by: Courtney Crave
In my years as a model and performer I have learned many important lessons regarding personal safety on the job, some from making these mistakes myself and some from listening to veterans in the business. No matter how much fun we have as models or performers or other persons involved in this business (makeup artists, stylists, assistants, etc.), it is still that, a job. Whether you’re being paid in cash, photos, product, experience, or even the frequently scoffed at “exposure”, you are still working.
As a pinup/fetish/glamour model and burlesque performer I have knowingly and willingly placed myself in a sexually oriented business where my body is a commodity and any scenario in which your body is a commodity can result in said commodity being treated as a “thing” and not as a “human”. These scenarios could be as a model at a photo shoot, fashion show, or sitting for artists, as a performer at a gig, working an expo or trade show, etc. You have to be your own advocate and look out for your best interests and safety.
Checking References. Always check references on the individual(s) booking you. ALWAYS. Just because someone has worked with people you know it does not mean that they had a positive experience. I recommend checking at least three references before working with someone. You can politely ask the person booking you to provide references or you can go to their website or portfolio and seek out references. Let the individuals you are contacting know that you may be potentially working with this individual and would they mind providing you with a reference on their experience. Commonly asked questions include: “Did you enjoy your experience?”, “Did you feel comfortable/safe working with this person?”, “Was everything handled as agreed?” (paid on time, photos received, booker didn’t flake, etc.), and “Would you work with this person again?”.
Escorts. Don’t work with anyone who refuses to allow an escort. It doesn’t matter what the reasons are, if someone booking you will not allow anyone else to be present then it’s not a job you need. Many people, especially photographers, will ask for boyfriends/girlfriends to not be present as they can be a distraction, become protective, or try to insert themselves into the project. Know whether the person booking you is saying “no boyfriend/girlfriend” or “no escort” as there is a vast difference. One is asking to not have anyone present who may dilute or derail the creative process and another is saying no one is allowed to be present at all. After checking references, if you do choose to go to a job alone, please let someone know where you are, whom you are working with, and what time you should be done so someone can be looking out for you.
Trust Your Senses. Don’t work with anyone who gives you bad vibes, has acted in a way that makes you uncomfortable, or gives you any other spidey sense tingly feelings that aren’t on the up and up. Canceling or walking out of a shoot over safety concerns or because your comfort level was violated does not make you a flake, it makes you safe. Additionally, avoid drinking or using drugs or becoming overly familiar with the people on the job. Am I blaming drugs or alcohol on things possibly turning sour? No, but introducing them to the scenario can blur some lines and intentions and cloud our judgment.
Know Your Boundaries. Probably most importantly, know your limits in advance. Think long and hard about what you are willing and not willing to do at a job. For example, if you are a pinup model who does not shoot nudes and a photographer is booking you but says you are required to shoot nude with them… don’t shoot with them. If you’re a burlesque performer and a producer is requiring you to strip down to a thong and pasties when you clearly state that you strip to bra and panties only… don’t perform at their event. If you’re a makeup artist and the person booking you is specifying that you have to paint someone’s penis like a flower and that is outside of your comfort level… don’t take the job. Knowing your limits in advance will help you in the moment when you’re confronted with a new situation. It’s always okay to say no when things are sprung on you during a job that you aren’t comfortable with and being unsure or wavering can result in breaching your own boundaries or submitting to outside pressure.
Saying No Gracefully. There may be times we have to say no to a job for reasons listed above. This can happen during the booking process or while actually on the job. Stay professional and to the point, there’s no reason to be confrontational or overly verbose. A simple “Thank you for your interest but I’m unavailable for this project” is sufficient. Let’s say you arrive at the gig and your boundaries and being challenged, you could say “I’m not comfortable with ___________.” Any respectable professional should not push the issue further. If you find yourself on the job and need to leave for safety reasons or other concerns do so as quickly as possible with as little fuss as possible. You can verbally state that you are leaving as the project is outside of the scope of your boundaries as discussed. If you are being attacked, drugged, or coerced on the job and are able to, leave immediately and call the police. Be prepared to leave your belongings and pay behind. Your safety is more valuable than any possessions you might have with you.
Providing References. Remember how my first point was to always check references? Well you can return the favor and help keep lines of communication open and share information within the community by also providing references. Some choose to only provide references when asked while others may have a “do not work with” list published on their websites with their reasoning. How you choose to handle this is totally up to you. Additionally, in this day and age with everyone being so interconnected via social media groups, you can always share information in larger forums that you feel is pertinent to the safety of others in your field. When providing references for others, stick to facts: Did you receive your compensation as agreed? Did you feel safe? Would you work with the person again? Uncomfortable or downright scary experiences don’t need to become a witch-hunt or spiral into a trash talk session but as a community we all need to look out for our best interests and each other’s. If you genuinely feel unsafe or are made to feel uncomfortable taken advantage of, or violated please speak up. Don’t feel that because someone is embedded in a certain community or has ties to someone you care about that you can’t share legitimate concerns. Chances are, you aren’t the only one.
About the Author: Courtney Crave is an internationally published model and burlesque performer with over 10 years of experience. She has been featured on the covers numerous magazines including Bachelor Pad, Retro Lovely, and Pin Curl.
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