The next set of photos I share (next post) will be those I very first shared online with a community of naturists (and some others…). As I share the various albums I have created for this project, I will toggle back and forth between reflection on now and then. I will share where I was at in my journey when the photo was taken, what I saw in the image at the time, and if anything has changed. As well, I will check in regularly with a mindful pause, an update of where things are at with the project real time and a few new pics as the opportunities to collaborate with more experienced artists emerge and unfold.
As an activist, I am finding my voice and I recently had the opportunity to use it. I hope I was heard, but if ultimately there is no action, that just provides me with more information about the leadership culture at play in this situation. So far, they are not naked in their truth, do not allow themselves to be seen, their authentic voice heard. I believe leaders, particularly those in public institutions, should be expected to demonstrate their integrity (alignment between espoused and enacted values) in every situation, to show that they are able to learn as they go, and accept full responsibility and accountability for their actions and decisions, particularly those that detract value from others in some way.
As I share openly, who I am and what I stand for, I hope to role model some of what I believe should be the norm among world leaders. A willingness to be both strong and soft, connected and open with the people you are striving to represent, to serve. I hope to be someone who is able to hold a signpost for those on the path; ‘Right way keep going’, ‘Road widens ahead’, ‘Welcome, merging traffic’.
For the first few months of this project I only took my own photos and had never had a nude photo taken of my by anyone else before, ever.
The original idea had been to find someone who would be interested in using me as a nude model for a landscape type shoot (ie. I would be off in the distance) or a life drawing session (where in any perceived imperfections could be accounted for by the interpretation of the artist rather than my own inadequacies…)
Instead I found myself, day after day, taking photos of myself, for myself.
Coming across the online community for nudists gave me a way to share the photos and receive feedback.
I grappled with the sexual nature of social nudism but, with a little time, found a way to present my profile, and the images I shared, that seems to ward off a lot of the sexual harassment type communication. And with the few that still get through, I get to practice setting boundaries and ‘using my words’. Particularly that really hard one, ‘no’.
This virtual experience helped prepare me for my first actual photoshoot with an actual photographer. I’ll share more about the shoot itself in a later post together with a few of the images from the shoot. What I would like to reflect on here is the opportunity this lovely, calm, slow first shoot provided me.
I quickly discovered that the practices of yoga and meditation are excellent training for life as a model. To be able to slip into a light meditative state and focus on breath while holding a pose, and be supported by good core strength, an understanding of concepts like base of support, centre of gravity, range of movement. Knowing how to use the bandhas, intentional muscle locks, and the energetic scaffolding of our bodies.
Being in this state, you notice different things, your awareness is altered. I noticed the things I had given up, the things that the other photographer now had control over. when the shutter opened and closed, how the light reflected off my curves and body parts, which photos would be examined and edited…
This was something I had not reckoned on grappling with. Noticing the tension within myself created, not by being nude in a room with a clothed stranger (though that was slightly awkward the first time…), but the giving over of control of the way my essence is seen, captured and interpreted.
With this new understanding and awareness of control primed in my mind, I began seeing the invitations for collaboration in a different light. I tested the boundaries again, reflected, contemplated, reset them.
I started to see myself in a different light, I started to ask more difficult questions. I still have more to learn. But I can see now how women are conditioned to say yes to men and men are conditioned to pushing at women’s boundaries until they do. And a woman that says ‘no’ is difficult, rude, brattish, out of control, hormonal and/or a raging lesbian. Or just a source of more frustration, a hassle, a burden.
I don’t mind any of those terms. I now know where I start and finish and how to notice when other people’s baggage has become mixed up with mine. I see now, how you put your bag down a little too close. How your small request becomes a larger one, how you negotiate your way to yes, sometimes with charm, sometimes with military precision. You are on a mission to fulfil your goal, achieve your outcome.
You trample all over my boundaries in your big clumsy boots.
You are used to me bending to your will.
You nudge me again.
I smile politely (fuck I did it again).
You relax, back on track. I notice the tension leave your face. Your words less anxious.
Your dominance, at ease, at the wait.
I am also now ‘at the wait’. That shit now gets no closer than the first time I say no. I did the experiment and turns out I am right the first time, and if I’m wrong, we’ll both learn something. If you push, if you keep at it, if you try to win me over or even if you throw a fucking tantrum, cut the conversation short, stop communicating or threaten to leave me altogether? Ok.
Your trauma is not mine.
This has been such a crucial realisation for my project. A project about women’s sovereignty in the midst of global upheaval.
Men are being displaced, women are finding their voices, children, teenagers, young adults, sick from being treated like an inconvenient necessity, are experiencing a collective mental health crisis.
This, what is happening in the world, affects everyone. However, if you only feel your pain without seeing the places that it is coming from, it is hard to keep it contained and refrain from misfiring. It is hard to disentangle the threads in your mind, trauma loops and new information, confused and confounded. Your psychology unknown to you. Your focus is only on the outcome of your pursuit.
Psychology affects the way I am seen by a male photographer and thus the way they set up, capture and interpret the images. A dominant, trauma-laden male will see something very different in a nude female model, will take a very different photo of me, than someone who understands and respects individual sovereignty. Who is looking for a unique artistic angle as opposed to soft warm curves (or perhaps as well as…more on this). Someone who understands how to hold a space for the experience of freedom and courageous vulnerability in exposing yourself, not just your physical body, but your soul, the energy flowing through and around you. To really let someone else see, the authentic you.
When I am in this state of openness I need to be in a safe place.
If you are always putting your needs before mine, I can’t be sure I’m safe with you.
If you can’t hear me say no to the little things, I can’t be sure I’m safe with you.
If you see my openness and think it is an opening, I’m not safe with you.
If you see the warm softness in me and come after it…
I see you now. I know how you see me.
And now, with my own eyes, I see myself.
Now I will show you.
I’m not finished. I wasn’t sure why. But then a conversation in a driveway occurred. A man sharing with a woman, two humans caught up in it all, his grief, his devotion. He shared with me why.
His why, my why. We have both been shot by an other, made out to be the other. Our identities cast by the trauma of others.
Being male doesn’t protect you from harm and being female doesn’t preclude me being the predator. The generational trauma of living inauthentic lives plays out in and around each of us in various ways. Sometimes you are the lead, sometimes you are backstage. Sometimes you sit in the stalls and pretend that none of it is yours.
But there is no way to freedom without walking through the door of self-realisation, of realising you are both self and Self; both player and audience. Playing a role, one with a script that you know. Taking you down a path with no end. A path that keeps you holding on, yet, without letting go you cannot move on.
Let go, and as you cross the threshold from unknowing to becoming aware, you realise.
In that space in between.
Reconciling my desire to give with my need for safety I reset my boundaries.
My heart filled with compassion for us both.