My asexuality has never been a mystery to me. In my private life, it was more-or-less common knowledge. However, in the public sphere of my work as a model, I hadn’t announced it. While I don’t believe that anyone has to announce their sexuality or lack of it, staying quiet meant that there was a disparity between my public persona and my private one. Considering that I tried to use my modeling to spread a message about breaking stereotyping, defying norms and staying true to yourself felt like I wasn’t practicing what I preached.
In 2017, I came out publicly (on YouTube like a good millennial), with a video on entitled, Things Asexual Girls Don’t Like to Hear. The response I received was largely positive, a little negative, and rather curious. Since people have learned that I’m asexual, I’ve been met with questions along the lines of, “If you’re asexual, why do you do lingerie shoots?” as though the asexuality and lingerie modeling are completely incompatible – as though being an asexual lingerie model doesn’t make sense. I can understand why people have that impression. There was a time where it didn’t make sense to me either.
“Look at the camera like it’s your boyfriend…”
I used to hear that line a lot from male photographers during my early modeling days when lingerie and boudoir modeling was my main focus. It was their way of telling me to flirt with the camera, to appear more sensual and create the illusion that this was an intimate scenario for the predominantly male audience.
At the time, I was under the impression that lingerie shoots were the only jobs I would be able to book, due to my body shape, but I struggled to meet the expectations of the predominantly male photographers. Such comments had me thinking, “I don’t know how I’d look at a boyfriend, I don’t have boyfriends, and I’m not interested in having a boyfriend.” But, of course, I couldn’t say that, so I pretended.
I feel like I did a lot of pretending back them. Arguably, models are meant to pretend; it’s just part of the job in order to sell the product or the idea. But the idea I was selling was that I was a lustful damsel waiting to be ravished. Feigning sexualised feelings specifically to titillate a male audience as an asexual person, to me, was comparable to being vegan and modeling for Burger King…a lot. Not just smiling with a burger, but expressing a sincere longing for a burger.
The photographers I worked with had no negative criticisms about my performance, but others in the industry had made comments that my work wasn’t provocative or suggestive enough and that I would need to up my game to compete against models who were willing to do more.
After coming out publically, I had to re-evaluate my approach to modeling, specifically the more risqué genres. I decided that I would not participate in shoots that were designed by someone else specifically to stir another’s sexual fantasies. When I do lingerie shoots now, it’s because the lingerie compliments the vibe of the shoot, and because I’m a fan of the lingerie designer and their work aligns with my personal ethos.
As you would expect, this made me feel more true to myself in my work, but it also cost me a lot of opportunities. The most devastating was when I had the opportunity to model for a British brand that I had been a fan of since I was a teenager. I had spent years trying to get their attention, but when I finally did, I had to turn it down. The shoot was specifically for their lingerie line’s Valentine’s campaign, and I would have to play a submissive person in their BDSM theme. I haven’t had the opportunity to model for them again.
However, I have still had the opportunity to collaborate with other brands since then, and I’ve grown even more confident in the idea that asexuality and lingerie modeling are not incompatible. In fact, I believe that it contributes to the public representation of asexual people in a positive way. One of the reasons why I was adamant to come out as asexual publically was to provide some representation for asexual people in the media as we really don’t have a lot of it.
There seems to be a misconception that there is something wrong with asexual people. We are seen as being prudish, unliberated, afraid of sex and intimacy, possibly damaged or traumatised in some way, unlovable or unloving. Any instance where there’s a character without a sexualised arc, it’s usually because they’re evil, inhuman, or infantile. When asexuals in the public sphere are open about their identity, they show just how diverse asexual people are, and what asexuality really looks like. My modeling work allows me to challenge preconceptions that people have about how asexual people are.
The idea of never shooting lingerie again after coming out never crossed my mind. People can sexualise anything, no matter what you’re wearing, no matter how you appear, no matter how you behave, especially if you’re a woman. While I avoid participating in photo shoots aimed at sexually enticing people, the idea of restricting my own self-expression for other people? Well, that really is against my ethos.