Modeling, vanity and self-awareness

Recently, a friend I hadn’t seen in about five years asked me whether, doing what I do, I ever feel caught up in the concept of physical appearance. I replied that, actually, I think I’m far less vain these days than I ever might have been and somehow manage to ignore the media obsession with “perfection” and “irreality” almost completely. So, here are some scattered thoughts on the subject…

Model: Ella Rose; Photographer: Max Operandi


When it comes to modeling, I have a mental list of things I’m not interested in doing. 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 realize these things are quite subjective, but that’s largely the point), except for one thing I include: “vanity.”

Despite the fact that my images are often described as “pretty,” “soft,” or “romantic,” and despite the fact that I recently responded to a flattering comment 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. This 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.) I’m also happy to be completely unPhotoshopped in photos (and often am). I’m totally happy with my body, which is completely different from subscribing to the idea that it is “perfect”–it isn’t–for example, my bones are such that I will always be pear-shaped. Which brings me to…


Self-awareness is the thing. I’m aware of my strengths and my weaknesses. I’m aware of angles which make me look good and angles which definitely don’t. 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 practice 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, 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 realization, along with my modeling, has made me completely comfortable and happy in my own skin, so much so that vanity isn’t even an issue.

Model: Ella Rose; Photographer: Iain Thomson

As well as my body, I also have a lot more self knowledge about my face, and confidence about which angles work best for it. Seeing your face on camera repeatedly means that such awareness is unavoidable (even if I did only realize the other day that I can raise one eyebrow); I can also recognize a few of my fellow model friends only by a tiny part of one of their features. There is a detachment that comes alongside such intimate knowledge, which is essential for modeling. At the beginning, when shown a picture of myself during a shoot, I would comment on the angles or proportions of “my legs,” or “my chin,” whereas now I am equally likely to say “the legs,” or “the chin,” which sometimes makes photographers smile. (Just the other day I was looking at a shot of myself in a two-pose double exposure and, pointing at one of ‘the figures’ said “I like that she is actually touching the other person,” which is extra weird, thinking about it.) Anyway, before I talk myself into an existential crisis, here’s the crux of it: while knowing their body and face so well, good models must simultaneously become more objective about what image is being presented via the camera; I can now see myself as a sequence of shapes putting forward an overall mood or expression. And such knowledge is inevitable, when pictures of yourself are thrust at you so often; after all, the camera, consistent to the end, doesn’t lie.

Model: Ella Rose; Photographer: Jewelled World

It’s possible to pose so much, for example for eight 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.)

In some ways, I am probably less vain now than before I started modeling. 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. I remember the first time I got on a train for a shoot with zero make up on (as I only had time to do it on the train). 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 realize 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.

Model: Ella Rose; Photographer: Rebecca Parker

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. 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-selfconscious openness, an endearing awkwardness, stress, fear, vulnerability, humor, 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. There will always be “bad” photos of me existing out there in the unforgiving world of the internet, and sometimes these can simply be learned from, but maybe the truly “Zen” model would not fear them so much as understand that, just occasionally, “imperfection,” when coupled with self-confidence, can make a shot.

Ella Rose

Ella Rose is a professional (traveling) model. She is primarily an art model but experienced in dance/movement, nude, fashion, lingerie, sports/fitness, commercial/lifestyle, wedding, beauty, portraits and artistic/classy glamour modeling. Ella is also an accomplished writer with a BA (Hons) degree in Philosophy and English Studies. Her website is

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41 Responses to “Modeling, vanity and self-awareness”

  1. June 18, 2014 at 2:23 pm, Plainspeaking said:

    More than a teeny bit self-indulgent methinks!
    (Though I’ve no doubt it will be lapped up by others…)


  2. March 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm, Sandra Oliver said:

    Excellent article, and very empowering! I am a fairly new model (1+ yrs) and I am experiencing this journey. Thank you for putting it into words!


  3. March 17, 2013 at 2:56 am, Samantha Grace said:

    I love this article. I consider Ella a distance friend. We do not see each other often but I really have a lot of respect for her. She has an awareness of the world most of us including other models do not have. I think Ella’s awareness is really her true talent and why this article goes into detail what models often have a hard time explaining vanity. We often are so aware of ourselves that we tend to have a completely different vanity then the general public. Most people would think this vanity would be our physical beauty such as a toned body, long legs, lush hair and beautiful make up. Ella really put into words what I often have a hard time explaining. Which is oddly is very Ella. 🙂 Our vanity is more or less being extremely aware of our bodies, to the point where we often pose when we do not mean too. It ‘s an awareness that becomes a second nature.

    It’s funny before reading this article, I wrote a blog on my website about how I was much more insecure before I was a model. I thought I was unattractive. However, modeling that first year was really a charm school. But it was really stripping the veneer of how thought society wanted me to look. Once that was removed, I became confident like Ella. I learned I looked just as beautiful without make up. I learned how to show my beauty without a stitch of make up. It’s funny that modeling really does teach a person how to make that inner beauty external. It’s kind of an amazing zen coming of age process. Sorry to get so long winded. I just love this article and it now has me thinking. Congrads on the wonderl article EllA.


  4. February 18, 2013 at 7:31 am, Lorena Fernandez said:

    I could not agree more!

    Great article…I think the points you make are what differenciate natural ‘born’ models (if that’s such a thing!) from those who arent…

    Also I agree with David’s point below, photographers are the ones who tend to have ‘vanity’ more in mind that us – in my case, I realised sometimes they go beyond what it’s needed; I personally tend to prefer the less photoshopped (or not photoshopped at all) pictures, but that’s because years of experience have showed me that this freckle here and that mole there is what makes me who I am, ‘removing’ them turns me into ‘just another blonde model’

    All the best!
    Lorena xx


  5. February 14, 2013 at 3:22 pm, Sundal said:

    beautiful article, i’ve been struggling with this issue after a (far too long!) career and have come to some of the same conclusions as you, albeit not quite as eloquently as you’ve presented them!


  6. February 14, 2013 at 11:30 am, Grae Marino said:

    Good read.


  7. February 13, 2013 at 9:41 pm, Emily said:

    What a great article! 😀


  8. February 13, 2013 at 6:13 pm, Ariel Hawash said:

    This really touched me.


  9. February 13, 2013 at 4:17 pm, Michael Gentile said:


    Really great stuff!! Especially agree with your comment
    about “most people are beautiful if you look at them properly.” Taking
    the time to look. . . Example is when painting a portrait I often start
    out thinking the model looks normal. What is normal?? Then after 2-8
    hours of looking I always see a unique and beautiful person, every time.
    Other artist that I’ve discussed this with agree 100%. Usually the
    person becomes so beautiful that you can’t even do them justice. We
    artist keep insisting and trying, always feeling honored by our models.

    Thanks for enjoying what you do and know it is appreciated.


  10. February 13, 2013 at 10:14 am, Em said:

    This is beautifully written, i agree with every word


  11. February 13, 2013 at 4:41 am, Denis. said:

    Great article! Really interesting and well written. Profound too! Thanks.


  12. February 13, 2013 at 12:23 am, bunny carley said:

    thi s is beautiful and so insightful!!!!! thank you for such a real, rare glimpse into a confident models’ life and inner thoughts. i can relate so much; early on in life i realized that there are so many beautiful women and the best way to feel good about oneself is to celebrate others’ beauty! as a model and a makeup artist, it is very Zen to note that most people have flaws, we are all flawed in some way, and that is part of our beauty. we are all part of the same wonderful world!


  13. February 12, 2013 at 9:17 pm, Cyber Zeds said:

    Each time I shoot with a model I look at the way they move and hold themselves. If I’m fortunate I am able to observe a look or movement that makes them distinctly unique. The challenge is then to trip the shutter when those movements and looks appear.

    For me the challenge is to capture an image that tells something about the person. To get an image that escapes the flat single dimension of the printed page and comes to life for each viewer.


  14. February 12, 2013 at 7:20 pm, Brandeezmo said:

    I think you have just written my soul! So well written that I felt like I was saying what I was reading! Well done now please leave my brain haha! Thank you!


  15. February 12, 2013 at 4:16 pm, Justin said:

    Great read! I am going to share with friends for sure, theres more to art than trying to achieve “perfection”


  16. February 12, 2013 at 3:18 pm, Ella Rose said:

    Hi everyone,

    I just wanted to say thank you all so much for these comments.

    I’ve also had a ton of messages from both photographers and models and the reaction has really amazed me. It seems like people have related to my thoughts in a way I really never predicted. It’s been really fascinating to hear of some personal stories arriving in my inbox as well as knowing that this has been inspiring or interesting to such a mix of people, from beginners and hobbyists to experienced professionals. Thanks again.


  17. February 12, 2013 at 2:40 pm, david haldane said:

    Great article! Thanks for sharing from the model’s point of view.


  18. February 12, 2013 at 2:36 pm, Marshall Bishop said:

    I can appreciate being comfortable with yourself. Great article.


  19. February 12, 2013 at 1:41 pm, Jake Tremblay said:

    I am amazed at how you took the words that have been in my head and put them down so beautifully. I’m also glad that there is someone else out there who strives to be a professional model, and a real person. It’s a difficult balance sometimes, but totally possible! Thanks for the encouraging article.


  20. February 12, 2013 at 12:08 pm, Esté said:

    Really good article. Strongly agreed with everything you say. 🙂 xx


  21. February 12, 2013 at 12:02 pm, Elizabeth Steckler said:

    Fantastic article. Honest, forthright, explorative, and well-written. Ditto to much of what you expressed.


  22. February 12, 2013 at 10:57 am, Marguerite said:

    Thank you for putting into words what I have been trying to form since I started modeling…thank you


  23. February 12, 2013 at 10:47 am, Robert Farnham said:

    For those of us lucky enough to have worked with Ella, the eloquence of this article comes as no surprise. She’s an absolute pleasure to photograph. A true class act.


  24. February 11, 2013 at 10:08 am, VegasJK said:

    Thank you for your well-written article, Ella Rose. Intelligent food for thought. I’m a photographer, but it was great to read thoughts from a model’s perspective.


  25. February 11, 2013 at 4:10 am, MichaelAbelaPhotography said:

    Interesting in depth observations.


  26. February 11, 2013 at 2:44 am, Keighley Crosthwaite said:

    This was the first thing I read after waking up this morning and it will stay with me all day. Thankyou x


  27. February 10, 2013 at 5:55 pm, Tilly McReese said:

    BEAUtifully written!!! I read it from start to finish without boring and was actually so enthused that I found myself subconsciously nodding my head in agreement at parts and laughing out loud (especially about the cat). Models (including myself) are some of the goofiest people I’ve ever met. It’s impossible to take yourself too seriously all the time when you see at least a dozen terrible pictures of yourself per shoot. Far from developing a complex, you actually become hilariously self-depricating. You have a wonderful turn of phrase. Please keep writing!


  28. February 10, 2013 at 1:42 pm, Shiva Sharifi said:

    Excellent article on this topic my dear !!!! Thank you for pointing out all the positive views and representing them so well 😉


  29. February 10, 2013 at 11:23 am, $18263862 said:

    Great article; very clever and good written. Thank you. Maria


  30. February 10, 2013 at 1:06 am, hairotika said:

    This is lovely in all the true sense of that word. You are gifted and talented in your corporal presence, and lucid, open and kind with your humanity…I want to hang out with you. Thanks!


  31. February 09, 2013 at 6:35 pm, LeboGraphics said:

    Very interesting topic and way of handling it. Before reading it, I would have thought that self-awareness actually would add to vanity, but your point is being aware of all of one’s beautiful and not-so-traditionally beautiful aspects is a counter to vanity.

    I would agree. It’s always seemed to me that vanity stems from a very insecure place, and that one someone is secure in themselves, appreciating their good aspects and being aware of and accepting their bad points (while still perhaps working to change them) grounds a person, as it seems to have done for you.

    Well done.


  32. February 08, 2013 at 5:31 pm, David said:

    Ah, I love the article… Thank you for your thoughts. As a photographer I would say we are even more susceptible to accusations of vanity since we are the ones judging and manipulating images of women so that they become the “ideal” whatever the one creating the image imagines that “ideal” to be so I appreciate the discussion.

    I agree with you that there is incredible benefits to being self-aware to the point where you know what angles and poses are best and are also gracious enough to know that holistic beauty requires more than the physical. As a photographer I appreciate the difference between a physically attractive woman and the gracious, talented, confident woman who knows how to skillfully pose herself to help me make art. Also as a husband, I am so grateful that I have a gorgeous wife who takes time to be physically attractive and doesn’t just ask me to lover her for her character despite whatever physical shape she let’s herself go into. This self-awareness is important.

    I think the thing we have to look out for is not so much weather we are insecure or not, but that we don’t let that “shoot” mentality permeate our lives. Perhaps that is what people really mean when they accuse models of vanity. It’s not so much women who think they are all that and a bag of chips, but women who are constantly wondering about how they look or are being perceived or how they could look better – all day, every day.

    As a photographer I see models who treat assistants and MUA’s like actual people with their own insecurities and concerns. Some have even been interested in me as a person and ask about my family. I had a model ask me about my daughters and I was so surprised – it’s such a simple thing but it felt like such a big deal. The reason is because from the moment I meet a model to the second she drives away, everyone; MUA’s, lighting guys, stylists, and anyone else around – everyone is thinking about the model. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s our business. The better I get at thinking about the model the better photographer I will become. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the most beautiful models are the ones who when the camera turns off they see the people in the room and realize they are in a room full of other people and they care about them.

    Unfortunately, we all know people (not just models) who in a lot of ways go through life thinking through daily activities like models think through a shoot – constantly concerned about themselves in some way. Model’s have a great excuse, ITS THEIR JOB, but at some point the camera is off and we have to remember that we are people going through great and terrible things. If we let ourselves become someone who carries the “shoot mentality” all day every day – I’d have to say we are vain in a terrible way.


  33. February 08, 2013 at 2:33 am, Tiffanie Anderson said:

    Great article on being a model!! I don’t think that perspective is ever thought about or discussed– most assume a model WOULD be self-obsessed or vain. I enjoy modeling mostly as a result of my advertising background; because I like being apart of something, the finished product, whatever it is. The emotion captured, the creativity.. all together to build mutually beneficial photos for everyone’s portfolio, to be able to get MORE of the opportunities to do what I love to do 🙂 and sounds like you love to do as well. Cheers!


  34. February 07, 2013 at 10:34 pm, Lalanii R. Grant said:

    This is well written and comes from a very vulnerable and beautiful place. Thanks, Ella Rose for sharing. I hope one day I’m comfortable with my imperfections, but for now, I’ll keep striving for my own personal best.


  35. February 07, 2013 at 9:04 pm, Justin Bonaparte said:

    One of the best articles ever on MM, thank you!


  36. February 07, 2013 at 5:41 pm, NYMPH said:

    What a fantastic article! I very rarely so whole heartedly agree with another’s perspective on these things. I hardly ever wear make up outside of shoots. I love it when the photographer and I can collaborate to create a beautiful picture, but rarely do I feel that I am ‘hot, beautiful, sexy, whatever’. I’m just a girl who has learned how to take killer pictures. I could go on, but you already said it so beautifully!


  37. February 07, 2013 at 5:56 am, Ben ernst said:

    Great article, well said!


  38. February 06, 2013 at 4:52 pm, Steven Loxam said:

    Amazing… Thank you!


  39. February 06, 2013 at 3:09 pm, Sabrina said:

    Best article about modeling on this website! True and genuine. This wasn’t written to get attention and publicity like most models articles on this site. She believes in the art of modeling not the vanity of it. She is an artist!


  40. February 06, 2013 at 2:50 pm, sthorne said:

    Excellent, informative writing. Great model.


  41. February 06, 2013 at 1:41 pm, Tony Yang said:

    I agree with everything you’ve said. It’s all about the story. Thank you for the article, I will be sure to share this with my models so I don’t have to repeat myself over and over the same things you talk about!


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