My Turn as a Chocolate Cheesecake

cover of black pin up book with brown skinned curvy woman with fuchsia bathing suit on and matching flower in her hair
Buy this Pin-Up Book

A month ago I took part in my first pin-up photo shoot.

I was deathly tired after the hours of back-arching poses and costume changes, and had a case of severe seasonal allergies to boot.

I consider it one of the most life-giving experiences I’ve had this year.

Life-giving kinda sounds like a word that one should use in secondary school classrooms, but still.

Sepia toned picture of dark skinned woman in sparkly bustier laying on feathers and looking away from camera in open way
I do a good look-away.                        Shameless Photography

I’ve mentioned before how much I wanted to be a model when I was just a kid.  I think a lot of it came from my obsession with The Great Muppet Caper, with Miss Piggy and Darla, Marla, Carla flouncing around flowy pastel creations.

One of my uncles who was constantly playing around with artistic pursuits to include photography told me I would one day be “just like Naomi Campbell”.

I was tall and roller-skate skinny (in the words of Holden Caulfield). I dreamed of entering worlds of glamour and electric intrigue, beguiling the masses with my one-dimpled smile from the covers of YM (I loved that magazine) and Seventeen.

I pored over magazines. Watched The Model Story on E! Went two “modeling scout” sessions which ended up being barely veiled scams to suck money out of lower middle class families who wanted their kids on the Disney Channel.

And despite these unfortunate setbacks, I still awaited the moment I’d be discovered by a representative of Elle or Ford in a shopping mall.

Alas, puberty.

afro'd dark skin women in gold dress laying down with legs in air in relaxed pin up pose, eyes closed and on scattered records
That 70s Pin Up       Shameless Photography

From the way family friends commented on my weight gain after age twelve, you would think I should’ve had a star role in The Klumps. My hips grew, my string bean legs filled out. My stomach rounded into its stubborn softness.

Shortly after, my uncle looked at me and shrugged his shoulders, “You can’t be a model anymore, but perhaps there’s hope for your sister.”

At my final scout event, a sour faced black dude with shoulder length chocolate colored locs said that I needed to work on trimming my physique and not slurring my words (it was an acting audition as well).

I was fourteen years old, about the same height I am now and a good sixty pounds less than what I am now.

His words rang through my head for years on end. Trim down. Trim down. Speak clearer. Speak less.

My model dreams were hard to kill off. Sometimes strangers conflate any tall woman with an ability to model and so, I constantly was told that I should model. I watched the ascent of plus size models and often perused magazines like Plus Model Magazine and volup2.

Looking through these magazines, I decided I again had the wrong look. Not hour glass enough and too tall. Lacking of racially ambiguous facial features and hair.

I had a story of “can’t” and I was sticking to it.

In my twenties, I would sometimes heed my stubborn modeling desire and have plain black and white pictures taken by a friend or venture to the Korean photo place around the corner.

Dark skinned black woman in afro wig in traditional wonder woman costume standing with hands on hips
You know I had to do it.
Shameless Photography

I’d stare at the pictures afterwards hating on every blemish, wishing for the long, limbed Twiggy physique, the glamazon stature of the 1990s, for video-girl coke-bottle curves. Anything but this ample thighed, athletic woman looking back at me. I located fault everywhere, deemed myself to be un-photogenic and definitely not model worthy.

Those wallet sized copies and 8x10s would quickly become buried under office supplies or stuffed into boxes labelled MISC.

One beautiful thing about the pin-up modeling/dress-up world is the apparent celebration of an assortment of bodies. I’m not saying there aren’t issues of beauty ideals in this vein of modeling, but the standards of being a modern day pin up way more open than straight-sized and most plus-size modeling avenues.

There are hour-glass pin-ups. Alternative, tattooed pin-ups. Lanky pin-ups and the short and stout.

I also love that this community has fun and is mostly female. Style need not be pretentious.

I had long admired the work of Shameless Photography a woman-run pin-up photography business based in the Bay Area and NYC. I was even a finalist for a letter-writing contest they held two years ago. They shoot a diversity of models and I had no fear that they wouldn’t know what to do with my hair or fuck up my foundation.

I was drawn to these images and sought to see myself pictured in this way. The idea of luxuriating in beauty, unashamed pulled and pulled. Women are taught so much centered in shame around their bodies. I am no exception. Obvs.

The Shameless team were so kind and professional, never short-changing on changing around a look or getting the pose just right.

I soon understood a major bonus of modeling: having people admire and encourage you in real time. Who doesn’t want to hear “Beautiful!” or “God, what a great shot!” after each flash of a camera?  After the shoot was finished, we exchanged tired grins of battle comrades.

They were even nice enough to say I should model. Like, IRL.

Now, the thing about life-giving and life changing experiences is that the fear and old stories aren’t just like, “Well, damn, I guess we better move on out.”

During the shoot, my inner voice criticized my lax diet of the last couple of weeks and often castigated myself when I’d flop out of a pose. God, you suck. My mind wanted to posit their model encouragement as Things-They-Tell-Every-Shameless-Pin-Up and just “being nice”. I worried about if the pictures would turn out to be good or not.

dark skinned woman assuming muscle baring rosie the riveter stance in wonder woman costume, side profile. red background. wearing large afro wig and wonder woman costume
Rosie the Wonder Woman
Shameless Photography

The difference between teenage wanna-be model Hannah and Hannah of 2016  is not invulnerability. I wish I could give some declaration of being totally over it, but changing stories often sometimes takes time.

The difference lies in that tiny gap between thinking these damaging thoughts and believing they are true. The difference is recognizing my fault finding and perfectionistic eye as nothing but impediments to being fully myself. And though the negative thoughts are pervasive, they were not the majority. I let myself have fun and make the “too!” face over and over.

dark skinned black woman in cat eye glasses in navy blue white polka dotted dress. holding glasses with one hand and hand on hip. wearing pearl bracelet.
Shameless TOO! Face

Today, I don’t have dreams of being a Supermodel or signing with whatever major modeling agency is out there now. I don’t need to make a living as an IG model or walk the catwalk for Rubin Singer.

I commit to heeding the call of my creative life, no matter how superfluous and superficial or weird these calls may be.

Modeling is part of taking my creative desires seriously and having fun enjoying my body, a body I slowly learned to critique and posit as unfeminine. It’s about letting go of that stale-ass story where I entrusted my self-regard to the male gaze and “popular” opinion.

And giving really good face.

Voguing onward,

Hannah