If I Took My Clothes Off Would You Think of Me Differently? Intelligence, Sexuality and Women’s Bodies

I got to meet Stoya and Molly Crabapple the other day and I’m still kind of in a glow. Spending time with both of them and hearing all of the interesting and funny things they had to say was both wonderful and thought-provoking. As we were leaving, Stoya asked (rhetorically) why it was so hard for people to find a middle road between condemning her and calling her a genius– a sentiment she later reiterated on Twitter. Her comment made me think about how smart women and sex have such a strange relationship, in which prominent sexuality is tied to lack of intellect, a lack of strength, a lack of talent.

Maison Cadolle Paris

It is almost impossible to find a situation in which the display of female bodies or female sexuality doesn’t carry with it the weight of how you will be judged and discounted. There is a logic behind it that comes from the assumption both that women’s bodies are out of their control and that they use sexuality as a method of persuasion, a combination that makes unchecked female bodies somehow dangerous.

ID Sarrieri

The fact that the nude female body has a significant effect is evident in the concern that Molly voices in her New Republic profile (“she worried that, as a former nude model, she would be deemed unserious and unworthy by full-time activists”) and seems disturbingly relevant when the author of a critique of that article on the San Francisco MoMa blog decided to draw attention to that very fact by implying that her attractiveness is what inspired the reviewer to treat her so seriously. Being a nude model is not a former job like being a bar-tender or temp, it seems– it colors every future image, action and interaction. Why should a reputation for burlesque art or nude modeling be any less serious, less intellectual, less valid than other pursuits? No, really, I’d like someone to explain.

Daul Kim by Beau Grealy for Russh November/December 2009

Critiquing the idea that sexy or even flirty has nothing to do with intelligence, The Lingerie Addict responded to the ‘Letter to Victoria’s Secret’ and hit on one point that I thought was especially important: since when does having cute panties, even with flirty messages, mean that a girl isn’t smart or focused or capable? The letter, a letter that went viral from a dad condemning Victoria’s Secret’s ‘Bright Young Things’ line for high schoolers, reminded me of all the times that it was implied in high school that it was the ‘stupid people’ who were having sex– and how that must have also undermined the confidence of anyone who had sex, whose intelligence was somehow now in question, as if intelligence had anything to do with it.

On Twitter this week, Stoya asked why people can’t handle it if they don’t see her as an extreme and I became interested in honestly answering this question. I think it’s because there is no place for someone like her in a conception of the world in which a female porn actress is stupid, simple and degraded.  Being interesting and multifaceted, she doesn’t play her part as a bogeyman that scares young women into controlling their sexualities, so she has to be elevated to the height of a genius that no regular person can comprehend or contend with.

Stoya – Pop by Sean + Seng, Spring/Summer 2013

Now, I think Stoya is clever and funny and a brilliant writer– but she is human, and probably sometimes an idiot and sometimes a genius and usually somewhere in between. She’s not a symbol and she can’t be summed up in a one-sentence cliché, which I think scares people. If having sex on film doesn’t define her, what does that say about the rest of us who are supposed to cover ourselves up and avoid talking about sex for fear some nipples forever existing in cyberspace will define us for the rest of our days?

The truth is, if I were to post a picture of myself in a bra and panties (something I haven’t done up until now) it could be a terrible decision. My credibility could be questioned forever by people who would simple have to say that I posed in my underwear to suggest that I was shallow, silly, attention-hungry and sexually available.

Barbara Nichols c. 1957

It’s not that I want, necessarily, to pose for you in my underwear in a daily basis (in fact, I really don’t want that). But I’m tired of having to fear judgement. I’m tired of having to defend lingerie by saying doesn’t have to be sexual without being able to point out that really, there’s nothing wrong with it being sexual either.

If my credibility depends on me keeping my clothes on, that’s ridiculous.

I chose the images in this photo to go along with the theme of ‘undressing.’ Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!

  1. I tried a shirt yesterday that was hilarious – and would have loved to share it on my blog. But I didn’t – for many of the exact reasons you stated.

    The greatest irony is that it covered me completely – but fit like latex.

    I couldn’t get past “What if someone finds out my name, and the pic gets out?”. I could imagine that image popped in front of me at a future interview or on my son’s friend’s cell phone. Can’t imagine in either situation the photo would be seen for what it was, in the context of my blog. I would just be some trashy woman who shouldn’t have shown her big boobs on the Internet.

    • Yes! What is funny to you because of sizing issues– and would probably be amusing and educational to other people who have the same problems– seems so dangerous because if someone wants to use it as evidence that there is something wrong with you (and your boobs). It’s especially upsetting because if someone with small boobs (like me) wore a super tight shirt, it wouldn’t have the same ‘danger’ simply because of my body type!

  2. Wow. This is such an important subject and I think you could really summarize your (and mine too) thoughts. I once posed to a magazine here in Brazil, topless. When the photographer (a friend) called me with the idea, since I trusted him very much, I accepted right away. Some friends call me an exhibitionist, as a joke (and, as matter of fact, I kind of am, a bit, but that’s fine), but a lot of people just didn’t get it.
    “Are you ok with everybody seeing you naked? Why would you do that?” – I do that because I appreciate beautiful pictures and I was sure that the results would be amazing. And they were. “But how people will see you know? In college?” – I hope they see me as a Design student as all the others. My position was strange to most of the people who asked me this, but that’s how it was. I don’t feel I deserve any less credit on my intelligence or my abilities just because I am ok with showing my boobs on paper, as any other women should be considered less than others because she is a exhibitionist/porn actress/nude model/prostitute/someone who likes to cover up completely all the time.

    Personally, what I see of Stoya is that she really is somewhat a genius, but not the whole time. And I like the way she tries to expose her “humanity” along with everything she does, always reminding us that she is a nice and common woman… and an amazing porn actress (and writer!). I admire her.

    • I think your attitude is awesome. When people around you are saying, “You’re making a bad decision/people will judge you” it’s hard to stick to your guns. And I’m glad it came out well! I think that if you can’t be shamed about it, then it’s harder for anyone to judge you.

      • This is right… I have to stand for my decisions so people know that they don’t have anything to do with what I decide. An later on it was harder for them to tell anything, people just don’t have a good argument against great pictures of boobs 😛

  3. Oh my gosh…this is so relevant!

    I struggled for a long time before posting images of myself on my blog because I knew, once they were out there, there was no taking them back. And while those photos helped my blog immnensely (people were able to put a face with the name–especially important when I still used a pseudonym), it definitely had an adverse affect on my career. I distinctly recall a company I was interviewing with asking if I could take all my photos offline or else they wouldn’t be able to hire me. Ridiculousness of that request aside (how do you scrub your presence from the internet?), it was silly that my playful, pinup images were somehow seem as pornographic or damaging or reflective of unprofessional behavior.

    Even now, I feel like I’m in a Catch-22. I want my blog to be taken “seriously,” and so I don’t post many photos, but photos are helpful to women to see how lingerie looks on someone who isn’t a model. And it does sting a bit when you realize that lingerie blogs which tend to post a lot of selfies become very popular very quickly (or at least more popular than bloggers which go the text route). And I wonder if that fact keeps other women who aren’t comfortable with images of themselves or older women (something I’m thinking about as I near 30…which isn’t old, but isn’t 25 either) from blogging.

    Sorry…I’m rambling! I’ve just been thinking about this a lot too.

    Last thing: I hate that lingerie is always equated with sexuality and I hate that sexuality is always equated with something bad. Those two things limit the conversation so much, and I think they have a lot to do with my women in America are so afraid of lingerie.

    • You brought up a lot of good points. I think that the idea that these photos were harmful because they existed was silly but sadly unsurprising.

      The conflict between being taken seriously & showing images of yourself is a tough place to navigate. I also feel like I’m not sure where I stand on that front and I do agree that showing lingerie on non-models is worthwhile. It’s a trade-off though and although picture-based blogs are often more popular, I understand it– in many ways seeing someone’s face makes it that much easier to relate to them and feel invested in their work.

      And yes, yes, yes to your last thing.

  4. People who make the classic mistake of thinking “lingerie = sex” that are the problem, isn’t it? More thoughtful interesting posts like this are useful for debating this topic (I think you have inspired me to write one of my own), but I’m not sure how else we fight those assumptions. I think Catherine from Kiss Me Deadly would probably have a few thoughts on the subject – even the images for her brand (which are not coy, hair twirling bedroom shots) have trade shows wanting to put KMD in the adult section. Yet American Apparel shoot models in outerwear that’s skimpier than underwear and that’s (apparently) more acceptable?

    Think I need to organise my thoughts on this one and get writing! Thanks for a great post.

    • I feel like the issue also comes from the further logical leap of ‘lingerie=sex=bad’. The problem is not just that lingerie is associated with sex as a whole, but the ridiculous idea that sex is dirty and stupid becomes tied up in the whole thing.

      • I’ve experienced a little of this too, which is why I clench up when someone asks me what I do or what my blog is “about”. In the past, I’ve felt the conversation has shifted in a direction I’m less comfortable with, especially with men. I’m left feeling like I’ve regulated myself to a strictly sexual sphere of their brains (i.e. no longer intelligent, funny, articulate, etc.) or there will be an inevitable joke, to reestablish their own masculinity or because they’re uncomfortable with a topic so continuously linked to sex. It’s tragically ironic too because I love talking to people about lingerie but when the conversation dies with SOS signals: SEXUAL. GIRL. UNCOMFORTABLE. I wish we could separate the lingerie from all the seedy underpinnings (pun INTENDED) it calls to mind.

  5. I agree with this wholeheartedly. It’s the same with Sasha Grey, she’s such an inspirational woman for her achievements but she’s told that she can’t do what she wants just because she used to be a porn star. I think she’s doing a lot to open peoples eyes however.

    On my blog I have decided I have no issue with posting pictures of myself in lingerie – if it affects my credibility in later life then I do not want to be considered creditable to that person. I’ve not received any bad feedback as of yet – bar the one guy who decided it was okay to sexualise me just because I was in my underwear, never even bothered to read the blog post which was largely to do with body issues!! I don’t know what my close friends or family think about it but I’d like to think they haven’t got an issue with it.

    I think Cora’s comment is so true too, putting a face to a blog is very helpful to the readers, but it comes with a price (though mine has always been a personal blog unlike Toots & Booty when we first started it, and even then when we finally got round to using photos of ourselves we had a brilliant response).

    Fantastic article


    • Thanks for your comment! I think it’s so classic that some guy decided to make stupid remarks on a post where you were specifically talking about your own anxieties.

      I like your attitude– at a certain point worrying is just ridiculous and you shouldn’t let it run your life.

  6. It’s very true. But I see here a vicious cycle of some sort. Many women who are intelligent and have jobs in science, industry, management, higher education etc tend to hide their sexuality, so it won’t affect their jobs, because of stereotype that sexy equals stupid, even when they are in their private blogs, Facebook pages etc or in social life. And this supports stereotype that sexy equals stupid.

  7. I am rather worried that photos of me are going to come and bite me on the ass one day, though not worried enough to trawl the internet to make sure every suggestive shot is taken down. I doubt many jobs or people have the time to go hunting these things, and I’m not doing anything illegal. People can judge me, I’m only really concerned about the few who’s opinions would impact on me (like future employers). I know there’s nothing ‘shameful’ about a sexy/less fully clothed photo, but I have to live in a world with other people’s prejudices and small-minded opinions.

    • I think the ‘future employers’ one is a really concern because people can be judgey. If it’s not easily searchable under your legal name, it’s hard to image them coming upon it. I think the point of having to live in a small-minded world is so true– sometimes it’s hard to figure out when you can do whatever you want to do and when you have to give in to the judging for economic or other reasons.

  8. Caro, you are such a smart little cookie. I loved this post and have a lot to say about this issue.

    I believe I was one of the first lingerie bloggers (other than Cora) who posted pictures of myself actually wearing lingerie. Since my face and real identity are connected to my blog, I do my best to keep it PG (mostly chemises, camisoles, shorties and the like), but there certainly are some harness photos etc. that fall outside of that category. I’ve actually experienced an uncomfortable situation at work when someone (I will note: a male) pointed out that I have a lingerie blog in a business meeting, and that I tweet about lingerie. My initial reaction was… shame. I won’t lie. I felt ashamed and I had doubts about my blog and the decision to post pictures of myself in lingerie. My female coworkers (who know me and know the blog — though I will say that not everyone at that meeting did before it was blurted out) approached me afterward and shared how inappropriate, rude and obnoxious it was that he referenced my personal project during a business meeting, especially given the dynamics of the work relationship and the situation I was put in. Frustrating, but in the end, it made me very happy that people appreciate my work and were willing to stick up for me in the face of the supreme awkwardness.

    That instance totally sheds light on the way American women are trained to interact with lingerie. You and Lori make a really good point: most American women equate lingerie with naughty. To most, sexuality is bad and dirty, lingerie is tacky, lacy and racy… and I’ve thought a lot about why. Like many issues where social conformity is an issue, I believe this way of thinking is due in large part to how sexuality is portrayed in the media. It seems that whenever a scandal occurs, it further taints the reputation of sexuality in general, and lingerie indirectly, since it’s all connected.

    That being said, I think this new crop of lingerie bloggers and boutiques is doing an amazing job of redefining what it means to like, want and have pretty knickers. Of course there’s the empowerment and self-confidence that comes from treating yourself to this type of luxury, but for me there are several days where lingerie stops and ends at just that: pretty knickers and an appreciation of all things beautiful.

    Let’s talk about this more, shall we?


    • I totally understand the shame. Even if you think to yourself ‘oh, well, i’m totally okay with what I’m doing, sometimes you view yourself out of someone else’s eyes and you are suddenly ashamed and embarrassed. Sometimes I have to steel myself before I tell people the name of my blog (for several reasons) because I know that there is a chance that they will say something weird or just not say anything at all. This is definitely most prevalent with guys because they aren’t used to thinking of lingerie as anything other than a sexual display, usually for their benefit.

  9. I think we who pose also often internalize the implications of what we’re doing and create apologias like “It was classy and artistic” or “I got paid a lot of money.” Sometimes those things are true, but for the majority of adult entertainers it may not be. I did mainstream men’s centerfolds in the 1990s, no class at all thank you, and I did it for a bit of money, to further my adult entertainment career, and for attention. I’m not ashamed of any of those reasons. I didn’t feel degraded and even if I had, being degraded would have been an experience, not a permanent condition. I think the idea that we’re stupid (and again, I’m not saying I’m not stupid) is based on the idea that we should have found a better way to make money, get attention (or some form of affirmation), etc. Also on the idea that you’ve lost control over who accesses your sexuality, and have been reduced to an extent to how you’re seen, since you are seen. I worked as an anti-censorship activist and when I was told that porn couldn’t be feminist because of the way men saw me in it (assuming men who view porn are a monolithic dehumanized mass of beastliness), I said, “I don’t think saying that those men define me is very feminist.”

  10. Also–I think Molly and Stoya are pioneers and entrepreneurs. I think we need to celebrate our female entrepreneurs.

  11. This is something I think about a lot (especially lately), put very concisely and elegantly, thankyou for writing this!

  12. Gawd, this post is so close to my heart I’ve got to comment twice! As a lingerie blogger, lately I’ve been wrestling with the idea of publishing photographs of myself in my underwear (bra + panties). When I first started reviewing, I didn’t share photos but I quickly felt that it was a bit silly…lingerie vocabulary is used different ways and I believe there’s a point in which words can’t express what you could see from the way a bra looks. What “full coverage”
    means to one women is NOT what it looks like to another and photographs help bridge that gap of communication. It’s just like any other garment in the world — a dress may look stunning on and on the hanger it looks like a sack of shit. Style bloggers take photographs of themselves in dresses, shoe bloggers take pictures of their feet and I don’t see why it’s so different, but I hate that it is. For the last 1.5 years of my blog, I’ve been trying to pretend it isn’t and I still think that’s important.

    I also think that publishing photographs of myself in my underwear is a terrible, career ending mistake. After that, I wouldn’t be able to work as an elementary school teacher or politician easily. My eyes are wide open when it comes to the choices I’ve made/will make as a lingerie blogger. Knowing all this, I plan to publish this type of photograph soon because it’s hugely important to me that I own my body and the choices I make with it. I find it disgusting that if I was a photoshopped model on a billboard my body would be celebrated but because I’m posting these photographs independently, I’m considered immodest, attention seeking, or sexually open. It’s my body and I’ll do what I please with it — even if that threatens, discomforts, or offends other people and in the process, negatively effect my future/potential job prospects. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t make this decision myself.

    Ok, blabbering ends now. I love this, Caro. I’m so glad you addressed it.

    • I think your point about what is/isn’t acceptable when it comes to lingerie is interesting when it comes to billboards/magazines/etc. It’s acceptable everywhere to have the semi-nude model in panties under the aegis of a giant corporation or established magazine, but if a girl were to do it herself it’s ‘attention-seeking’ and scandalous. I think this also has to do with the idea that there are certain types of people and professions where it is acceptable and expected, but others where it is expressly forbidden. I have to say, each year of my life the ‘think of the children’ excuse works less and less.

  13. Not quite sure how my views will go down (I am male, and heading for 50). Certainly having discussed the subject with female friends, they do not seem to equate sexy lingerie with a perceived lack of intelligence, I don’t know if its down to being in Europe rather than the US, but most of those I know buy lingerie for themselves, if their partners find it a turn on that is a bonus, but its not always the intention. As a photographer I have on occasions shot some boudoir sessions and surprisingly a number of these have been for the subject rather than for partners.

  14. brilliant article. It holds true as well as I happen to be a lingerie model and I recently got into a heated anti-war political discussion with a facebook friend who attacked me by saying ‘anyway, what do you know about politics? You don’t really strike me as the kind of person who is clued up on world events, all you do is stare into a camera all day in your underwear’. As if this has any relation on my ability to keep abreast of world events and form my own intelligent opinions.

    What she wasn’t aware of, was that aside from being a lingerie model, I’ve also spent many years as a peace campaigner and used to write for a blog debunking mainstream media propoganda. I also have an architecture degree from one of the top 5 institutions in the world, and she can see that too on my facebook profile, but she decided to judge me based on what I do on one or two days of each week (as it’s quite normal for a model to only work one or two days in a week).

    Ms Underpinnings, forget what the rest think, if you have something of value to offer your readers by showing them how a bra fits on a body, then what better body to use than your own? You can’t please everyone, but if you just play it safe, you often end up pleasing no-one.

    • Uggh, that person is such a jerk. It’s like the second you take your shirt off your brains go with it! (Yup, that’s not a thing). Everyone has different facets and interests, it’s frustrating how anything sexually suggestive seems to be able to negate all of the other awesome things that don’t have to do with it. Especially because stuff like peace campaigning isn’t really going to pay the bills.

  15. This is such an important topic.
    I thought about it a long time. On my blog you find pictures of me in a bra and it wasn’t an easy decision.
    As several of you stated – it is such a vicious circle. It’s still connected with being a sexual object which OF COURSE means you’re unreliable, not responsible, not demure enough…
    One day I took a pic in some swimwear and posted it, not even thinking much about it. Then it hit me. WHY didn’t I fear anything when posting a swimwear pic, but was so unsure about lingerie?
    It wasn’t my voice I was hearing, rather some “public modesty patriarch borg”. ok, and maybe my mum. Resistance is futile, you ARE assimilated into a world where being happy with your body and showing it off in any way is condemned. You are being shallow, vain, irresponsible (“think about the children!”.
    But then I just decided to break this circle. Nothing’s gonna change, if there aren’t some people who break rules that aren’t needed any longer.

    And if my children ever find my blog I hope they see that it made me happy, that I’m proud to say it helped other women find better bras and that I’ll never be ashamed of it.

    • “Think about the children!” doesn’t really work for me anymore. I mean, gosh, your child might see you semi nude! or wholly nude! or even in a sexual situation! Wait… isn’t that exactly what all Hollywood celebrities’ kids see?

  16. The issue of an interest in lingerie, or sex for that matter, being linked to a lack of intelligence or credibility is something that kind of haunts me. I cannot bring up the topic of lingerie in a social sphere because I get so nervous about what people will think of my interest. I think I have brought it up all of once in casual conversation, and as I feared, the conversation quickly turned awkward and the topic was changed. The bond between sex and lingerie is so strong and it bothers the crap out of me. I’ve been fairly open on my blog that I’m pretty close to asexual, so the fact that I could easily be put in the category of “sexual” because I enjoy some bras and panties makes me feel really strange.

    But really, what I feel worse about is the stigma that sexuality and intelligence don’t jive. It’s not something I really have to deal with (I have to deal more with the whole lack of sexuality = lack of fun/you’re broken kind of stigma), especially given the anonymity of my blog, but in principle I cannot stand it, and also regret that when I was a young girl I participated in it. It’s so normal for girls to learn that sexy girls “only have their looks,” or something to that effect. I certainly did, and had to work to unlearn it. I just hope that the level of awareness surrounding issues of sexuality and intelligence is raised in the next generation.

    • Yes! As someone who was *definitely* a late bloomer, I was always praised for sticking to my school work rather than chasing after boys (yeah and maybe my lack of interest should have given me a hint about other things) while the girls who had sex and went out were always expected to be the ‘dumb’ ones and it wasn’t until I got to college that I realized how messed up that was.

  17. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, because not only is my blog fairly new (so I’m trying to decide how much anonymity I want), but I’m also just starting out in my career via internships. I’m just starting to learn about all the things I have to do/not do to get a job, and all the “restrictions” (even though most of them aren’t particularly restricting) are kind of freaking me out. I agree that it’s horrible that as a woman, no matter how much I achieve, it can all become null-and-void just because of a picture of myself wearing lingerie (something I find fun, not sexy). It’s a strong opinion of mine that this shouldn’t happen, but I feel like I’m too much of a “newbie” to go against it. Like I should “earn the smart badge” first, and challenge the rules later. Which is ridiculous, because one’s intelligence shouldn’t be doubted just because you’ve seen them without a shirt on! I guess I’m just having a hard time coming to terms with the idea that I have to choose between looking credible and standing up for something I think is important.

    So thank you for this article, you articulated exactly what i have been thinking lately but couldn’t put into words. <3

  18. I did nude modeling for art classes when I was at university. It was before the web took off (we had internet access, but it was limited). I liked doing it: it was a challenge to stay still for long periods of time, it made me feel confident to be unashamed of my nudity (my family had taught me that nudity was nothing to be ashamed of, but during my teenage years I had grown very self-conscious and I wanted to reclaim the ease I used to feel with nudity), and it paid better than other jobs I was qualified for at that point in my career. It was a non-sexual form of nudity, as anybody making sexual comments would be kicked out of the class (and if you didn’t pass life drawing, you could pretty much forget about getting a degree in art).

    I contrast this to how I feel now. I’d like to post pictures of myself in bras to get help with fitting issues and to help other people who may have a similar shape. I wouldn’t mind uploading pictures of my breasts to Bratabase’s breast shapes project. But I’m worried about how this would affect my professional career if anybody found out those pictures were of me. If my name were associated with it I know that some people would form negative impressions of me no matter what my reasons were for posing in a bra. If it was a swimsuit and the pictures were of me on the beach, nobody would think anything of it – but a bra is somehow always seen in a sexual context. I live in a country where it’s normal for women to sunbathe topless at the beach – but the instant your picture is online it is interpreted by people in other countries with different views who will most certainly objectify you and look down on you. And in an increasingly international working environment, you might find yourself in a situation where you have to work with these people.

    It makes me sick. Why do I have to self-censor myself this way? Why is it fine for scantily clad women to be used to sell products, but not for women to use their own bodies in spreading information that matters to them? It really feels like things have gotten worse; I feel like I’m in a much more misogynistic environment than I was in the early 90s. There’s more pressure for women to fit some archaic notion of purity, to not be sexual, and at the same time to service male fantasies. This has coincided with the ease at which information is shared and privacy is lost, which serves to make me feel more constrained than in the past.

    • I really love life drawing classes and I really think they should be mandatory! It’s a wonderful space to get acquainted with a nude body and look at the person without any kind of sexual intent, just observation. I was always grateful/appreciative of good life models.

      It’s really interesting what you said about privacy being lost + that making you feel more constrained. Hyper-connectivity is definitely a double-edged sword.

  19. I’m a burlesque performer (among many other jobs including historical tour guide and educator at a zoo) and I feel quite lucky in the response I usually get.

    My burlesque is science themed as I used to be a science communicator (stage name Petra Dish). Generally because of this people treat me like I have a brain. I think my town has such a burlesque boom that a lot of people realise any type of person can do it.

    Occasionally though I get a weird reaction and it frustrates me. My old workplace in particular. You would think that a company who aims to increase adult interest in science would be excited by what I’m doing.

    *sigh* some people are just close minded and will never be able to accept a sexy woman who is also smart.

  20. Great conversation! This is very interesting and relevant to me as a guy. I photograph women, models and clients on a daily basis. Occasionally my clients or models are nude and I’ve been deliberating on this topic in my own body of work.

    I strive to shoot beautiful nudes and portraits of women that champion the beauty and celebrate the soul of the person I’m shooting without demeaning their character in any way.

    ‘Art nudes’ isolate the body/ figure from the person. The naked form in an ‘art nude’ portrait is portrayed as an object of beauty rather than a person with feelings and a life.

    ‘Glamour nudes’ are shot with a seductive or sexy overtones. This verges on porn at one end of the scale and art at the other (Pirelli Calendar). Glamour often has the awful degrading resonance described in this post.

    Neither genre does it for me so I looked into the subject a little deeper. By capturing the soul or character of a person in a photograph with nudity, in a way that is not seductive or suggestive was my challenge and I think I’ve cracked it by separating the sexy from the beautiful. It’s still a work in progress but I’m finding more and more women, models and designers are excited about my images.

    I try to avoid seductive boudoir and champion beauty and character.

  21. Great post! It’s annoying it has to be like this though. I was the smart kid in school, and continued studying at the university, getting good grades. I’m also a burlesque dancer and alternative model. In school no one wanted to hang out with me, they just wanted my help with homework. Now that I have REAL friends I’ve met in my burlesque and modeling career – who didn’t know me in school – they can’t understand how I (whom they think is a really fun person to hang around) could have been the lonely nerd in school. So for the nude model etc. it can be really hard to be taken seriously when it comes to intelligence. BUT, for the intelligent person it can also be very tough to be taken as a fun, liberated person. It feels like people are so used to categorize everything that they don’t know what to do when they meet someone who is BOTH smart and sexy – something that I’ve noticed can be a really scary combination for many men… 😉

    I recently did my first complete nude shoot by the way. With an amazing photographer. I posted the pictures on my blog, and the result was that I got SO many good comments on different social media – from WOMEN – saying they all wished they could do nude shoots with a really good photographer too! I told them to go out and do it! Not to post on a blog for the world to see like I did, but at least for themselves, and maybe their boy/girlfriends. What I wanted to say with this is that it seems like so many women wants to be able to express their sexual/feminine side – for example by doing a nude shoot – but most of us don’t do it. And I don’t think what stands in the way mostly is lack of confidence or body issues, but the fact that smart women are afraid to be looked down on as stupid “bitches” if they actually do take their clothes off for the camera. So I guess to change the way people look as smart/sexy women, we have to show them that we’re not scared of being sexy and feminine, no matter how high our IQs are!

    Long comment I know. But I had t get it out… 😉 xox

    • I definitely know what you’re talking about– straddling both worlds is unexpected. I also think that the media often talks about ‘smart & sexy’, but it’s really more about the divide between smart & sexual because ‘sexy’ so often simply means desirable rather than having control over your own sexuality.

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  23. Sex is primordial. All the ‘trimmings’ such as lingerie, are byproducts of civilization, and in this, we try to establish standards & co-exist. There will always be discordance as to what is proper where.
    Im not much for gender roles or arsoning the male patriarchy la di da, but men & women experience sexuality differrntly, thesr differences are amplified & then usually sold back to us by society.
    Im very interested in objectification…people need things in boxes, we need definitions & too often, someone else to set standards & limits for us.
    fortunatly, thats all pretty much hype- so do whatcha wanna.

  24. I’d never really thought about this issue in great depth until reading your article. I particularly like your comment… ‘since when does having cute panties, even with flirty messages, mean that a girl isn’t smart or focused or capable?’ This is so true! I think it’s empowering to be sexy and to show off your sex appeal and I hope that in time these prejudices will diminish, enabling ladies of all professions to no longer hide their sexuality.

  25. This really strikes home for me. I, like you, am not necessarily interested in posing nude online. However, as a younger person (19) I struggle with sexuality, and sensuality.

    I’ve been in annual shadow casts of the Rocky Horror Picture Show as a transie and a trixie for soon to be three years. In Rocky Horror I was praised for being “sexy” and for distracting from Frank, later I was asked to “demonstrate how to be sexy” to other girls who were having a hard time finding their groove to Sweet Transvestite. As trixie coordinator last year it was my job to find the best way to show off not only my body, but those of my fellow dancers to a song that honestly isn’t that inspiring. I’m also a member of a circus troupe and I regularly practice in sports bras, and perform in front of large audiences (including parents and small children) in chollis.

    In both these situations I struggle to feel comfortable and confident in my sex appeal, and in the image I am presenting to my audience. I don’t have a huge amount of self esteem, the tiniest compliments make me look at the ground in sheepish embarrassment.

    The problem that I face however, is not simply in becoming comfortable with my body and knowing that some people understand that there is a difference between me showing skin, wearing corsets on a daily basis and being a “slut.” It is that this sort of discomfort with my image has made it so that I feel uncomfortable exploring physical things. After being in a long term relationship with a partner who I care very deeply for, I still feel embarrassed to ask Google for a picture describing my anatomy so I can understand it. I feel somewhat ashamed for googling about things that I fear I might be judged for, so ashamed that I use a different web browser for it and clear the history every time. I feel embarrassed for being halfway through college and not knowing what some would consider basic, yet this is the first time in my life I’ve ever felt comfortable asking something as impersonal as the internet about it.

    It’s a rough situation and one that I think women struggle with constantly: being confident in our bodies, not being ashamed to ask questions and not being embarrassed to have confidence or at least fake confidence and assertion in our physical portrayals of ourselves.

    Sorry to blabber on as I know it might not be 100% relevant to what you were talking about, just really wanted to get some of this out there.

  26. As someone who has a fairly conservative career prospects I’ve been very leery of having any inappropriate photos, which is a little troubling for me because not only am I involved a scene that celebrates alternative sexualities but also because I love erotic photography.

    I’ve always been worried that I would destroy my future career should I be photographed inappropriately. This post is giving me a bit of a rethink in how I want to proceed with things in the future so thanks for that.

  27. I’m a M2F transgender female, and have seen this from both sides of the gender fence. In addition to my regular IT career, I get occasional gigs as a lingerie & pin-up model. The blow-back from both liberal and conservative friends is unbelievable. Apparently my acing the SATs, ACT, and scoring a slew of academic scholarships, when a male, means nothing soon as I change my gender, put on a lacy push-up bra and stand before a camera.

    Thankfully I’m self-employed and am free to do as I please. But already pushing the envelope of acceptance with my gender variation, I occasionally find myself hesitant to share my work even the non-nudes that are “Facebook friendly”. My hesitation angers me.

    For its clear that our society continues to enable men in their “goddess or whore” mentality. That women play into this adolescent mind-set strikes me as absolutely stupid, and self-defeating. The argument “nobody will take you seriously” for being sexually positive is facetious. And it entirely begs the question. Because nobody will take us seriously if we play the game, either! The longer we let men define us in terms of their immature, archetypal extremes the longer we will continue to earn less, have fewer job prospects, and otherwise not be considered whole, valid human beings.

  28. What beautiful pictures! I agree that intelligent women and sex have a very odd relationship. It’s so true that being a sexual creature and allowing your sexuality to show, means you are likely to be deemed unintelligent and weak, which is far from the truth!

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  30. I know this post is older, but a book just sprang to mind that always rubbed me the wrong way, and pretty much demonstrates the whole “you are either sexy/ beautiful and dumb or smart and ugly” (or plain and average and boring) perfectly. It’s a fantasy novel “A Spell for Chameleon”. It’s a really funny book in a good fantasy world, and the writing is great, but one of the main characters is a woman who actually transforms from dumb and hot to genius and ugly over the course of each month, and she goes by Chameleon. The main character ends up falling in love with her because she provides variety, and isn’t intimidating like his both smart and sexy ex-girlfriend. There are soooo many things wrong with that! I really hope it’s meant as satire, since the books are somewhat farcical, but it really doesn’t feel that way when you read it.

    • Hmmm, that sounds really interesting. I think the dichotomy hurts everyone and doesn’t make any sense, honestly. Thanks for your comment!

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