TW/CW: Sexual assault, non-consensual sex acts
My first professional photo shoot was with a photographer advertising on Model Mayhem. The events of that day have loomed over my life for the last decade and caused unforeseeable damage. Today, I share my pain in solidarity with many other womxn/femme/afab’s, in the hopes that by doing so, I’m finally able to reclaim power over the emotional pain my incident caused me; and encourage others who have had similar experiences to do the same.
I was 22-years-old when I took this first modeling gig in 2010. I was a weird, fat, alternative chick with a plethora of body image issues and PTSD. Three years earlier my father died, leaving me devastatingly lost. My mother gave me an ultimatum: deal with your, my, and your brother’s grief (I’m paraphrasing), or leave. So I left. Parents who look to their children to be the adult for them is one thing, mixing it with grief is another thing altogether. I wasn’t healing there, so I left. But the place I escaped to didn’t exactly remedy that.
I had just moved into an apartment in Hollis, Queens with a street-savvy single mother who was a domestic violence survivor. Alone and sad, I believed modeling would make me feel better about my body or at least become a channel for my repressed creativity. Ultimately, I hoped that liking how I looked in pictures would provide me a confidence boost and I really needed that back then. Growing up bullied by peers, and “given advice” by family about my weight put me in a warped space as a young adult. Over a decade later I am still working out my dysphoria in therapy.
Little did I know, my insecurities and trauma made me ripe for the picking.
The first photographer to contact me was a seemingly nice white man. He spoke very well in a flattering, yet respectful, tone. I wasn’t used to that particular tone coming from a man. He was from Staten Island. Thanks to a history of childhood bullying, I was slow to trust anyone, so it took a few correspondences before he convinced me to shoot. His patience was key to luring me in.
He was seemingly professional and shot appealing and well-lit photos. However, as I looked through his portfolio, I noticed that there were no representations of anyone who looked remotely like me. The only other full-bodied chick was an hourglass/buxom type. At the time, I never believed anyone when they said they were “into different,” so his work with more conventionally attractive women of size caused me initial concern. Yet, I knew that I took alright selfies and had been told I had a “pretty face for a big girl,” so I hoped that maybe this made him interested in me.
When we met, he appeared to be a nice and courteous man. We talked about my background and goals as a model. But, when we arrived at his well-equipped storefront studio, the mood shifted.
We discussed poses as I was getting changed. “If you wanna get nude, that will be ok with me,” he said casually. I was not expecting him to say this because it was not something we discussed in our initial conversations, so I was stunned. Quickly, he added, “I also have a cucumber you can use. I am too small for you and know Latinas like big ones.” The certainty in his tone of voice showed me how assured he was that this shoot would involve something we hadn’t discussed. I had stated that I was okay with tasteful nudity on my Model Mayhem profile, but making assumptions about my sexual desires and assuming I would perform pornographic acts for him was a far cry from what I had in mind when I wrote that.
I was a young, vulnerable, and hopeful model far away from home. I also had no idea where I was located. He drove me to the studio, and the T-Mobile Sidekick phone I had at the time was not equipped with a map app. Moreover, I was afraid and confused by everything that was happening. I didn’t show it though; my dad always said, “Never let them see you sweat.”
Convinced I had no other alternative—and unsure what the repercussions were if I didn’t comply—I stayed and faked an orgasm with a cucumber. This man, who was a stranger to me, watched lustfully, as if it was the best thing he’d ever seen.
The entire experience was emotionally devastating, draining, and damaging.
As promised, he drove me back to Queens after the shoot. As I awkwardly sat in his passenger seat, he periodically rubbed my shoulder and kissed my hand affectionately. Shellshocked, I responded with my best, faux romantic, Daytime Emmy-worthy performance.
During the wait to see the finished product, I recall being in a sort of spiral. Coming from a household where feelings are often expressed in explosive and impulsive ways—or the opposite, by keeping them bottled in—I didn’t exactly have a way to cope. As a newly minted adult, during the early Obama years and a recession, I was busy trying to keep shelter over my head. I didn’t see going back home as an option. I also kept my Model Mayhem profile active to see if maybe I would muster up the want again. I actually shot with another photographer a few months after this first experience and consented to nudity beforehand seeing if I actually enjoyed it instead of being coerced. I did.
A few weeks later, I received the photos. I was not prepared for the immense shame I would feel when I saw them. I quickly deleted them. I did not feel any of the emotions I was hoping to feel. In fact, I felt the opposite. I was hurt by what happened that afternoon; my liberated, free-thinking demeanor was replaced by a blend of psychologically crippling fear and demoralizing humiliation. I convinced myself that how I act, dress, and look—or even worse, my fucking heritage—was only useful as a source of sexual pleasure for manipulative men willfully preying on my insecurities.
I know my experience is not unique. If you have experienced similar abuse, know you are not alone and know it’s not necessary to carry the weight for the rest of your days.
Depressingly enough, this man is still advertising on Model Mayhem (I will share his information with other models; just message me).
Late last year, I returned to photography; this time, on the other side of the lens. Through a grant from the BIPOC-AIC Collective, I purchased my own equipment. My plan is to provide photography sessions for not only my communities, but survivors of abuse, as those two things often overlap. I also would like to help new models get off on the right foot in a safe space with a knowledgeable person. Creative expression is a key to my ongoing healing, and I would like to assist others in finding theirs. Support is the key to proper healing, living, and survival as a species.
You too can help BIPOC-AIC put money into the hands of community members like Maddox. They work to provide mutual aid and fight racism. You can donate here.
Maddox (aka Amazon Maddox aka BrujaPxssy) has been described as “a tattooed, punk, gender-fluid Mama/Daddy Dominant of your dreams.” They’re an Afro-Latinx model, actress, photographer, and writer in New York City. When not performing in Netflix’s Bonding or appearing on-screen as a fetish performer, Maddox’s work—in all sex work-related fields—centers itself in positively embodying the positive aspects of BDSM and alternative lifestyles as a safe space for marginalized groups. In full, Maddox’s work aims to serve the intention of creating healing through self-expression.