The Great Exhibitionist

The Crystal Palace was built for the Great Exhibition in 1851. It burnt to the ground in 1936 leaving only its stone foundations as a haunting reminder of the once grand structure. It’s beautiful in all light and all weather, but just after sunrise, before the dog walkers and runners make the park their own, the archways are especially peaceful.

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This photo was brought to you by my friend Behind the Camera and a very trusty assistant who was on watch out duty. Thank you! I will blog about the making of this Sinful Sunday in the week. And there may be more photos to follow…

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Behind the Camera

My Twitter profile describes this as a “body positive photography adventure for friends of all shapes & sizes. Some behind the camera, some in front, some provide ideas.” Completely unprompted, this has just arrived in my inbox. I am blown away. But for the record, I disagree with the first bit…

Let’s get the sob-story stuff out of the way first.

I’ve always known I wasn’t pretty. A school photographer implied it when I was 13 and my mother confirmed it for me not long after that by telling people at a family gathering that my older sister had been a beautiful baby. When I asked if I’d been beautiful, she told me I’d been ‘funny-looking’.

Never fish for compliments, boys and girls, you might just find an old boot on the end of your line.

Anyway. As a result of trying to be more pretty I’ve experimented over the years with a selection of unwise make-up products, awful clothes, and no-sane-person-would-willingly-choose-this hairstyles. My clothes size over the years has fluctuated between a size 22 and a size 14 (the black coffee and cigarette years). I’ve got weird teeth. Honestly, I could sit and tell you every single thing that’s wrong with my body and my face and I could probably also tell you every fat-shaming comment that’s been directed my way. Some of them are even in French, ooh la la.

But that’s as far as the poor me diatribe goes.

What I don’t have in looks, I more than make up for in personality. I have a brain. I have a wicked sense of humour. And I am creative.

As soon as C told us about Exposing 40 I started thinking of photographic concepts. For other people rather than for myself, although I did have an ill-advised attempt at some selfies in a pair of spike-heeled sex-shoes. I’ve been reading the blog avidly and am marveling at how stunning all the photos look, and the precious stories behind them.

I’m not planning my own naked photo yet. I don’t feel comfortable yet with the idea of being a) photographed and b) judged. But this weekend I’ll be up at 6am to art direct what is sure to be a gorgeous shot. I have sketches aplenty and more ideas than you can shake a stick at.

I may not be a beauty, but I’m a fucking goddess when it comes to creating something beautiful.

Whitechapel Smile

I have been so excited about taking this photograph! It was really important to me that the first person who I photographed for Exposing 40 was this friend. Call me sentimental.

Yesterday morning. Tea and toast in a sunny kitchen, catching up on gossip. Then: “Darling, we are going to the bathroom to photograph the scar where you came out of Mummy, you can come in if you want.” My God, my friend is the most laidback cool mum. Her son is a dream.

Footsteps pad down the hallway towards us and a face appears, bearing very important news: “Auntie Catherine, this is a Roman warrior.” A few minutes later: “MUMMY, there’s a bee in the kitchen.”

It was funny and perfect and I will hold the memory close.

The Whitechapel Smile is what my friends (her husband is not just her husband, he’s my friend too!) call her caesarean scar, in an affectionate nod to the hospital where their son was born. When we first chatted about photographing her scar she described how she once hated it but now thinks of it as being part of the “rich tapestry of my life.”

We talked about it yesterday. She touched on her issues with the physicality of the scar – the lip it’s created that’s visible through swimwear, the fact that underwear slips down and gets caught uncomfortably in the ridge. But more interesting were her reflections on how motherhood had changed her relationship with her body.

That relationship had always been a close one – it wasn’t disassociated from the rest of life in the way some people separate their physical and intellectual selves: “I really inhabited my body, I was aware of it.” Childbirth changed all of that. Nearly four years on she says it’s only really in the last six months that she feels really in touch with her body again, that it is once again becoming an expression of herself and her sexuality.

“What’s happened in the last six months?”

“From 30, when I looked in the mirror my feelings about what I saw were all about not looking as good as I once had. I felt like I was fading.”

She was driving as we chatted and glanced away from the road to me.

“We are aging really well you know. We both look bloody good for 40.”

Eyes back to the road.

“Now, when I look in mirror I don’t see what’s gone I think ‘bloody hell you look good for your age.’ Forty feels like a turning point.”

Thank you for yesterday, my glorious friend.

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Versions of Ourselves

When Maria posted her beautiful photograph last week there was so much I wanted to say but I held back, not wanting to hijack her blog with an unwieldy comment. The days passed and rather than settling on something suitably pithy I actually just refined the long response in my head.

As an image plain and simple it was wonderful; the muted colours, the relaxation of the body, the fact you could imagine the contemplation on her face without needing to see it. But it was the words that really struck a chord with me. Within a few lines Maria had touched on many thoughts that had been tripping through my mind.

July 2014 AnonymousShe spoke of closely cropped versions. Oh, the crop! I have pondered the integrity of a body positivity project in which I so often work hard to manage out the bits I don’t like. I bloody love my legs, but my Stepping Out post is very exactly edited to just lose the belly overhang at the top. I really don’t like my breasts, yet I happily and frequently return to this photo (which I first posted anonymously a year ago), mainly because here they really don’t look like mine! Am I being body positive because I choose to celebrate and post photos that make the best of me, or am I being negative because I choose to hide the truth?

For me, the leap of faith came with Andromeda where my belly hung out and my tits are at opposite sides of the room like quarrelling siblings. I understand Maria’s instinct to regard herself with disdain. I am proud I posted my full body shot, and I will do more of them I am sure, but it doesn’t mean I am completely comfortable with everything I see.

Am I allowed a gratuitous Dirty Dancing quote here? Damn right I am. “If you love me, you have to love all the things about me.” And I do love my body. It copes pretty well with the distances I make it fly, the alcohol I put in it, the lack of sleep I subject it to when I can’t say no to another work project, and it’ll shrug and get on with it when I decide to shuffle it 13 or 26 miles round a city. It is also home to my spirit. So I am sorry belly and boobs that I am not always very nice about you, but I am learning to love you.

For me the most powerful point Maria made was this: “One of the most lovely and helpful things about the Sinful Sunday community (for me) is thinking about how my image will look through other people’s eyes rather than just through the filter of my own baggage.”

Tomorrow I am photographing one of my oldest, dearest, friends for this project. She wants me to focus on her caesarean scar. Next weekend I am photographing Honey for an amazing new project in which she is withdrawing her right to self-edit and giving other people complete freedom to choose how they photograph her. One of these women I have known for half my life, the other I have met just once. I am humbled and honoured by the trust both are putting in me and my camera.

And trust is really at the heart of all of this: my Andromeda, Maria’s Undo, Honey’s project, my friend’s excitement about participating in Exposing 40. By sharing our self-portraits or by allowing others to photograph us we trust them to help us face our vulnerabilities, celebrate our good bits, and see ourselves with kinder eyes.

And Maria, feeling (or being) large is an undeniable fact for many of us, but there is absolutely nothing ungainly about you. I see only elegance in your words, photography and body.

Elust #70

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Photo courtesy of Exposing 40

Welcome to Elust #70

The only place where the smartest and hottest sex bloggers are featured under one roof every month. Whether you’re looking for sex journalism, erotic writing, relationship advice or kinky discussions it’ll be here at Elust. Want to be included in Elust #71? Start with the rules, come back June 1st to submit something and subscribe to the RSS feed for updates!

 

~ This Month’s Top Three Posts ~

Exposed! My Mom Knows!

Flash Fiction: “A Taste”

I am a Sex Blogger & I Reject Pseudonymity

~ Featured Post (Molly’s Picks) ~

‘X’ is for X…
Give my guilt an erotic payoff? Tell me more.

~ Readers Choice from Sexbytes ~

*You really should consider adding your popular posts here too*

Dis-moi…

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Phenomenal Woman

“It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.”

                   Phenomenal Woman, Maya Angelou

It is a year next week since Maya Angelou died. Born into a tempestuous marriage, raped at eight-years-old by her mother’s boyfriend, a mother herself by 17, Maya went on to become, at various stages, a performer, a prostitute, a car mechanic, a waitress, a poet and writer, a newspaper editor, a film director, and a civil rights activist. She was a friend and confidant of both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and read at the inauguration of Bill Clinton. What some people achieve in one lifetime is remarkable.

Phenomenal Woman is Angelou’s stunning homage to herself and a celebration of her beauty and ability to captivate, despite not being “cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size.” It’s a rallying cry for the gorgeousness of tall, broad women everywhere! Her reading of the poem never fails to make my spine tingle and it’s worth listening till the end just to hear the spirit and joy with which she delivers the final line.

 

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No! NO. Oui: the making of a Sinful Sunday photograph

If two women are going to take a Sinful Sunday photograph in a library then it’d really help if they’re those softly-spoken, discreet kind of women who do a sort of silent glide. Exuberance, laughter, kicking off shoes, and running up and down the stairs would definitely not be the way to behave…

“I’d like to try and get a Sinful Sunday photo while we’re in here,” I said to F Leonora Solomon as we wandered around New York Public Library.

Rose RoomI was thinking back to a shot from some 18 months back, taken at the Saison Poetry Library in London. Only intended for an audience of one, it was my first photo in a public place and it was snapped furtively and nervously. While taking that photo I had looked up to see the beady eye of a security camera right above my head! That image has long since been deleted, but I would love to recreate it with more confidence and with consideration for the composition. What better location than the beautiful and elegant Rose Reading Room? Except it’s closed for refurbishment…

We’re mooching around a couple of photography exhibitions, keeping an eye out for alternative locations; I am listening to F’s enthusiasm for this art form tumble from her tongue. “Would you ever take part in Sinful Sunday?” I’d asked over brunch. “No!” had come the very decisive response. I mention it again now. “NO, really, even my family struggle to get a snap!” “Shall I stop going on about this?” I laugh, not wanting to spoil a new friendship…

I sit down on a grand staircase, willing the security guard who’s in my eye line not to look up and beckoning forward tourists who hesitate to walk through the shot, styling it out nonchalantly as if sitting barefoot with my dress hitched up round my arse is a completely normal thing to do. F runs up and down the stairs showing me the shots, making suggestions about the position of my hands, my legs. “I am having so much fun!” she exclaims.

IMG_3636“I think this is the shot we want,” she says.

“I like it,” I say, “but look at the hideous scabs on my knees, I look like a three-year-old!”

“WHAT? I really don’t think people will notice.”

She runs up the stairs, plonks herself down and takes a picture of her legs.

“Look at the scars on my legs, they’re shouting through my tights!”

 “I can’t see anything,” I say, astonished.

And there you have it. We always see in ourselves the faults that others don’t, even when we point them out.

 F’s staring at the photo of her legs. “I’m going to do Sinful Sunday!”

 “Yes!” I am delighted.

She leaps up, runs back down the steps to her handbag and grabs the necklace she bought half an hour earlier and drapes it over her thighs.

Oui.

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PS: F, I will be back and when I come we’ll get the reading room shot and I will do a better job of flashing my knickers!