This series of posts from the community is in preparation for Paradigm Shift’s next event, “Sex Work and Human Rights: Feminist Advocacy Strategies” A panel discussion and screening on TUES, March 30th, 7pm, NYC. We want to hear your stories! View call for submissions- deadline 3/28-
Nights and weekends I work as a nude model. I work with artists of all genres; photography is the easiest and pays the best. I love it. I love to model because I like having a part of my day naked and shared that doesn’t involve sexual penetration or bathing. I feel empowered in my body because I know that it is mine if I am choosing to sell it. It’s mine and I decide who pays to see it to, how much I sell it for, and I make my own schedule.
I also know that I’m good at modeling, and I like getting better. It’s a skill to build on with each experience.
When I model I have a moment of quiet from the incessant body questions and insecurities I have the rest of my day. It doesn’t matter how I feel about my body, it’s open and available as it is. I use it instead of critiquing it. And no matter how I am feeling about my physicality, whether it’s a “fat day”, a “sexy day”, a “curvy day” or a “puny day” I get the same range of responses. It reminds me that my head-trips on body image are solely in my mind.
During the day I work as a writer at a prestigious international institution. I interview diplomats and promote myself as a thought leader. I write about women’s issues, and work for the promotion of women’s empowerment. But I’m entry level so I’m not paid. I have written on sex work from an intellectual public health perspective. I like to publish on sex work because I hate reading most articles in the mainstream press on sex work. I try to use language and tell stories to give people a more nuanced view of the trade. I have worked as an ally for sex workers in the United States and Senegal, so I bring these hands on experiences to my writing.
I worked on an article about sex work during the World Cup in South Africa, which my editor had many qualms about. She did not like my inclusion of a quote about the potential for economic opportunity through sex work during the event. She worried that I was not problematizing the fact that women can be economically forced into sex work. She was stuck on a victimized view of sex workers. And eventually she said that really it was part of her discomfort with the broader trend in society that women make more and get ahead more easily by using their sexuality, femininity and sensuality than by using their intellect.
Well. I thought. Then perhaps you should pay me so I can sustain myself through my intellect, not through my body. She had no idea why this was such a personal issue for me, and I couldn’t tell her without risking stigma. It really just isn’t something I can talk about to day-life people.
It’s funny because I sell my body to pay my rent, and I let powerful men take me on dates so I can eat something besides eggs and rice. The latter activity is much more socially accepted, but I struggle with it more than nude modeling. I don’t mind having mindless sex with men in exchange for drinks, dinners, plays, movies, parties. But I prefer the direct transfer of money so I can shop for what I want, go where I want and socialize how I want, on my own time, with or without a date.
Transactional sex and nude modeling are complicated. I don’t know how I would behave differently if I had a steady income from my day job. I probably wouldn’t model, because it’s tiring to work fifteen-hour days. But I think people need to know that sometimes body transactions are fun and healthy. It’s definitely useful. And while I engage in the struggle to promote women’s empowerment internationally, I have no qualms about my own economic activities. I work and someday maybe I won’t. For now I am exploiting the cultural system of sexualizing women. The system is not exploiting me.