New Mexico Nude, 1998, #31

Recently, in a comment on a blog post made by my friend Dave Levingston, someone questioned why models told to hold their stomachs in for photos, rather than letting them hang out naturally. If photographs of the nude are created to celebrate the beauty of the natural human form, she reasoned, then why photograph that form in an unnatural state and, as some do, Photoshop them so much that they look unreal? (You can read what she wrote in the comments section here.)

Dave responded to the comments, which you can read (sequentially) here, here and here. Brooke Lynne, one of the models depicted in Dave’s photos, wrote a response (here) on her blog, too.
Well, before either of them wrote anything, I responded to Dave's request for other readers to respond. This is what I wrote:

"First, let me say that not all photographers Photoshopbrush their models. I use something called film, and the only digits I use to manipulate the looks of my prints are my fingers.

"Now, as I am a photographer and not a model, I cannot answer from a model’s point of view why she would do the ‘stomach in, chest out’ bit for photos. I can only say why I try to suck in my gut when I’m in a photo: because I think I’ll look better that way, because in our society, thinner is perceived as looking better.

"Therefore, I can only imagine that models may think the same thing, but also that such a pose would result in a more classical looking body line (which, I suppose, is another way of saying the same thing).

"The truth is, though, that not all models do this. I’ve recently been scanning a lot of negatives of the nude figure work I did in New Mexico. One of those photos – an image that Dave L had told me he likes and wanted to see a print of – depicts the torso of a thin young woman in profile. Rather than being flat as a board, her abdomen has a nice outward bend to it. Obviously she did not try to suck it in, which in this particular image is a good thing. Perhaps in other images it may not be so. "

I happened to call Dave L on the phone a few days ago to talk about a few things, including this discussion. After I finished speaking with him, I returned to scanning negatives to get my new website up and running.

As coincidence would have it, the very next negative that I scanned was the one that I wrote about in my comment! It’s the one in my post here. As you can see, this particular model was not holding her stomach in, and as I wrote, I think the photo looks much better as it is than if her stomach were as flat as a board.

By the way, being thin and having a good tan may be a sign of beauty and well being now, but it wasn’t always that way. In ancient Egypt, for instance, upper class women had pale skin, because having a tan meant that you had to work outside in the fields – not the work of the higher class. Similarly, being thin was a sign of not having an excess of food to eat. Having a gut meant that you were wealthy enough to have enough food to get fat on.

I guess that was in the days before junk food and supersizing.

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