Public speakers are often told to imagine that they are clothed and their audience is naked, in order to bolster their confidence. So the opposite—being naked when everyone else is clothed—is a nightmarish prospect for most people. We spoke with pro life model Biara Webster to find out exactly how it feels to stand for hours on end in your birthday suit while strangers pay very close attention to every inch of your exposed body.
VICE: Why'd you start life modeling?
Biara Webster: I got into it through a friend who did it. A lot of people get into modeling because they start drawing, but I've tried it the other way around. I needed some extra cash.
What was your first time like?
I was extremely nervous. Basically I just tried not to look down, so I didn't know that I was naked. I was just in a room—on the same level as the artists. There was about 12 people all standing up around me.
What do you think about when you're standing there for hours?
Sometimes I try to practice meditation—so I'm trying not to think. I've been modeling for about four and a half years and it was really good when I first started because I was studying and working elsewhere—and the modeling just gave me a chance to relax, and I got paid for it. I was allowed to relax. So I try to meditate. Or I make lists of things I have to do. With the quicker poses I try to think of the next pose.
And the long pose—ideally laying on the ground I guess?
It's a bit of workout, so you learn to know what your body can handle. When you do it often enough, you can handle a bit more. For 5-10 minutes I can stand quite comfortably. Obviously it's important to be hydrated and well fed. But the longer ones—past 20 minutes—you've really gotta get comfortable. But it's a bit tricky because you also want to provide twisting so they have something interesting to draw.
Do the artists get mad if you move?
They're pretty supportive. The artists will sometimes be like, "Oh you don't look like you're going to be comfortable," so they'll provide an extra pillow. I don't have to stand exactly still all the time. If I feel like I need to move, I'll just do a little stretch then go back into it.
Have you practiced more flattering poses in the mirror?
I probably shouldn't! When I first did it, I definitely checked. I try not to moon people too much. Some models are more comfortable doing that, but I definitely try to keep that area down.
Have you ever been insulted by someone's likeness of you?
I don't take it to heart, but I'm a bit sad that's what I look like. Sometimes it's good the other way—like automatic Photoshop. So they cut down a little of the gut and make the breasts a bit perkier. And sometimes they do it a bit more realistic, and I think I better work out.
Do you get cramps?
Definitely. When I first started I had a really bad hip cramp and was like, I'm never doing this again! But the artists were so lovely. So I obviously came back. You've got to learn what positions you can do. I get pins and needles; so I push through it and tell them after I've got pins and needles and I've just gotta get it out first.
Any awkward moments?
I did a photography session with an art student. And it was just me, the student, her teacher, and her parents, just wandering around in the forest. Passersby would walk by and be curious. The most awkward session was at my old school—it was about a year and a half after I'd been modeling, and I modeled for the art class at the school I used to go to. It was awkward, because when I looked up, I'd see people in my old school uniform.
What's the hardest part of the job?
Definitely trying to hold it in when you need to fart. Or trying not to laugh when the artists tell jokes. Or trying not to fall asleep when you're doing a long pose in a comfortable position next to a fireplace!
What if you have to fart?
The first time I did it, when I was so focused on looking up, I actually really had to fart as well. So you have to hold it in really tight. I've never farted, luckily. But I've definitely needed to, and it was very uncomfortable. I tense really tight and try not to eat too much fibre before modeling. I've also been advised to not eat too much Indian food beforehand.
What about when you've got your period?
I still model. Because I can just hide the tampon string. It's not too bad. I prefer modeling fully nude. I haven't done much draped, but that's also an option when you've got your period.
What's a big misconception surrounding life modeling?
The worst thing I had was an ex—he accused me of doing modeling for sexual reasons; like it was pornographic and he thought I got a kick out of it or something.
Do you ever get hit on while modeling?
I've never had any awkwardness. During the break you're expected to re-robe. I've been doing it four and a half years and I've never had anyone look at me the wrong way. No one has hit on me. I've never had a bad experience. It's kind of weird seeing someone later in the shop and thinking, Where do I know you from? Oh I know! You've seen me naked! It's a tiny bit awkward, but it is what it is.
Were you always so comfortable being naked?
I went to a class to see what it was like before. And you see that no one is judging you, they're just focused on the shapes and the lines. I'm definitely more comfortable with my body—obviously there's things I want to change, but I'm not judging myself for them.
It's fun being immortalized. All the artists focus on different things and they all have different styles, so it's definitely helped my confidence in my own body. Just seeing that everybody is looking at different things. Realizing that everybody has a body and every body is different. It's made me more accepting of myself.
I think we are too focused on being clothed and therefore people are scared of nudity, and I think that encourages the sexualization of nudity. The body doesn't always have to be sexualized. There's a lot of shame. In general, people are scared of nudity—or it's only for the bedroom, it's only for sexual things, or the beach. [This gig has] improved my confidence as a person—I don't think I was ever closed-minded, but I'm way more open-minded in accepting being nude. I'm more pro-nude now.
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