Sexy is a word that gets thrown around in photography studios quite a bit. You might hear someone say “pose sexy” or “in this next shot, try sexy...” What is that supposed to mean? What is "sexy"? A pouty lip? Puppy dog eyes? Should I have brought my Cosmo to the shoot for reference? And who's definition of sexy do we use?
In the early 2000’s I was taking improv classes at the Annoyance Theater. Joe Bill, the instructor, was absolutely phenomenal at taking everything you believed to be an improv "truth" and questioning why it was a thing and how it relates to you, or in many cases why it doesn't relate to you. To me, Joe Bill was like a book you have to read twice, once to enjoy and once to really understand. Consequently I took his class multiple times. But through all that training, one class really stands out above all others.
He got us all up (a dozen students or so) and walking around the classroom. The classroom was used mostly for dance classes. So it had a raised floor, floor to ceiling mirrors, and lots of space. We all had to walk around the room and embody different characteristics that he'd call out. Anger. Grief. Joy. You can probably see it in your mind, students yelling at each other, crying with each other, and hugs and handshakes like someone had a baby. But then he called out insanity, and that's where the real lesson started.
We all broke out into our best Vietnam vet and Gollum impersonations. Running around the room, screaming loudly, talking about 9/11 being an inside job, and what color a guitar plays. Then he told us to walk normal, shaking off the insanity. He then told us to act sexy. Suddenly everyone started walking around the room like Jessica Rabbit. Really laying on the sex appeal. For that minute we were all one part Alexis Texas and two parts bad Roger Moore impression. He stopped us and we all came together for a class discussion.
He asked us what it was like to play with insanity, and we all agreed that we felt like we could do anything. When you’re insane, you are completely confident that you are correct at every moment. If you see little green men tearing apart your plane, then it's a fact. If you're yelling at a tree, it doesn't matter if someone else thinks it's crazy, you've got your reasons for it. You approach it with no fear, because you know you’re right. Through your insanity, you are confident.
Then, he asked us what it was like to play sexy. We all agreed it felt stupid. The closest analogy I can give to how it felt is when your belt doesn't match your shoes, and you're really scared that everybody around you notices. But then you get through the day and nobody knows or cares. Your entire experience is focused inward. You're not in the moment, you're outside of the moment looking at yourself with judgement. Not a single one of us achieved sexy. We all failed miserably.
And that was the point.
Sexy isn’t something you can act, it’s something you are. Sexy doesn't care what the world thinks and ironically insanity doesn’t care what the world thinks. Which takes us to Joe Bill’s motto,
“Be Insanely Sexy.”
Confirming this is Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. Merriam-Webster has Sexy listed as:
Sexy isn't a verb. It's an adjective. It’s your state of being. It's looking in a mirror and knowing the person looking back. It's having the capacity to laugh at yourself and sharing that laugh with others.
In my studio, you don’t act sexy. You are sexy. When you're in front of the camera, it's you that's being photographed. Not an external vision of you. So relax, be insanely sexy, and lets capture that.