Notes on Vanity


On my website, I list a number of things I’m not interested in doing in terms of my modelling. It’s the closest I have to ‘terms and conditions’, I suppose. For example, I won’t knowingly wear real fur. I won’t take part in anything I deem potentially offensive (religiously or politically). I won’t pose in ways I feel are overtly sexual or gratuitously explicit. It’s a pretty standard little list (I realise these things are quite subjective, but that’s largely the point), except for one thing I include: ‘vanity’.

Here is something you might not know about me: despite the fact that my images are often described as ‘pretty’, ‘soft’, ‘romantic’, ‘lovely’, etc, and despite the fact that I recently responded to a flattering comment on my facebook page with the words ‘Don’t forget I only show the pretty ones!’, I am not scared of looking unpolished, ‘imperfect’ or unpretty. This is what I mean by saying that I don’t want to do ‘vanity’. I am interested in emotion and expression – and HONESTY, which means I’m not afraid to explore the areas of humanity which aren’t so pleasing to the eye. (I’m rarely taken up on this, but that’s OK too. 🙂 ) I’m also happy to be completely unphotoshopped in photos (and often am). I’m totally happy with my body, which is a completely different feeling from subscribing to the idea that it is ‘perfect’; it isn’t – my bones are such that I will always be pearshaped (apart from perhaps, as my Mum used to promise me, when I get pregnant and my breasts grow to balance things out…). Which brings me to…


Awareness. Awareness is the thing. I’m aware of my strengths and my weaknesses. I’m aware of angles which make me look hot and angles which make me look definitely not. I have a massive amount of body awareness. I can isolate muscles most people don’t know they have. One of the things recommended to new models who want to ‘learn to pose’ is to practise in front of a mirror. I confess I’ve actually never ever done this, but I usually have a good idea of exactly what a pose is going to look like. I think this is to do with my dance background more than anything, and then also from noticing what works and what doesn’t when I’ve looked at the images after a shoot. It’s always fun to see the images on the back of the camera during a shoot anyway, as you can see how the lighting is working for what you’re doing, what kind of crops/compositions are happening and what’s going on in the background! But what I mean is this: I generally have a good idea of how to work with my strengths. I’m aware that I’m not perfect, but I’m also aware that I can look good, and that I’m lucky to have a healthy body which functions well and does what I ask of it, so I think it would be a bit hideous of me to complain or worry. I think this realisation, along with my modelling, has made me completely comfortable and happy in my own skin, so much so that vanity isn’t even an issue.

I’m also much more aware of what my face looks like than I used to be… This is going to sound bizarre, but for the first 12-18 months of my modelling (I’ve been doing it for just over 2 years now), I kinda thought that a lot of the nice shots were slight flukes; that I didn’t look like that in real life and that I was essentially getting lucky or even ‘getting away’ with things a bit. I thought I must be – it made me giggle. I was just ‘me’ and I was getting people piling on huge compliments…. ‘Beautiful’, ‘stunning’, ‘gorgeous’…. all that stuff. By contrast, I can accept now that the camera doesn’t lie and most likely never did – a nice shot of my face is a nice shot of my face, whether due to flattering lighting or what, and without magic or trickery (except the sort that shows your face the wrong way round by way of left-to-right hocus pocus!), therefore, I might have an alright face.


In some ways, I am probably less vain now than before I started modelling. I wasn’t massively vain then either, but I worried more about what people thought of my appearance, which in my opinion is closer to the true definition of vanity. Today I got on a train with zero make up on (as I only had time to do it on the train, in order to not miss it!). My younger self would have found this perversely exciting, a sort of thrill but mostly terrifying, since people would see my ACTUAL FACE. I now realise that a. I really don’t look different without make up on, it’s just that my features aren’t ‘enhanced’, and b. even if I did look rough, gross, half-dead, etc (although see ‘a’), absolutely no one would care or even notice. It’s silly to think that they would. I’m just another stranger in the street, not out to impress anyone, and that’s fun.

I have always thought that most people are beautiful if you look at them properly. What’s beautiful to me is character and a person’s story, and if you can see that in the way they hold themselves, in little details about their manner and in the movements they make with their unique features and structures – if they have grace, kindness, un-self-conscious openness, an endearing awkwardness, stress, fear, vulnerability, humour; slight hints of emotion, history, the things which make up a life and leave traces on their physicality, then a person holds massive interest for me.


It’s possible to pose so much, for example for 8 full days in a row, that when you get home you find yourself noticing the way your cat is sprawled out on the grass outside and think, ‘Oh, good pose; nice shape; good leg angle.’ At these times, you wonder if you’re more than a little mad, but that’s OK. I know at least two people who pose in their sleep. (Incidentally, I always appreciate people who, like me, sit weirdly without noticing, just because it’s comfortable, with legs stretched or curled in unexpected possibilities. I get particularly creative in the cinema.)


Possibly, an ultimate compliment in the art world is calling someone a ‘goddess’. I see this a lot – I’ve had people using the word when commenting on some of my images, and I’ve used it myself in relation to other images of models I think conjure up something mythological and timeless, womanly and powerful. It’s a great word. However, I sometimes find it a little awkward; it seems so extreme and worshipful, like there is a pedestal for the model put up by mere mortal onlookers. It’s meant as a positive thing, of course, and it’s hugely flattering, but it’s also a little uncomfortable. I don’t know if anyone will agree with me or know what I mean, especially as, like I say, I have been known to use the word myself.

Hhhm. I was thinking yesterday, when I felt guilty after being booked through an agency for a 2-hour shoot but was sent home after 10 mins (as the art director was happy they’d got the shot they wanted), maybe I need to learn to be more of a diva…

11 thoughts on “Notes on Vanity

  1. Pretty much EVERYTHING you've just said are thoughts and feelings I have gone through and talked about with model friends (including you at some point I think) from the make-up/'actual' face stuff to the 'I'm less vain now' thing and not feeling the need to look pretty etc. Have actually got some shoots planned that will be just 'me' – no make-up, no retoucing etc, I feel I need to show people I am not this 'perfect' image, because at the end of the day everyone has flaws, we will all grow old, and we should all still celebrate ourselves regardless. I was also talking about the 'goddess' stuff and people putting me on a pedestal on my facebook page just a few weeks back, how it seems quite odd and awkward and can be quite frustrating at times, especially when you don't want that kind of seperation of being 'more special' somehow. It's interesting that only models seem to understand how that might not always be awesome.


  2. Great minds think alike..? 😉 I think we have such similar attitudes to all this stuff. I do remember you saying when I interviewed for the Guardian article that you feel you are less vain now than before you started modelling. I absolutely know what you mean! And that's cool that you know what I mean about the 'goddess' thing. I think how I react to the word might depend slightly on my mood – if I'm feeling flamboyant and confident I think it's wonderful, but if I'm taking a step back and thinking things through, that's when it seems a little odd. Your upcoming 'real me' shoots sound good! Did you see the ones of me by Stefano Brunesci about a year ago – I thought they were cool but it's surprising how many people dismissed them as being unconventional. Anyway, enjoy Holland!x


  3. The compliments you (and Holly) get in 90% of your work is based based on your talent and skills, as well as the dedicaton you have towards your craft.
    I do believe the “Goddess” status that is thrust upon you many times is a result of the magical synergy which results from your looks (genetic and self care), self awareness, hard work and the talent of your photographers. Also, the over-the-top compliments you receive may be fans trying to express how much they admire your work. I, myself, have gone crazy with compliments over people's work, but much of it comes from my excitement when finding something truly special. At that moment I want everyone I know to see it.
    So, please don't worry about too much praise. Be happy you aren't on the other side of the spectrum.


  4. UP: Thank you, and I hope I didn't sound like I was complaining about being complimented! I didn't mean it like that at all, and always appreciate kind words from people who enjoy my images. Certain compliments genuinely make my day sometimes! I understand the need to express your joy at finding something that inspires you – I am the same with others.


  5. There's a quote on my profile about “photography teaching people to see without a camera”. It sounded to me like you have made the leap from being strictly a model into an artist.

    Putting aside ego & vanity & focusing on & being aware of artistic expression. Not just everyone has that. Inspiration, insight & not putting labels or value/judging.

    IMHO art is about creating emotion. From the inside looking out art is about “accidents” as well as the meticulously planned. For me, art is about seeing beauty & having awareness in the beauty of what I am seeing.

    A great piece of art is an incredible thing. It stirs the thoughts & emotions. It's fantasy brought to life. It's provoking imagination, feeling & stirring all the senses.

    Learning to appreciate art is a wonderful journey. The more I see the more accepting I become. I see shadow light & color in ways I never would have thought possible before.

    For me the line is not at erotica but violence & cruelty/horror. Explicit nudity is art as long as I can see artistic expression. I can see images that are completely exposing every part of the body & are not for arts sake. They would never be viewed as art. I can also see completely exposing images that are beautiful works of art.

    Every aspect of art & expression is subjective. I love working with artists who are motivated to create & have the very qualities you describe. That “creative juices flowing” is my jam & how I transcend everyday life.


  6. i do find your writing very interesting to read. This is a great insight in to you and how you work and it explains why you are so good at what you do. Hoping to do another shoot soon and will be in touch


  7. 'Runamockroger': Thank you for your considered thoughts on the subject! I found myself agreeing with almost everything you wrote.

    Gordon: Very pleased to hear you'll be in touch again soon! Thank you for reading.


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