Recently I did something that had my fifteen year old self recoiling in disgust. Hell, maybe even my twenty five year old self was a little shocked. I got naked for a roomful of strangers in exchange for money.
For, like, art, you know. I spent a whole day in a fancy little studio in Chelsea having eight or nine people stare openly at my naked body, and then make overly conscious efforts to look me dead in the eyes when we broke for tea and biscuits.
In the past I’ve always erred rather on the side of the prude in my attitude to these sorts of things. When I was a young and idealistic drama student I fought bravely and vocally for my right to not have to get naked on stage, because, damn it, you should not have to see my boobs to consider me a serious actress! My boobs are for me, and me alone, and one day, when I’ve fallen fathoms deep in love with a perfect man, he may have them too. Now, however, I am old and jaded and thought, what the hell?
Here is what was hilarious:
- The thoughtful screen that was placed in one corner, behind which I could preserve my modesty while I changed into nothing.
- The arguments that were had over the comparative artistic merits of the varying positions of my elbow.
- The way the guy running the class pretended he was going to see me out just so he could hand me my money on the stairs, out of the view of the artists, for fear of polluting their cultural endeavours with the sordid smog of currency.
- The fact that I was naked. In front of a roomful of people.
Here is was was actually kind of great:
- The beautiful pictures, right? The actually lovely pictures. Of me. Sitting there staring off into middle distance, looking like some fascinating girl who’s all in the middle of some kind of interesting situation that makes her so wistful that she has to sit around naked just to think about it, instead of what I actually am, which is a broke, twenty something creative type, trying to pay her rent without working in customer service because she doesn’t like talking to people unless it’s to reduce them to dust with the force of her opinions.
- The fact that I actually was ok with it, or rather, ok enough with myself to do it. I spend a lot of energy ranting about body image and the importance of battling the need to be perfect and yet too often stare at myself in the mirror thinking, why do I still have thighs that exist after all of this running? But here I was, everything on display and I actually didn’t care. I felt kind of like a modern-day-goddess, not like some hippy who’s all about nature and ‘my body’ and wonder and shit, but in an Amanda Fucking Palmer way, saying, here I am, with my smallish breasts and my comfy tummy, with my scars and bruises and weirdly narrow toenail, here I am, am I not marvellous!
Because bodies are great, you know. They’re lithe and strong and they can do things. I can put mine in interesting shapes and tell it that it has to stay there and it may say, Oh, but it hurts, you don’t realise how heavy this arm is, can’t I just – and I say, No! You will stop your whining and hold that position so that the artists can do their arting, your discomfort be damned, and my body will actually do what I say.
- The fact that there are more interesting ways of pulling together your daily bread than sitting behind a computer occasionally answering the phone and saying, yes, all the information’s on the website, or standing behind the till at a shop that sells not a single thing you can ever imagine anyone wanting. You can contribute. To, like, artistic development. And there are probably ways to do that without even taking your clothes off, if that’s not really how you roll.
What gives me the warmest of all the self-satisfied feelings is the realisation that my ideas about who I am and what I can and can’t, or will and won’t do are subject to constant change. The things I thought I could never do ten years ago, I have done, and done easily and with enjoyment. What will I have done by the year 2022, by Christmas, or by next week, that today frighten or bemuse me? I may have climbed a mountain, or perfected cold fusion, or done something really extreme like getting a mortgage.
And if I take nothing else away from the experience (apart from the dosh, obviously) it’s that I can add to the list of things I’d rather do than work in an office: ‘get naked in front of strangers’.
Posted by Janina Matthewson
Janina isn't from around here, but she likes this place and willingly wastes her time in it. She is like a grandma in that, if you give her gin, she'll crochet you a scarf.