, I think I just nodded and stared off blankly. My partner finally arrived and I almost ran to him, I turned to the photographer said goodbye and ran up the stairs. I don’t think I’ve ever left a shoot so rudely but I just wanted to get out. I felt disgusting and I’ve never really gotten over that feeling. I didn’t share this story until a fair amount of time later. I told a friend who immediately said a similar thing happened to me. I was so relieved and felt less alone but I still wasn’t comfortable sharing publically what happened.
There used to be a monthly group photoshoot that I attended, I stopped going as it got harder and harder to avoid this photographer. He still wanted to take my photo after this event but the sight of him made me want to be sick. In these group shoots, we used to just go up to photographers and ask to be photographed and of course, photographers would do the same. It was easy to say, “yeah sure, I’m just shooing with XXX and I’ll come back to you” and just never do. These shoots could get a little hectic so it would be easy to say you got distracted and accosted by other photographers. The group shoots then came out with a grouping system where photographers and models were assigned a group )group a, b, c etc) and there was a rotation system. So that way you shot with more people but it also meant, you couldn’t avoid people. I stopped going after that system was implemented as it was just really uncomfortable and I didn’t want someone to notice.
I’ve opened up about this photographer a bit more and found many other models he had touched or come across as creepy. He ended up only shooting lingerie and bikini’s so it was easy to just say that wasn’t my style. Now I have grown a lot since then, I am no longer a pushover and can voice my opinion and discomfort. I never worked with him again and avoided him as much as I could. He eventually left me alone but I was always sad when I saw how many models he worked with. Now, of course, some models are super comfortable shooting lingerie so well done to them, but whenever a model would ask what it was like to shoot with him, I was glad to see other voicing their opinion which reflected my own. There used to be a secret/private Facebook group for models to share their experiences as a way of looking after each other, I told my story to the admin and this photographer was blacklisted. Many also echoed similar stories which made me a bit more comfortable.
Looking back now, I could have done a few things differently but I am sharing this story, with all my mistakes to try and show others that sometimes the model industry is dark and disgusting. I have had to save model friends from worse situations so it’s about time we start sharing our stories more. There’s always the fear of victim-blaming when it comes to such stories. You might be thinking, “why did you do that?” or “why didn’t you do this?” or “I would have just done that” but its different for everyone when it comes to abuse and assault. It’s the fear of victim blaming that stops a lot of people talking about what happened to them, I didn’t even tell my partner what happened till much much later down the line.
If something similar has happened to you, please know you are not alone and you did nothing wrong. It was the photographer’s fault if he thought that behaviour was ok and justified, he was the one who behaved badly and couldn’t control himself not to touch someone innaproriately. That behaviour is never ok or justified in any way so don’t let anyone tell you it was your fault for being in that position. This is the first time I’ve openly shared this experience and I have learnt from it. There is never an excuse for sexual assault in the model industry no matter who you are, what you are wearing or what you are modelling for. I know I was only touched, and I can hear myself trying to justify the story saying, “maybe I wasn’t raped but it still counts”. Any sexual assault, is still assaulted. I didn’t want to be touched and I was, continuously. I was touched without consent in intimate areas; the inner thigh, bum, lower back and breast. It’s still sexual assault.
Today I am just sharing my story, I hope to write about photoshoot safety, tips and other similar topics very soon. For now I just wanted to share openly and honestly to give you all an idea of what can happen. I wanted those who have experienced similar things to not feel alone or blame themselves. If you have been in a similar situation, please talk to someone and if it’s necessary, go to the police and seek counselling.
I’m sure a few people will be wondering who the photographer is, please know he is no longer a photographer. His name does not need to be shared.
Note: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions and thoughts expressed are solely my own and not influenced in any way. There are no affiliate links and I do not benefit from any link clicks or purchases made.