A month ago I received an email from the founder of one of the West Hollywood fundraising event companies asking me to be a part of a photo shoot they do every year to create the promotional materials they use for their events. My first response was not “oh that could be fun” or “absolutely, happy to be involved” no, my first thought was “this could go wrong in so many ways.”
I thought about that for a moment; where did it come from? I’m not an inherently negative person. After some thought I realized it was a coping mechanism borne out of insecurity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m comfortable with the way I look. This isn’t a fishing-for-compliments story. However, I realized that the adolescent body image trauma created by being a beanpole skinny boy in a suburban Texas world where sports, and football above all others, mattered most had an impact on my self-perception that still rises to the surface on occasion. This was clearly one.
Determined not to allow insecurity get the best of me, and in the vein of continuing to “say yes” to things that seem scary, I wrote back. Basically I said, “I’m so appreciative that you thought to include me, I just want to be sure you know what you are getting. I look good for an actor of my body type, but in the world of models, I am mediocre at best. The gogo dancers and models you usually use are in a class above mine. Just want to be sure you really want me?”
Okay, so it was a little needy, but the “this could go so wrong” part of my reaction was definitely out of the fear of showing up and looking like the entirely too obvious answer to the “one of these things is not like the others” segment on Sesame Street. He wrote back saying yes, he knew. Sidebar – he runs an incredible organization that does a number of huge social events through the year that raise funds for great charities and organizations. He saw Southern Baptist Sissies, and we’re hoping at some point to combine Sissies and his work or be a part of one of their events. This was the ultimate reason for my inclusion.
So, I obviously stopped eating (I’m kidding, I’m entirely too lacking in self-discipline to be committed enough to not eat) and waited for the actual shoot. Honestly it was a great addition to my calender because Los Angeles swimsuit starts, well, now anyway.
The day of the shoot. It’s possible that I woke up a little nervous. It’s also possible that I had stalked a number of the other guys involved in the shoot across Facebook, confirming my fear that they are all incredible looking with great bodies. Here in LA body dysmorphia is rather easy to just sort of fall into. There are likely more trainers and models in the city of West Hollywood alone than in several New England states. Combined. I planned my morning to groom and get to the gym and to the shoot on time at 2:30 p.m. Okay, I left out the part where I spent thirty minutes rifling through my wardrobe and then throwing what basically amounted to an American Apparel catalog into a bag to take with me. I’m a weird size and rarely trust others to believe that. I’m an extra-small. The kind of legit extra-small that means I’m usually fighting with a short Asian guy for the smallest size on the rack. Seriously.
The Shoot. I stroll nonchalantly into the West Hollywood bar where the plan was to shoot on the rooftop. Super casual, all the while thinking, “this is not a mistake, this is not a mistake, it’s going to be fine. You can totally…probably…do this.” The founder said hello, the only person I actually knew there, and I was handed off to the clothing companies sponsoring the shoot to put my ensemble together. I ended up with a pair of bright blue trunks and a tank top that said “Sex on a” across a Popsicle. Sex on a stick. It was cute. So, I changed. This can’t be that hard, I thought, these guys do it night after night in front of hundreds of people, I can do it on the rooftop of a bar that isn’t even open. I walked out to join the others.
There were no weird comments; no sidelong disapproving glances. Okay, so it’s possible that I had completely allowed my own insecurity to nearly derail a fun new adventure before it had even started. That’s ridiculous. I released my fear of judgment, my fear of not look good enough, my fear that once it was done others might judge me for having done it all, because really, who cares? YOLO, right? That’s what the kids say these days? So screw it, I’m having fun.
The group moved en masse to the rooftop. Some of the guys had clearly done this many times, and everyone was genuinely friendly and fun. It’s sort of easy to be friendly quickly when everyone is standing around in their underwear on a rooftop with the Hollywood Hills in the background. Look mom, I made it!! (Actually, if you’re reading this – sorry mom, but it was fun.)
And honestly, I had a blast. Yes, there was an awkward internal moment when I realized I’ve taken a lot of headshots so I know exactly what my face does on camera, (Fine, facebook photos and Instagram have helped with that too.) but that the rest of my body seemed to have no idea what it was supposed to do. There was a moment or two where I looked at one of my arms and thought “what is wrong with you, and why are you so awkward right now?” That full body posing is definitely a completely different skill. So really, I just did what the photographer said and then flattened my stomach as hard as I could and hoped for the best.
Was I the best model of the day? No. Was I the best looking model of the day? No. Did it seem to matter to anyone? No, it didn’t. For all of the crazy body issues so many of us carry around, I reminded myself that in a few years I will look back and laugh thinking, what I would give to look like I did back then. So today I shrugged off the snarky comments often made about how skinny I am. I dismissed the casting directors and agents who have said I’m a little to pretty to be a regular guy and not pretty enough to be a model, and entirely too skinny. I ignored the comments that I look feminine with longish hair.
There were some highly entertaining moments as well. I stood around and listened to several gogo boys bemoan the challenges of dating because guys are intimidated by them. I did not feel too terrible for them about it though. There was at least one porn star there. At one point one of the clothing brand reps made three beautiful guys drop and do push ups. All I could think was, there are not enough push ups in the world to make me look like the three of them, and you think twenty more right now is going to make a difference? But they did them. And no one but me seemed to have considered the thought that I wasn’t supposed to be there. The clothing company reps were fantastic, the photographer was smart, fast and incredibly easy to work with, the other guys were great fun and the man behind the entire show was an angel, despite being nearly bedridden for the last several days.
Okay, I admit, this was probably entirely over thought on my part (shocker, I know) for what amounted to three hours of fun and casual photos for a great company that supports great causes. They may not use any of mine, and that’s perfectly fine. For me though, it was a bit of a personal triumph. It’s been a decade long personal journey to loving the body I have without needing it to be perfect. And yes, I took photos in my underwear. And if I like them, I’m probably going to post them at some point. And yes, I’ll happily admit that I enjoy the positive attention because I’ve finally reached the point where I can genuinely dismiss the criticism. I am who I am, and I use what I’ve got. So, I’m going to choose (well, try) to not care whether people like them or not.