Supermodel Karen Elson: I felt I ‘didn’t have the right to say no’ to nude photoshoots

Karen Elson went through “terrible things” as a model, she has said – including nude photoshoots which she felt compelled to do, despite her discomfort.

Ms Elson, who became one of the world’s most in-demand models after being discovered in her teenage years, was told on a regular basis that she was fat.

Of the many naked shoots she did during her career, Ms Elson said: “Fifty per cent of the time, I did them because I felt I didn’t have the right to say no. I just wanted everyone to be happy, and that was more important to me than my own discomfort.

“And it tied into my body dysmorphia. Everyone loved my body when my clothes were off, but when I had to squeeze into a pair of tight pants, they were shaming me,” she told Harper’s Bazaar UK.

“I just wanted to be liked and have everyone think I was beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes you’ll put yourself through terrible things to be validated.”

Karen Elson: I admired Stella Tennant

Ms Elson, now 42, has set up a support group for young models, which meets via Zoom. She has also written a memoir, The Red Flame: A Journey of A Woman, in which she discusses the dark side of the industry.

One of her contemporaries was Stella Tennant, the aristocratic model who died by suicide two years ago.

Ms Elson said: “I admired her so much, not just for what she represented in fashion but also because she fought hard to have another life in the wilds of Scotland. She was a mother, and an artist in her own right.

“She always seemed so effortless, intelligent and cool. Losing her in such tragic circumstances is a reminder that you never know what inner battles a person may have.”

Karen Elson praised Stella Tennant, who died by suicide two years ago

Credit: Arthur Elgort/Conde Nast via Getty Images

Ms Elson is proud of some of her nude portraits, by such photographers as Tim Walker and Peter Lindbergh, and has included them in her book.

She recently told The Guardian that, when modelling now, she lets it be known that she will only pose naked if the photographer explains why it is artistically necessary. “Funnily enough, no one ever asks me to be nude any more,” she said.

Karen Elson features in the February issue of Harper's Bazaar UK

Credit: Harper's Bazaar

The February issue of Harper’s Bazaar UK is on sale from Thursday, January 6.

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