Monday, 17 February 2014

Goddess journeys Part 2. Oneself As Another.

Ok, so this is a little more personal and in-depth than my usual posts, but I am writing this because I work with bodies, models and imagery and also because I consider myself in the business of creating skins. But what is most important and easily forgotten is our very own skin. So I am sharing a story of mine.

During my Goddess journey's I am exploring the archetypes of the Crone, the Maiden and the Mother. My current phase is exploring 'Mother' aspects. The warrior, the nurturer and the lover.

As part of my journey I participated in a body of work by an artist friend Ione Rucquoi. 'Sanctae' presents the female form in it's unmasked state. It is an installation of 21 larger than life haloed female nudes exploring the realities of childbirth, ageing, illness and all the ravages life throws our way.
Little did I know that taking part would instigate such changes in my life.

I took part in this for several reasons. As an artist I am always getting people to model for me clothed or not and I felt that it was time I returned the favour, giving something back.
Secondly the artist wanted someone who was able to represent the conflicts of being a mother and an artist. Both of these are driving forces that shape your very soul and plague your conscience.

But most of all it was for my own selfish purposes. Part of a process of coming to terms with my own body. Trying to learn to accept or even love the changes that have happened over the last 10 years. Surgical procedures arising from fertility issues, dis-ease and childbirth (not to mention the weight gain!) resulted in a section of my body being carved, chopped and re-shaped for ever.
There has been discomfort, trauma and disconnection from my pelvic region throughout my whole life.
So when I first modelled for these pictures a year or two ago (I can't quite remember!) it was much easier than I thought. Somehow everythings alright in the name of art! It was comfortable, slightly liberating and surprisingly normal!

Finally the images were ready to take centre stage in a new exhibition called 'Oneself As Another' at the RWA in Bristol. I hadn't really given any thought to my own feelings on the matter apart from slight nerves at being 8ft high and naked in a room full of people…but hey it's ok because it will be full of artists.
But it turned out to be quite simply one of the most enlightening, and possibly life changing processes I have ever been through. (I haven't decided yet, I'll let you know when it's over!)

Being a bit of an analyser, I am fascinated with observing my behaviour and responses, but nothing could have prepared me for the surprise my own responses.  I was shocked at my own level of conditioning.
My reaction in the first second to the exhibit was "WOAH". There was a moment of shock when my senses didn't recognise what I was seeing and scrambled to make sense of it, combined with, dare I say it, a hint of discomfort/distate. An intake of breath. Followed quickly by the out breath which had already altered the perception to 'WOW".

In that split second it became apparent to me that even as an artist who is pretty happy with nudity, there is still a deep rooted level of conditioning within me and within us all. Regardless of who I am, where I live etc etc I am still subconsciously effected by societal standards and the blanket perception of acceptable beauty and how deeply it saturates our culture.
It was like a veil had been lifted. It was clear to see that even though we think we are beyond/too old/too alternative/ too open minded, too accepting etc etc  to be affected deeply by the misrepresentation of women, it simply wasn't true. I would challenge anyone to stand in front of this exhibit and say otherwise.
Whether we admit it or not, even to ourselves, none of us are out of reach of this phenomenon.
Artist or not.
What swiftly followed were nerves. Suddenly I felt my self protection mechanisms kick in as I slightly disassociated myself with my own image. It was hard to look, own up to that being me and feel the atmosphere as I came under scrutiny, judgement and evaluation under the critical eyes of others. Even my own mother as she stood beside me.

I was witnessing myself as my own critic, as the elephant in the room. In a moment of silence my psyche stood beside me and I judged the lumps, the bumps, the sag of my boobs, the stretch of my skin and that my first response was to start measuring my physical worth against others.
The second response was to let it all go and turn myself to others. They were beautiful and interesting. So very beautiful.
Despite some of the more shocking details, the overall effect was of calm, strength and beauty.

Every single one of those women looked so beautiful to me, yet it was fascinating to observe that I couldn't apply it to me. My own physicality on that enormous scale, I struggled to connect to. Even though I was one of the few women who are actually anonymous in the picture.
Don't get me wrong, I certainly don't hate my body and I am not even uncomfortable enough with it to change anything. But I don't love it the way I should, considering it has supported me all my life and provided me with a son and given me untold adventures.

I moved to watching other guest looking at the images, longing to hear what was in their heads and seeing how often a face would initially pucker slightly and then watch it soften. That in itself would make a wonderful installation.

It was busy and sociable and as the evening progressed I felt my spine lengthening and myself standing taller as I slowly settled more and more into myself. A hint of pride crept in and a chink of acceptance.
Hearing other women discuss how liberating it was for them to see these images felt really good.

As I left that evening the overwhelming feeling I had was of a deep seated longing to see more. I realised as a woman this is what I want to see. It's like craving normality and acceptance for all of us. It was so glaringly obvious that we are culturally starved of femininity, the beauty of womanhood and lets face it, nudity. Real nakedness.

Our damaged British attitude towards the naked form has left us starved of a sense of reality, lacking an earthly connectedness and our souls slightly shrivelled. But worst it has opened the door to a form of depravity.
The insatiable urge for human connection and creation in a society that bans nudity has formed the taboo. It drives a culture of pornography, sex industries, surgery, inequality etc etc hungry for connection, however misplaced.
I can't help but compare it to my time working in Berlin, where office workers sunned themselves next to their neatly folded suits, in open parks. To my time working in London……where you would have been commenting a criminal offence.

So I left this exhibition feeling sad, feeling liberated, feeling stronger, feeling awed and feeling a little bit angry. But certainly more keen to face the world head on.

This was offered to me on plate the following morning! Although photography was banned some pictures of the exhibition appeared on Facebook first thing. It was just a small snippet of me but there were other women in all their glory. I found myself furious, mortified and feeling totally violated, like a trust had been broken. Somehow having it 'out there' in a different context was a whole other ball game! Suddenly I was vulnerable, exposed and quite literally stripped bare!
I think much of this reaction was shock because it did pass quite quickly but I couldn't help but note how strongly I reacted.

Time to put my liberation to the test! This was definitely felt not ok and yet the small printed image of me available for sale in the foyer at the RWA was fine, in fact, I even liked it! hmmmmm.
I was also asked by the artist if I would permit my image to be used in publicity for the exhibition. This in itself is fine with but my reservation came from the fact that once the images where out in the public domain there is no control. Nothing to stop them ending up on Facebook or any other social media. Judging by how extreme my earlier reaction had been I wasn't sure I would handle it very well.

And so I find myself in a quandary.
I want to support the artist, for all the reasons mentioned earlier, but hesitate because of my reaction to Facebook.
I want to be able to say yes without hesitation, but I have a son and is potentially making yourself available to comment/abuse sensible?
I strongly believe in the desperate need to educate the world into what real women look like and strip away the taboos, especially because I have a son.
I admire the women that said yes, even to Facebook.
Given the opportunity I wouldn't change anything, no money or surgery or anything would actually make me change my body. Consequently not loving it makes no sense!
But most of all I want to say yes because I am so damn comfortable in my own skin that I just don't give a shit. I love me, every last inch of it.

But, are all of those feelings stronger than my current one of self consciousness? I'm not sure.
One day soon I hope to be able to say yes and I have a feeling I will. Very soon.


  1. I love all your inches too :o). This is a great post, Harry. Really thought-provoking. I don't know if the life drawing group will still want me as a model after my surgery and I'm too afraid to ask. We have never been given a chance to keep our relations with our bodies true and loving. Too many conflicted and conflicting messages surround us daily, from our first hours. All we can do is our own parts of the work towards healing this; finding our own truth and and our love for our own good selves. Thanks for being at the forefront. x

    1. Thank you. I would love to know the other models reasons and experience of doing it. Maybe it's a far less complicated procedure for others? The funny thing is I would never call my self a 'feminist' because I can't stand labels and don't believe these issues and phenomenon are exclusive to women. I think that the celebration of form should be gender less, but I also appreciate that this post would fall into a 'feminist' category for many. If we can encourage more dialogue,more openness,more exposure to reality and truth then we are halfway there. Perhaps it will be the difference we see in the faces of our children. Thanks for commenting brave mama. X

  2. Finally read this weeks ages after starting to read it and getting interrupted.I can totally empathise with all that you said despite obviously not being naked and nine ft high myself.I also was surprised at how challenged I was by the photos which is great if you ask me.How very dull if all the seemingly self liberated women were not changed by it at all! I was surprised by how difficult it was to look into the gaze of all the woman apart from the one with a kind of paper mache balloon on her head of course.I realized how conditioned I am to avert my eyes when another is naked and certainly to stare is voyeuristic and downright rude! So here I was invited to look at others bodies in a way I hadn't before.When standing with others I felt uncomfortable.Eventually the crowd moved on as the next artist was discussing their work.I was left in peace with the silence of the women surrounding me, their lives and traumas,sacrifices and compromises, stillness and openess,strength and vulnerability all there,marked on their bodies.I sat with them for a while and eventually felt very connected to them all.I wanted to cry.I also wondered how I would feel up there judging myself by my own standards of beauty( Ie what I havent got that others have, clear skin etc etc) and so it rambled on this diatribe that isnt my idea of beauty but has been so doctored by media that I couldnt tell what I thought anymore.Just that our view of real bodies is messed up beyond belief and that I wasnt as liberated as I thought and needed to get over it,and that my connection with the lives of other women is something I want to celebrate more.For what its worth only you could probably see the elephant in the room......for me it was another woman braver than me who was telling her story.And that is pretty special.

    1. Thank you for your wonderful response Rachel. It's fab to hear another's view and moving. Ironically the one with the papier mâché bobble head thing is me!
      It's a fabulously challenging exhibition and I hope it starts this dialogue for many women.
      Thank you x