Ba_re na_ked ladies and men*
June 22, 2008
*Due to the plethora of search terms used to get to this blog post, I’m experimenting with changing or taking out certain words.
Well of course I have to write about this morning’s experience of getting na_ked with 2500 odd other people in the Dublin rain for the Spencer Tunick installation.
I signed up for the event a while ago, and didn’t really give it much thought until the previous day or two. Then I read Darragh Doyle’s latest blog this morning, and it got me thinking about my own body image, where I am with it now and where it came from. I could very much empathise with some of his experience: at school I was the music geek, eschewing the sports I was so bad at, and of course was overweight and endured the usual name-calling. While the weight is less of a problem these days, I would say that along with every other woman in the country, I suspect, I am acutely aware of my ‘deficiencies’ as vaguely measured against the ubiquitous skinny ideal that’s so hard to ignore.
Well I suprised myself really, and discovered that I finally am becoming happier in my own skin. I think this has been coming on for a while. A couple of years ago I’m sure I would never have contemplated doing something like this, and have often marvelled at the courage of my two friends who go on naturist holidays (not in Ireland I need hardly add). However a couple of years ago I found myself in a spa in Budapest. People there wouldn’t dream of wearing a costume in a spa: nud_ism (single sex) is the way of spa life. Twice I plucked up the courage to ba_re all, and found it very liberating, and now wonder what all the fuss was about.
Last weekend I spent about fourteen hours dancing at a Five Rhythms dance workshop, and while I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly good dancer, I’ve always loved it. I found the workshop a liberating and empowering experience, and came away feeling much freer with myself and more confident about dancing and moving my body.
There’s a bit of a contradiction here though. As one of my favourite feminist cartoons (and I’m sorry I can’t remember who wrote it) reads: ‘now that I’m a feminist I feel guilty about feeling guilty about being fat.’ Well exactly: we can’t win, truly. Even the feminist in me can’t make the inner critical voice keep entirely quiet. So with two contradictory ideals going on here—being happy in one’s own skin regardless of size and shape, versus still wanting to fit in, to look normal, sexy and above all slim—I embarked on today’s mass nud_e event.
I had read a couple of the blogs about the Corkonians‘ experience, and knew that it was unlikely that the nu_dity itself would be a big deal once we were all na_ked. They appeared to enjoy it to a wo/man, some even likening it to a religious or spiritual experince. Hmmm, I thought, interesting!
Arriving at the site at 3am I was amazed at the number of people who arrived in groups, especially mixed sex groups. I was very glad that I had decided to do this solo (my husband wanted no part of it!) and think I would have been very self-conscious had I been with friends. I had read about all the hanging around so was very glad of my layers of thermals — the best from my recent Pennsylvanian winter!
The atmosphere was one of jollity and speculation as we headed from the car park to the bus and then from the bus to the site of the shoot itself. It seemed, as I twittered, that every damn woman there was young and skinny (feeding into those old fears of course) but as I mingled I realised that it was not so. Phew!
The organisation left a fair bit to be desired. It was good until we got to the pier, but then things became quite chaotic. An information leaflet had been produced but it seemed that only around one in ten of us had been given one. As a result, we didn’t know what our positions (sitting, standing, bent over — yes that was a possibility!) were to be. We all sat down as instructed, and I chatted to a couple of groups near me, and it was all very friendly. There was some real eejitery going on though. Several drunks were thrown out, but there were some gobshites left. They talked and shouted every time instructions were given out, so along with the fact that the megaphone wasn’t very mega, we couldn’t really hear what to do. Eventually we cornered somebody who gave us a bit more of a clue.
The sun started to rise, and it was beautiful. Hey look! we said, it’s going to be gorgeous! Then the time came to get our kit off, and as one we all stripped off. Well, not quite as one actually, the group of women in front of me had more sense. They predicted that we’d be hanging around for a bit longer, and of course they were right. Back on with the fleece. One savvy woman had the sense to tie a red scarf around the railing as a landmark for our bags, and I left my black and white scarf sticking out of the bag to help me find it quickly…
Finally the kit came off, just as the sun disappeared and the wind started up, and we quick-marched for what seemed like miles up to the lighthouse on the Pigeon House and beyond. The granite was cold and rough underfoot, and a bit of careful tiptoeing was called for; this was handy enough as it meant the amount of general looking around was limited, giving us time to get a bit more comfortable with the whole nu_die thing. Spencer Tunick was up in a cherry picker with a megaphone and, God love him, he tried to get us to do his bidding. ‘Right everybody, face the sun!’ Okay, that we could do, though by that time the sun had deserted us and it was getting distinctly chilly. ‘Heads up to the sky!’ An array of hands lifted to the sun. ‘No! Not hands, HEADS! FACES up to the sky!’
The rowdy gobshite element continued its hilarity with what would normally have been regarded as good Dublin wit, but we were getting colder and colder and just wanted to get on with it. ‘Please!’ pleaded the maestro, ‘Please put your faces up to the sky, no don’t look at me, please, please DON’T look at me, no, no don’t look at me, PLEASE!’—and so on. Two more positions, including lying on our sides in the foetal position (‘Please sir! Please stop kicking the guy behind you, PLEASE!’) and then we were done. By the end of it we really were bloody freezing. We’d been told we’d be na_ked for 30 mins but it was more like 45 plus. While it was partly down to lack of information/organisation and a bad sound system, there’s no doubt that if we’d been quiet (as I read the Corkonians were) it would have been quicker. I’m sure it would have been much less of an ‘oh-for-fuck’s-sake-get-on-with-it experience’ and more of a moving, beautiful one. That was a shame.
In terms of the nake_dness, it really was no big deal, not once we were all nu_de. It was interesting and of course I couldn’t help comparing, as one does (and I did hear that some of the men were relieved at their own comparisons), but it was kinda nice seeing bigger, smaller, more- or less- cellulite, pears, apples, you name it — the whole gamut of human corpulance was there, and I was no better or worse than any of them really. I liked that. I did think I was pinker than many, though by the end most of us were purplish. One thing I did notice was that not everyone was meticulous about their personal hygiene, and that I did NOT like. Ho hummmmm!
Anyway, eventually it was done and back we went to the bags and… panic! ‘OMG help! I can’t find my bag! It’s there I know it’s there, there’s the red scarf that was here… oh fuck, everyone else is dressed and I’m still nak_ed and there’s no bag’… and then one kind girl lent me her towel (I’d forgotten mine and besides it would have been in the bag), and then eventually, finally, ‘oh thank Christ, there it is’. Somebody had moved it but it wasn’t too far away. God, that was a bit of a moment. Being na_ked with everyone else na_ked was fine, seemed normal even, but being nak_ed with everyone clothèd, well that was a completely different experience, and not one to be repeated. Suddenly I was object, not subject, or so it seemed, and it was extraordinarily uncomfortable.
So, we’re all dressed and I start to warm up when the crew walk past yelling ‘all those for the second shoot go down this way’ — er what? Second shoot? It starts to rain. Am I a quitter? No I am not, so what the hell, I’m in.
We were given half-an-hour to warm up before the next shoot. I line up with the others, chat a bit more, shiver a lot more, until finally it’s time to move. We find out we’re going to be in the sea — yes IN the sea. In the rain. In the cold wind.
Off we go to the site and people are already stripping off, and by now it’s lashing down. Clothes off into the bag, trying not to get them wet in the bag, and, ooh ah fuck it’s cold, as the rain hits our purpling, goosepimpled skin.
Then a surprisingly-exhilarating moment occurs: we race down the sand towards the sea, arms akimbo and yelling and whooping at the top of our voices: ‘Holy fuck! Holy fuck! Jeezus it’s fucking cold!’ and the air turns blue to match our poor shivering limbs but we’re laughing too in amongst the screams and yelling. A superb moment.
And at this point I meet someone I know. She’s standing right beside me, we suddenly see each other: ‘I know you from somewhere’ and look puzzled until the penny drops and we figure it out, and—oh no!—it’s a work thing. We laugh awkwardly, trying to keep our eyes on each others faces (I don’t succeed; I’m just, er, naturally curious), and she disappears as fast as she can after that. Oops.
Spencer started giving instructions again and suddenly a roar of ‘Olé olé olé’ went up, and we all joined in and waved at him with both arms in the air, whooping and laughing. I think we all forgot that we were na_ked actually. Except for the freezing cold wind and rain, of course.
At the time it partly felt a bit tedious. It was miserable being that cold, and before the racing-into-the-sea moment the joyousness diminished throughout the first shoot. But as with the aftermath of singing in a concert that goes well, it’s hard work at the time and the high sets in afterwards. All day long I was exhilarated and thrilled that I had done it. I still am, actually, and would I do it again? Would I heck, but definitely not in Ireland.
Oh, and I’m in that last photo. :)
Photos of nake_dness taken from this site, and the others were taken with my lowly Nokia 6300.