Bring on the men…

Some of you may have seen my post earlier in the week about male nudes. I mentioned towards the end of the piece that I hadn’t had any men get involved with Exposing 40 yet and I hoped that changed because body positivity is not just a women’s issue.

Mike H left this comment:

“I liked reading this. As a 41 year old who isn’t happy with my self-image and is more comfortable behind the camera, it would be nice to see the discussion opening up about men who aren’t buff, tanned, bearded or tattooed. I have moobs and love handles and a tummy so I’m doubtful that I would ever be brave enough to pose, but who knows, my partner likes my naked body – I may let her loose with my camera for a while.”

I suggested I’d be happy to host a photo when the time felt right. The conversation continued over DM on Twitter and, well, it turns out the right time was sooner than expected…

So, here’s Mike!

I am extremely honoured that he took these photos, very very proud that Exposing 40 has encouraged this bravery, and so happy that Sinful Sunday exists to give my little effort a voice within a community.

Mike sent me four photos and I chose two. I love the relaxed reclining on the sofa photo and the sense of humour that shines through with the use of the Beef book! And the chest shot? Well, the sense of power in the image and that strong mouth and fabulous stubble meant I just had to create a broody black and white edit to complement the colour version…

PicsArt_1440672758011 (2)  PicsArt_1440672758011 (3)

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Reflections on the Male Nude

“How beautiful maleness is, if it finds its right expression.”

D.H. Lawrence

I am over at Oleander Plume’s place today sharing some of my favourite male nudes. When I started that guest post I went down a rabbit hole of reading about the history of the male nude in art and photography. What I read was interesting, but not altogether surprising – analysis of the male nude continues to be largely focused on historical warrior imagery or the overt sexualisation of the body, most obviously seen in the work of photographers like Robert Mapplethorpe and Herb Ritts.

Exhibit A snuck in ahead of me on this issue yesterday and posted his own excellent reflections on male nudity, but I was pleased to read it as interestingly he touched on the same of the issues of aggression in male nudity that art critics frequently raise, saying some men “use their nudity as a way of imposing and asserting their power over women.” I don’t disagree that this is an issue to be mindful of, but I do think using this as a starting point can limit our ability to articulate, interpret and enjoy the beauty of the male body, sexualised or not.

Mapplethorpe bondageThere can be huge disparity in responses to very similar photography simply because of the gender of the subject. When Mapplethorpe toured his work in the late 1980s and early 1990s, charges of obscenity were brought against a museum, yet Man Ray (who was not without his own critics, of course) had not faced such charges sixty years earlier: why are we allowed to appreciate Man Ray’s women in bondage as art but not Mapplethorpe’s men? Similarly, when Leopold Museum in Vienna curated a retrospective called Nude Men man-ray-reclining-woman-in-bondagefrom 1800 to the present day in 2012 public outcry forced them to apply ‘modesty’ stickers to publicity posters. At the time the museum director expressed disappointment that this should happen in the 21st century when they had held numerous exhibitions of the female nude with no complaints.

Some would argue that this is born out of art’s reflection of society’s casual acceptance of the objectification of women. I don’t disagree that this is part of the problem, but I am not taking this piece down that avenue and it’s stating the obvious to say that not all nudity is objectification. I think the more pertinent point here is that by continuing to attach labels of aggression, fear or distaste to the naked male body society censors opportunities to enjoy, appreciate and celebrate it. I enjoy looking at female nudes – sometimes I admire the camera work or composition, sometimes I get ideas for my own work, sometimes I become less (and if I am honest, sometimes more) intimidated by my own naked body, and sometimes I just think ‘wow, that’s hot’! Frankly, in the name of equality I want the same opportunity to seek inspiration from, artfully critique and perve at as many male nudes as I can women. And let’s be honest here, with current state of play there are far fewer good nudes of men than there are of women.

More than one person has asked me why there are no men on Exposing 40. I have photographed men and these can be seen elsewhere, but so far none under this banner. There are plans afoot to photograph a male friend for this project in a few weeks’ time, and as a result of Exposing 40 others have spoken to me about their changing relationship with their bodies as they age. Hopefully some of those conversations will move out of the pub and onto the screen, but so far the women in my life are definitely owning this project. I am pleased this blog is giving them a platform to discuss their bodies and insecurities, but I don’t want men to be left out. I have said it before but body positivity is not just a women’s issue. In fact it’s one of the things that’s easier to talk about as a woman and I would like to see that change.

Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait

Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait

Ongoing debate about how men responsibly present and consider the power of their nude body is important, and we can’t escape how male nakedness was historically used as an overt expression of power, but I hope the narrative evolves. I hope we are soon occupying an artistic space where men can more freely celebrate their beauty and use imagery to explore their own relationships with their body without self or social censorship.

Reflections

Man RayIt was only a matter of time before I delivered up a homage to Man Ray for a certain friend in NYC, wasn’t it?

I have a mirrored bedside table, which made capturing the reflected lips pretty easy, but I have had quite a play around in post production. The first two are my interpretation of the sepia-toned original and a colour version of it. The second two use reflection but have a different composition.

Which do you prefer?

Yellow (2)  2015-08-16 20.20.57 (4)

2015-08-16 20.10.39 (4)           2015-08-16 20.13.17

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The Legacy of School

I’ve had ‘school’ on my ideas list since not long after I started this blog back in February. I knew which of my own experiences I wanted to build the post around, but never got round to thinking how to articulate it.

Then in June @chintzcurtain tweeted this from a parents’ evening:

Yes. That!

Year 11 is far too late to be talking to young people about their attitudes to their bodies. The Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital published the results of a 6000-strong study in the British Journal of Psychiatry last month which showed children as young as eight are showing signs of body dissatisfaction that can trigger eating disorder behaviours in adolescence. Researchers are recommending public health initiatives that focus on body image. If this is going to reach children of primary school age then schools have a huge role to play in that.

When I was nine my primary school teacher decided I needed to lose weight. She suggested to my Dad I go on a diet and regularly announced my ‘achievements’ to the whole school as a cause for celebration. I went to a tiny village school with only 30 pupils, my Mum had left home and the teacher was trying to be a female role model in my life. I’m sure she thought she was doing right by me, but before I hit double figures age-wise I’d already started to be defined by the figures on the scales.

What is odd is there was no real consideration from my teacher about my family’s lifestyle or my natural shape. We walked a lot as kids. From the moment we could toddle we were off walking the dog across the fields. My brother was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at five-years-old so we had a ludicrously healthy diet. Yes I was a portly little girl (and I am a portly woman!) but a lot of that was body shape and puppy fat, not a need to be put on a diet.

Happily I didn’t develop an eating disorder, but that early experience did set the tone for three decades of on and off dieting where I always felt that rush of pleasure when friends and I went to Boots to weigh ourselves during a lunch break, or when my loss was announced at ‘fat club’.

I put on weight again last year after running the London Marathon. More than one person warned me about the ‘marathon stone’ and I laughed at them. They were right. It is predictable I guess – however much you promise yourself you’ll stick to the running few people have the motivation keep up the weekly mileage that training for a marathon requires after the race has passed. But of course you’ve got used to the carb loading and the alcohol consumption creeps back up and your body makes your gluttony known in the pinch of a waistband. A couple of months back I decided the time was right to start shifting it again, but for the first time ever I am not weighing myself. I am exercising more and drinking less but I made a conscious decision that I was not going to be beholden to numbers, but that I was only going to judge myself on the fit of my favourite frock and how I felt when I pulled myself out of the pool.

And with that I’m going to (not very) neatly segue into my other point about school. Sport. Bloody sport. School does not always build a healthy love of exercise. Oh how I hated P.E. At 5’10” I should have been the best goal defender in netball; with my legs I should have nipped across the hockey pitch. But I have zero coordination, am clumsy, the speed of the balls always terrified me and I panic in team activities because I think I am going to let people down. I lived for summer term when swimming was on the timetable. With swimming it was all about the lengths, I was only competing against myself. I think this is why later in life I have come to love running so much; I happily plod away, writing stories in my head or working through problems, sometimes I am slow, sometimes I am really bloody slow, but that’s ok because nobody is waiting for me to pass or catch a ball.

If my P.E. teacher who yelled at me for not being able to cartwheel and made me stand in the playground in my leotard in January to “take six deep breaths and don’t yawn in my class again” had told me that 30 years on this would me I’d have rolled my teary eyes at her. I don’t know what school sport is like in 2015 but I hope someone tells young girls and boys that even if they don’t take naturally to school sport, they shouldn’t give up on finding what physical activities are right for them. The saddest legacy of school sport for me was that for years I was one of those people who carried the notion that exercise was something I should do rather than wanted to do. It took me years to see the fun in it.

So what made me finally ‘put pen to paper’ on all this? I read this in the Guardian this weekend.

I am about to go to university and really want to have a proper relationship with someone, but I’m too embarrassed to have sex because of my droopy, ugly breasts. I can’t imagine ever taking my clothes off for anyone.”

I’m assuming this young woman is going to university at 18, but whether that’s out by a year or so because of gap years, it doesn’t detract from the fact that this is incredibly incredibly sad. She should be excited about independence, freedom and the possibility of not-needing-to-worry-about-waking-up-the-parents-sex, not fretting about the shape of her breasts.

There is growing debate about the importance of SRE in schools and programmes like Sex in Class are taking it out of the broadsheet comment pages and onto the sofas of the great viewing public. This is good. But I hope that as well as developing appropriate sex education schools also start to consistently and responsibly help young people to deal with their body image issues so they learn to judge themselves not on what their body looks like or how much it weighs, but on what it can achieve, the wonder of how it works and the fun it’s helping them have – inside or outside of the bedroom.

 

Astride a Grave

“They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.” Pozzo, Waiting for Godot

On the surface of it, referencing Beckett doesn’t seem the obvious choice for a blog that aims to be relentlessly positive, but I love this quote. I don’t see negativity in it, it’s a rallying cry!

We are born astride a grave and the light does only gleam an instant. Life is too short not to try new things or test ourselves; too short to spend time with people who don’t enrich our lives and help us shine; too short to not be confidently naked in front of a lover or to prance on a sunny beach in our swimwear; too short to worry about what’s wobbling when we’re running, dancing, fucking…

Grave

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Introducing Hotel Porn

“When you get into a hotel room, you lock the door, and you know there is a secrecy, there is a luxury, there is fantasy. There is comfort. There is reassurance.”
Diana Von Furstenberg

 

Ace Hotel, Shoreditch

Ace Hotel, Shoreditch

I am blaming F Dot Leonora entirely for this offshoot of Exposing 40. I travel frequently for work (and fun!) and anyone who follows me on Twitter is likely to have seen me tweeting about hotels at some point. Rooms have been used as locations for my own self-portraits, and F Dot Leonora has featured my images, some of which include me, some of which don’t.

I have lots of stories from hotels. From sleeping amongst books in a library hotel in Saigon to sharing my bed with cockroaches (and that’s not an insult, I mean the creepy crawly kind!) in an old convent in Uganda; from acting the voyeur and photographing a naked woman stood in a window opposite my room, to laughing hysterically as I and a couple checked into a hotel to discover the double bed was two singles pushed together; waking up to the never-ending horizon of the sea, a mountain panorama or a glittering cityscape…

And of course, as well as the stories there are hundreds of photographs – of beautiful rooms, of quirky features, of me, and of lovers. I’ll share some of the photos and anecdotes here and anyone who wants to use any of my images to illustrate stories as my lovely friend F Dot Leonora has, is more than welcome to – just let me know.

I will be collating all hotel-related posts and images here.

Look At Me Now

You may recall, back in May my friend wrote Behind the Camera and some of the Sinful Sunday regulars left some typically encouraging and beautiful comments. My friend loves this project and has taken a few of my photos but at the time didn’t feel ready to share her own or be ‘judged’. Judged is a loaded word, frequently used pejoratively. I knew this was a word that couldn’t be applied the Sinful Sunday community, but I understood what she was getting at.

Last week she was judged. In the most appalling way. Within a work context, in a ‘professional’ meeting, people saw fit to make comments on her weight and appearance and align this to work performance. Even writing this is making tears of anger prick behind my eyes.

Her response? A spur of the moment message to me, and THIS. Photo by me, words by her. And I’m so proud of her. Do your best Team Sinful Sunday – judge away…

Look at me now

I’ve never invited your comments, your opinions, but you gave them to me whether I wanted them or not.

You made me sad, angry, ashamed, and you made me want to hide myself.

But look at me: strong legs, capable arms, glorious breasts.

What’s your judgement of me now?

Look At Me Now

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