Last week, I was working in Munich for a couple of days and as much fun as jet-setting might sound, it isn’t always the case.
It was boiling hot outside, I was shooting winter-jackets, the call-time was 6 am and to top that off, the entire team was new and all incredibly insecure and nervous about doing a good job and hooking this client.
The atmosphere was tense and pressed. I’m not new to modeling, so I automatically go into a bit of an energy-protection mode, attempting to make people laugh here and there and just do a good job. So far, nothing I couldn’t handle.
But this wasn’t all. The photographer had taken her husband to set to serve as one of the two assistants. One guy was shading me and he was bouncing the sunlight in my face. (Yes, try and keep your eyes open for a pretty picture hah)
He was a handsome man, mid-forties and highly charismatic. We clicked – him being from South Africa and me who’d been going there for over twelve years.
‘Pfewww’, I thought to myself. ‘This might not be too bad after all.’
It started with constant comments such as; ‘such a lovely girl’, ‘yes, we want that beautiful smile of yours’, ‘hmm amazing’, ‘you’re so good Sarah.’ I wasn’t offended by his comments; I just found them very odd and unnecessary. I don’t need someone encourage me with every shot. Besides that, the photographer was giving me directions like; ‘you’re on holiday and you see your boyfriend!’ I found it all absolutely hilarious, but I’m not fifteen any more (and less funny with twelve hours shooting to come) so I told the photographer there were too many voices on set and that I’d like to communicate to Her when shooting, but nothing changed.
The more hours passed, the more exhausted and warm I became, the more inappropriate his comments got. After lunch, he started saying things like; ‘oh, this is a great spot to stand. I can see your ass perfectly from here’, ‘now it’s time for a leg picture with these shorts. You gotta show me your legs. Ah yes, you showed me your legs perfectly.’ And to his wife; ‘can I flirt with her? I can, can’t I?’ I could go on. His wife never called him out on anything. But the most disappointing thing; neither did I.
He’d say things when he was standing close to me, taking up the space constantly. At first, I’d say something smart back but the more tired I got, the quieter I became. I just started avoiding his gaze, ignored him or looked angrily.
It was only when I called my boyfriend and told him what was going on, that I truly realized what a creep he was being. I felt so stuck between trying to keep a good atmosphere on set and my uncomfortable feelings that I didn’t have clear boundaries.
When I got to my hotel, I cried. I know, it’s good to have a cry! But it’s a rare thing for me. Something had evidently crossed my line. I felt disappointed in myself, Yes, disappointed. I see myself as a strong woman, yet I hadn’t been.
Why didn’t I tell him his comments were out of line and that it was making me feel uncomfortable? Why didn’t I have a clear boundary when he went from being flirty to being objectifying?
I can have some compassion for myself, seeing that it was a very tough day and that’s it hard to have clear boundaries when you’re not in your full strength and in a professional situation. Yet it doesn’t really change things.
Is there still something in me that feels the woman that is being perceived as ‘too loud’, ‘too outspoken’?
Is there a part of me who feels ‘responsible’ when the other crosses the line from friendliness to objectifying in a female-male connection? Do I still have some place where I choose ‘harmony’ over ‘authenticity’?
Writing this down still makes me mad. It makes me mad because I felt stuck in this situation, for the entire day, between being professional on this set, being ‘just the model’ and speaking up.
My heart is too fiery to not speak up.
My gut too wise to quiet my truth.
Next time, I will speak up.
Next time, I won’t have it.
Because these men and these situations go from bad to worse.
These lines are fine.
Fine lines to cross.
And it’s up to us women, to draw the lines.
To demand being respected.
Too not shrink away.
To know our value.
To know our worth.
To be spoken to in the way we deserve.
To be touched in the way we want.
If you ever find yourself in a situation like that and that horrible feeling starts creeping up on you, that feeling of not being in control, I pray that you do. I pray that you take control. Because you never have to make yourself smaller for someone else’s dirty comfort.
Yesterday, I was flying back home from Nice. When the guy who checks your hand-luggage asked me; ‘wow, are all the girls in Holland this beautiful?’ After a second of feeling that fire boiling up, I decided I could let this one slide. Not more, but alright. ‘Yes’. I said. ‘They all are’.