Trigger Warning: How To Recognize Sexual Manipulators and What To Do About It.

Confession: I don’t know all the things to say, but I know it needs to be said.

Trigger Warning.
I’m talking about navigating through sexual manipulators that target younger people.
I’m talking about how to know the difference between your boundaries and what a manipulator might do to make you feel like you’re a “baby”, “stuck-up”, “uncool” to pressure you.
And I’m talking to all of you – because it happens to women and men.
It happens to us all.

I’m writing this today because I CANNOT stop thinking about the article Gala Darling wrote yesterday in her blog about a person who she knew as a teenager who was just sentenced to 6 years in prison for trafficking child pornography. It was a brave and honest piece in which she talked about all the complex emotions surrounding these situations.
These things are so fucking hard to talk about.
But we need to.
Because if we put this out there, maybe someone will read it and identify this behavior and know how to get away from it and alert others, maybe they won’t second guess themselves, maybe they will know how to reach out and talk to others.

Gala’s must-read full article is here.

I have my own story.
Sadly, you probably do, too.

And in case you missed it before, here is my story about an older photographer that tried to manipulate me when I was 21. It was something that I wanted to sweep under the rug, something embarrassing, something that I just wanted to blow off and forget…but if my story can help prevent someone in the future from falling into manipulator’s traps, then I will share it as many times as I need to.
Picture 36
I had planned on writing about something else today,
but when I saw the new allegations against photographer, Terry Richardson, from yet another model,
I knew exactly what I needed to talk about.

I’ve never told this story before because I was embarrassed.
I was lucky and got out of a bad situation,
and I thought there was no story to tell.
Nothing to be learned.
But when I read this model’s account with Richardson, I saw that the same or similar coercion techniques were being used as in my own personal story dealing with a “professional” photographer at a young age.
I found myself getting really, really angry as I read it.

I have women and men tell me that they are inspired to be models, burlesque performers, circus performers and actors often…
I always encourage them, as I feel like performing for a living has changed my life.
However, occasionally, there are predators in this business and it is good to be ready for them, to see through their manipulative tactics and get out of there, report them, tell someone.

This is why I am finally going to tell this story today.

If it can help a single person, it will have done its job.

When I was 21, I was approached by a scout from a reputable New York Modeling Agency and I was asked to come in and meet with an agent. I went in and the agent said they’d really like to represent me, but because I didn’t have professional pictures, they were going to send me to one of their “top photographers” for a test shoot that the modeling agency would pay for.

I was so excited about this.
I was broke, I was insecure, and I was relatively new in New York City.
Here was this amazing opportunity out of nowhere.

Or so I thought….

When I arrived at this photographer’s studio, he sat me down across from him and started to ask me all of these weird and personal questions. He knew I was “new” in the business and New York City. He asked me about where I was from, what kind of things I wanted to do, what dreams I had.

Manipulation Trick #1: They will hold your dreams hostage to get what they want.  They will ask you how bad you want it and how far you are willing to go.  Then they will ask you to do things as though giving into to their request is a test of your dreams and aspirations.  “I thought you said you wanted to be a professional model, stop being a baby.”  

He put his feet on the desk so the bottoms of his feet were inches away from my face.
He asked me how old I was and when I told him 21,
he rolled his eyes and yelled out to his assistant setting up the camera, “I can’t believe they sent me another old model.

Manipulation Trick No. 2: They insult you or bring you down to make you feel like you’re not on the same level as they are and that you are lucky to be there. They hope that this will make you “over-achieve” with them and prove that you are incredible by doing whatever they say.

He got up, went to a closet and came back with a super tacky red lace teddy that was barely there and completely see-through.
He threw it in my lap.
“Go put that on, and we’ll start.”

I was really uncomfortable and definitely was not getting in this thing – partially because I was insecure in my own body and partially because I had a really bad feeling about him.

I explained to him that I thought I was there to model fashion and that the agency had booked him to shoot a portfolio for me.

He repeated again that since I was 21, I was considered old in the business.

“The only way you’re going to make any money in this business is if you do lingerie. Trust me. That’s your only chance. Now put on the outfit.”

Manipulation Trick No. 3: They will act like they are looking out for your best interest and that they are attempting to do the thing you’re uncomfortable with for your own good and your own success. They will also make it seem as if it is a desperate or heightened stakes situation… in this case, modeling this see-through tacky thing was the ONLY WAY I was ever going to get a shot at this business. It’s “do or die” manipulation.

He grabbed a portfolio book off the shelf and sat on the arm of the chair I was sitting in. He wrapped his arms around me and opened up the book. Inside there were all different photos of models. They looked like bad spreads from old Hustler Magazines just add a tiny bit of see-through fabric covering you know what. He pointed to one model in a similar completely see-through lace outfit on all fours. The photo looked awkward in a way that the model’s uncomfortable or intimidated feelings were coming through the picture.
“Now she’s a real beauty, such a natural, such a professional. She got right into it. I got her booked for Elle Magazine after this.”

Manipulation Trick No. 4: They will compare you to others and talk about how much better that person was, what a natural, how professional. They are indicating that you are none of those things and if you would only do what they ask you to do, you could be. Also, they will share success stories  (often made up stories) of people who did the thing you are uncomfortable with being rocketed to stardom.

My gut screamed that he was lying.

I remember that I started to talk and I stuttered.
I remember that I was surprised that my fear was coming through my voice.

“I-I-I just don’t want to do that.”

I felt weird. I felt like I shouldn’t be talking back to him. I felt almost powerless.

All the models on covers of magazines he shot looked at me from the walls.

He called out to his assistant, “Tell Little Miss Florida that all the majors do lingerie shoots.”

The assistant agreed with him. “Oh, yeah. That’s how everyone gets famous. Everyone has lingerie shoots in their portfolio.”

Manipulation Trick No. 5: Two people or more are telling you that whatever you are feeling weird about is actually fun, totally normal and what they do all the time. They will make you feel as if you’re the one being crazy or super uptight.

Right after this, his assistant left for the day, but not before saying… “You kids have fun, but not too much fun.   Hahaha.  I can’t wait to see your beautiful pictures tomorrow.”

The photographer closed the door behind the assistant and now I was starting to feel oddly trapped.

“Look. They told you to come here. They’ve booked my time with you. They are paying for this. You said you’d do a portfolio. I know what I’m doing. I’ve been in this business longer than you’ve been alive. If you don’t do this, you’re never going to be taken seriously in this business. I work with everyone.”

Manipulation Trick No. 6: They will make you feel bad because they are doing you a “favor” by working with you or that someone else paid for it (in my case, the agency), and that you are not holding up your end of the deal by not doing the thing that makes you uncomfortable. They will also make you feel like they rule the profession that you are trying to get into and by pissing them off, or crossing them, you are committing career suicide.

I just kept staring at him. Half frozen. Not knowing what was real, what was happening.

“If you are THAT uptight, you’re never going to make it as a model anyway. So why don’t you calm down, go get changed and let’s do this. You want to be successful at this don’t you? I thought they were sending me a professional model, and I got a baby.”

Manipulation Trick No. 7: They will resort to name calling and making you feel like you are uncool, too uptight, a prude or whatever – they will insert your dream of what you want to be and directly oppose it to how you are supposedly acting now. As in: “oh yeah, I thought you were this wild, free woman….why are you acting like a baby?”

I remember that I felt my arms get goosebumps when he said that. It was just the two of us alone, no assistants, no make-up artists, no one. I was five feet away from the door and I made my decision.

I distinctly remember staring at the door trying to summon up all my courage to walk through it.

I stood up and taking that as a positive sign, he said, “GREAT!”

Without looking at him, I walked toward the door and said, “I have to go.”

I remember he yelled, “You are FINISHED. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”

Whenever I hear someone use that phrase, I always think of that moment.

Once I was in the elevator, I was shaking.
I was proud of myself. I stood up for myself.
But on the subway ride home, I beat myself up.
It was just lingerie. No big deal, right?
I completely made a fool of myself.
Maybe they were right, maybe people do that all the time.
Now what was the modeling agency going to think?
I would never be able to work with them again,
or probably anyone ever again.
I just walked out of a shoot I promised I would do for an agency.
What was wrong with me?
Here I had this great opportunity and I blew it.

I didn’t tell anyone.
Then later that night, after running it over and over in my head, I went from feeling like I did something wrong to being pissed.
I thought about calling the agency and telling them what happened –
but then suppose that was normal and I would seem like some sort of weird prude.

I didn’t know what to do.

So I didn’t do anything.

But today, I share this story that was hidden. I share the embarrassment I had, the weirdness that it left me with, because we need to talk about these things to protect other people and let others know when they are being manipulated.

Luckily, the majority of the people in this business are respectful and upstanding and I have had the pleasure of working with many professional men and women who made me feel comfortable, confident and incredible. Those people are out there and you don’t have to deal with the manipulators and people trying to take advantage of you.

I just want to give that model who spoke up about Richardson a hug. She made me realize how important it is to talk about these things, and I commend her for being brave enough to come forward and tell the truth.

If things like this have happened to you –
remember –
you are not alone.
Reach out.
Ask for help.
We can walk strong together.
I am always here…
rooting for you.