Given that almost every photo on Eleanor Rose’s modeling portfolio is nude, you’d never guess that her career began with a church-lead trip to the Vatican. That was the first time she saw naked bodies as art. Her eyes were opened and her clothes came off.
In addition to her successful modeling career, she started a business called Empowered Muses that provides resources for models. “My goal is to get resources out there to help freelance models run safe, fun, and profitable businesses,” Rose said. “A lot of freelance models just flounder along working really hard, but they can’t pick up momentum because they don’t know exactly what to do. I’m trying to fill that gap.”
After working for six years as a freelance nude model, Rose knows the realities of posing naked for photographers. It’s not the nudity that’s a problem for her. It’s the societal double standard that considers the photographer an artist but not the model. They’re the “misled” women putting themselves in potentially harmful situations. What are the implications when we ask a nude model if they feel safe?
We caught up with Eleanor Rose to find out what it’s really like to be a professional nude model and why she’s an advocate for nude models everywhere.
I went from thinking it was this horrible sin, to seeing the absolute beauty in it.
Format: How did you get into nude modeling?
Eleanor Rose: Oh boy. I was raised very conservative, so when I first started, nude modeling wasn’t on the radar at all. I first became interested in that sort of artistic work when I visited the Vatican. I was on a mission trip with my church, and when we got to the Vatican they rushed us through horrified, because I guess they didn’t know what type of art was there. I just loved it—I fell in love with everything I saw. I actually started seeing the nude form as art.
When I started modeling, I found models who were doing artistic nude work, and I went from thinking it was this horrible sin, to seeing the absolute beauty in it. I decided I wanted to try it just once, but then I didn’t want to stop. And six years later, here I am.
What’s it really like to be a nude model? How does it feel to be naked in front of the camera in a room full of strangers?
It’s different for everybody. I was anxious before my first time, but once I got there, it felt totally natural. This was what I was meant to do. Some people think that every photographer must be a lecherous perv who stares the whole time, but once you get to a certain point, it’s like being a doctor. After a while, you just get used to it.
What are the challenges of being a nude model?
On a personal level, there’s a lot of stigma. Models face so much more social judgement than the photographers who shoot us. There’s this idea that for the photographers it’s art, but for us, we’re just misled young women. I had a lot of struggle with my family, and a lot of pain when they found out—which was not my doing, unfortunately. I wasn’t going to tell them.
So there’s the stigma, and there are the safety issues—which aren’t as bad as people think, but they do exist. And then there’s just how to make a living out of it. I tell people it’s a very empowering career in a very misogynistic industry.
Models face so much more social judgement than the photographers who shoot us. There’s this idea that for the photographers it’s art, but for us, we’re just misled young women.
How would you encourage freelance nude models to get empowered?
Make sure that you’re in it because you love it. You have to make sure, because of the stigma associated with it, that it’s actually what you want to do. It can close off potential pathways in the future. I quit my job at the law firm to do this. At this point, it’s highly unlikely I would ever get a job at a law firm again. Once you know without a shadow of a doubt you want to do this, in terms of actually making it a profitable career, stand up for yourself. Demand respect. Know your value.
What are some of the comments you hear that you wish people knew are hurtful?
When I tell people what I do and their initial reaction is, ‘Oh my God, is that safe?’ What that’s really code for is, ‘Aren’t you going to be raped?’ In our culture, people think that nudity equals consent. People think that because I’m a nude model, photographers are going to take advantage of that. I really want to challenge people to look at that question and all of the inherent assumptions that it carries. Because that question, more than anything, is such an indicator of the rape culture that we are living in.
How would you encourage people to talk about nude modeling—or nudity in general—to foster positivity instead?
I’d like to see people standing up for the fact that each person gets to make their own decisions. My peers and I are often disavowed by feminists, because they decided that we are pandering to the male gaze. For me, being a feminist is about every woman having a right to do what she wants with her life, with her self, with her body, with her voice.
I’m so proud to have peers who are models of color, queer, trans, agender, and bigender models. We have beautiful, stunning plus-size models. We’re bringing that to the world and saying, ‘People can be beautiful, can be amazing, no matter how they look.’ I’m very curvy, and I faced a lot of bullying in my life for my size and my shape. I’ve chosen to have natural body hair, including armpit and leg hair. I’m saying, ‘Look, this is beautiful too, screw gender norms, this is who I am.’ We’re making it so that young women, or women of really any age, can look at what we do, and go, ‘Wow, there’s a place for me here. There are women like me being represented here.’
What else do you wish people knew about nude models?
There are a lot more of us than you think. You probably know somebody who does it. I’d urge you to see us as human. People assume that they don’t know us—that they couldn’t possibly know us—and they’re very wrong.
We’re making it so that young women, or women of really any age, can look at what we do, and go, ‘Wow, there’s a place for me here. There are women like me being represented here.’
Find more of Eleanor’s modeling work at her portfolio, built using Format. Image credits in order top to bottom: (header) L. Raye, Alan H. Bruce, AJ Garcia, Second Life Photography
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