My London Bridge

My train from the suburbs arrives into London Bridge. At the time he was working just over the river. It’s a hot July day and I’m not really concentrating. My phone pings.

Fancy sucking my cock?”

“I’ll get the next train.”

“I’ll see you in The Vintry”

An hour later I’m walking back across the bridge to get the train home. A man double takes as I dip my fingers into my cleavage and lick the spunk from them.

I giggle and text him.

“That’s a really hot message! That was really hot.”

Forty minutes later I’m back at my desk.

I’ve thought about that every single time I’ve crossed London Bridge since. That’s my London Bridge memory. It’ll always be my London Bridge memory.

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On the power of feedback

“My name is Exposing 40 and I am a feedback junkie”.

I wish I wasn’t. I wish I didn’t need the endorphin rush of kind words and encouragement. I wish that silence didn’t occasionally leave me a quivering ball of self-doubt. I wish that thoughtless and careless words didn’t break me. But as I’ve increasingly realised as I get older, it’s very hard to change the way we are hardwired.

I have a friend who used to say ‘R-E-F-L-E-C-T-O-R’ in a deep sci-fi film voice whenever I started a conversation with ‘I’ve been thinking…’ I’m sure many friends and lovers over the years have uttered a silent ‘oh fuck, here we go’ when I start a conversation with those words. Sometimes I have just been thinking and have a passing point to make, but more often than not it’s shorthand for ‘I’ve been worrying about this and I really need to talk it through to get my head round it/feel reassured/be told I am worrying about nothing etc etc’.

For many years I tried to stifle this tendency and my need for feedback and discussion when I was with partners. I worried that this need equalled ‘neediness’ and if there’s one thing I loathe the idea of being, it’s needy. But I’ve realised (after much thinking and reflection, of course!) that the need to discuss my insecurities and seek out reassurance from those I trust is a strength, not a weakness. For me, it’s about learning about myself, facing up to what makes me feel vulnerable and trying to be the best I can be.

When it comes to sex, I want to talk through things I have or haven’t tried and I want feedback on what I do and whether I am doing it well. Regarding body confidence, I don’t mind admitting how much I have gained from people’s comments on my photos or how good an enthusiastic comment when I am naked makes me feel. We seek out development opportunities – whether that’s a professional coach, a tailored marathon training plan or a course about something we’re interested in – in all other areas of life without questioning it so why not with sex and our relationship with our bodies?

Earlier this year a new partner said ‘sit on my face’ in a tone that wasn’t brooking any argument. I hesitated for a fraction and then did as he instructed. ‘I’ve never done that before,’ I said an hour or so later as we were eating pizza. He looked surprised. ‘I just have things in my head that I don’t think are possible as a bigger woman.’ It’s true. It’s not like I actually thought I’m going to suffocate someone with my stomach, but I just had it in my head that it wouldn’t be hot for them. He and I ended up having a chat about weight and different body types and sex that left me feeing that little bit more relaxed and confident. And I’ve happily hopped on board his and other faces since. Win!

But while comfortable conversation can bolster us, words delivered carelessly can diminish us. Last summer, out of the blue, someone I was close to told me my photography was becoming lazy and I wasn’t making any effort anymore. I’m posting naked photos of myself and my friends to help us celebrate our diverse bodies and I am writing posts that think through some of my bigger emotional obstacles and I am being lazy? The unkindness of that comment, delivered across a table in a crowded pub, reduced me to tears and that friendship was never the same again. That someone would be so unkind about this photography project, which has been the source of so much fun and personal growth for me and helped other people feel differently about themselves, rocked me. Recently the awesome @confess_hannah wrote powerfully in her post Pussy Pride about the lasting impact of a thoughtless comment about her vulva.

Earlier this month I attended the Scarlet Ladies Body Positive Sex event. Many things were discussed during the evening but as I let the discussions percolate in my brain for a week or so, what I kept coming back to was that many of the experiences women shared – both good and bad – were connected back to this idea of feedback and the power other people’s words have to lift us up or crush us.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of Scarlet Ladies, it was founded by Sarah and Jannette who believe in the power of sharing ideas and experiences to change perceptions around female sexuality. Their regular women-only discussion events provide a safe and confidential space where women can share experiences. So, if you fancy attending in the future and are concerned that you might see yourself quoted on a blog somewhere, don’t worry – I am not writing anything without consent and all the quotes below come from answers to my emailed questions.

Attending the event was Michelle from Mindset for Life. Michelle runs the brilliant Scarred not Scared campaign, which draws on her experiences of having 15 post-surgery scars and encourages others to share the stories of their scars. On the evening she spoke of only having had one positive sexual experience.

“My most recent experience in the bedroom was the positive experience I was referring to (thankfully I’ve had another since the talk!) and that was when the guy I was with kissed my scars. Every time before there have been negative comments, awkwardness around it or blatant body shaming. These negative experiences have made me more hesitant to talk about my surgeries and more nervous when I finally do discuss them. Now, they don’t affect my body image but when I was younger, they certainly did – it really fed into what I believed about my attractiveness and more so, I thought it was a normal way to react. Through my experiences, I was taught that scars were disgusting and I learnt to agree.”

Co-founder Sarah, who was on the panel for this event, told a quite wonderful story about the time a boyfriend spent 20 minutes or more just looking at and gently playing with her vulva, describing it in detail. It was completely spontaneous and really a very beautiful and intimate experience. It was something that was really special and allowed me to open up to him sexually in ways I had not previously. It was almost as if I broke free from the confinement of having to be beautiful all the time. It just didn’t matter. My vulva is what it is and that’s fine. It no longer needed a label of whether it was beautiful or ugly or something in between.” Sarah said.

That experience also stood her in good stead for the time a casual partner said her vulva looked like a cauliflower. “That incident, as I tried to explain on the panel, did not affect me at all. It was funny when he said it and we had a laugh. This incident only happened in the last few years, by which point I was already pretty confident about the appearance of my vulva. Had someone said that to me when I was 20, it would have been a different story.”

I think there’s a nice point in that comment from Sarah about the value of having positive experiences in the bank and how they build our resilience and self-confidence. In the same way that Michelle experienced self-doubt from the layering of negative experiences, Sarah’s ability to cope with what at other times in her life may have been a damaging comment was born out of that banked experience. I’m not saying we should all leap on the positive feedback bandwagon and throw it around like a confetti at a wedding, but I do think it is worth remembering that casual words of encouragement or bigger meaningful discussions can play a role in building the confidence of those closest to us.

I and many others in the sex blogging community have spoken before about what a warm and supportive space our part of the internet is. I know much of my personal development over the last 2.5 years has come as a result of this blog. The photography side of it is unapologetically celebratory and fun, while over time my writing has become more open and honest. Reading other people’s blogs and talking to people I have met on here has encouraged me to be more honest with myself and others about what I really think and what my expectations are. It has taught me not to be embarrassed by my emotional response to things.

As the evening ended it struck me that many of people who attend these events probably aren’t part of the sex blogging community. What Scarlet Ladies creates in its safe places is the spirit of openness and support and learning that many of us here benefit from on a day-to-day basis. At the event Michelle spoke with some emotion and frustration about the changing nature of the body positivity movement. She spoke of not quite knowing where to go next with her work. Last week when I looked her up on Twitter to make contact for this post I spotted her announcement that all her social content for the week would be sex-related: “Inspired by @scarletladies”, she’d tweeted. There’s some feedback worth having!

Scarlet Ladies invited me to the event in return for a review but all opinions are my own. Many more topics were discussed on the evening beyond the angle I have chosen to explore in this post. The wide-ranging conversation covered everything from period sex to body hair to fat girl fetishes to fat positivity versus body positivity. If you’re interested in checking out a Scarlet Ladies event you can find out more at http://scarletladiestalk.com/.

 

Orgasms are not worth the worry! 

“Don’t stop touching yourself,” he says as he fucks me from behind, feeling that I’m about to come and probably wondering why I’ve stopped. I’ve stopped because I’ve felt myself about to come, thought that I am and that very thought has stolen the orgasm from me.

I’m really bad at orgasming with partners. Actually, not bad – I am purposely playing devil’s advocate using that word! – but I am really slow. And I hate that. And so I overthink it, I worry about it and I chase the orgasms. And chasing them makes it less likely to happen, or rather it’ll take even more time to happen. And I really shouldn’t worry about it; I know my orgasm isn’t a prize I have to deliver, for myself or my partners. But knowing I shouldn’t worry doesn’t mean I don’t and it doesn’t mean that I can stop myself occasionally thinking that I am in some way inferior because I don’t orgasm quickly or over and over when I am with partners. It’s easy to be influenced by things you read and to judge yourself against them even when you know you shouldn’t.

I can also be cripplingly insecure about sex with partners, which probably sounds unlikely to anyone who knows me in real life or who reads this blog and has picked up on my sometimes annoyingly optimistic outlook and exuberant lust for life! I was once told by a colleague that I was too confident and didn’t consider other people when going after what I want (yeah, jog on Mr with your fragile ego!). But when it comes to going after what I want in the bedroom I can be the complete opposite. It can take me weeks of thinking about something before asking. I put my suggestions in text messages rather than asking face-to-face and will then worry until I get a reply and if I don’t get a reply at all I will tie myself in knots. I crave reassurance and feedback in my sex life even more than I do in other parts of my life, and I crave feedback a lot about everything!!

But this isn’t a sex negative post. Insecurity and over-thinking may scupper me on speed when it comes to orgasming with partners but we do have great sex.  I don’t just think my partners and I have great sex, I love the sex we have, with or without an orgasm. And there almost always orgasms! Happily, in the last five years or so I would say I have only had one selfish lover (“I’ve realised I am not really interested in your pleasure” – seriously!) and if I reflect on all of my partners over the last 23 years I would struggle to name many had no interest in my orgasm. But in partnered sex I am trying to teach myself to not see my orgasm or the speed of its arrival as a goal or an indication of success or failure.

But sex with myself? Well that’s a whole different kettle of fish. I am an awesome wanker! With none of the worries of speed or performance or having to build myself up to asking for what I want, I’ll happily play away, trying new things – sometimes for hours, sometimes for seconds. Way back in my early twenties a friend who was worrying about her orgasms asked me how quickly I come. ‘I timed myself once and it was under 30 seconds,’ I replied. ‘WHY?’ she asked. ‘Just for the fun of it and because I wondered.” On a train a couple of months ago I decided to get myself off to a super-hot film a lover had sent me. ‘Tell me when you’re starting,’ he messaged a couple of minutes after I told him my plan. ‘Oh, I am done. I am eating cake now,’ went my reply. 

Sometimes it’s not about speed. I may decide to have a ‘freelancer’s lie down’ as Jedi Hamster so divinely calls it and I’ll wobble back to my desk an hour and four or five orgasms later and with new knowledge about my body. I’ll amuse myself by sitting up in bed pretending to read a book while I watch the builder on the scaffolding and my We Vibe does its thing beneath the covers. I’ll sit at my desk and relieve the boredom of doing finances by nestling a bullet vibe up against a butt plug. And I’m very good at pretending I am asleep and keeping everything deathly still beneath my blanket on long haul flights.  The tapping technique is best under the blanket for anyone wanting to embark on a mile high self-love in. Minimal movement!

So when I saw Tabitha’s #30dayorgasmfun challenge I thought ‘Wahey, this is going to be great. I’m going to own this’. I didn’t! In fact I failed almost immediately. Day one I was hungover and not in the mood. Day two it was nearly midnight when I got in from a work do and thought ‘oh God, I have to have an orgasm’. Day three, four, five… and I was quickly making myself come in the morning, thinking ‘I should get this over and done with in case the day runs away with me…’ Within the space of a few days all the joy and fun of wanking was replaced with the ‘I need to get this done’ thinking that sometimes invades my thoughts when I am with partners was stopping me coming. I was putting myself under pressure and the whole exercise was making me unhappy. By having a goal, a ‘task’ that needed to be ticked off, my orgasms were becoming a source of stress. Which is the exact opposite of what Tabitha intended with the whole exercise, which was about orgasms being part of good mental health. And it was also the opposite of what I usually get from sex with myself.

I have purposely been using term ‘sex with myself’ in this post rather than only saying wanking or masturbation. Obviously it is wanking, but since having a mini meltdown when I realised the ‘challenge’ wasn’t working for me I have thought a lot about my orgasms, by myself and with partners, and alongside that my sex life more generally. I have partners who are important to me, but I definitely identify as single in terms of how my relationships influence my life and decision-making. I don’t have a lot of sex with partners (although I do have regular sex and know I am much more fortunate having partners who are close to me when some friends are in long distance relationships, so I’m not complaining!) so when I think about my sex life I’ve realised I should include time on my own in the overall picture. And in thinking about my sex life as a whole thing I have realised I am more than happy with my orgasm count, variety and intensity. The only time orgasms make me unhappy is when I worry about being too slow to have them.

And I’ve also realised that when I reflect on what I enjoy about sex with partners my orgasm is actually one of the least important things. Brilliant, of course, and definitely very pleasurable, but sex with partners brings pleasure to me in far more important ways than my own orgasm. I am not a sex multitasker and I would so much rather concentrate on the feeling of his cock when he’s fucking me rather than on furiously rubbing my own clit, trying to rush an orgasm. This is absolutely not me deprioritising orgasms with a partner and I’m pretty sure the men in my life will still be pretty keen to keep them coming, excuse the pun. But I’m definitely going remove some of the stress I put on myself by worrying less about making them happen and spending more time appreciating what I can’t do on my own. I can give myself wobbly legged amazing orgasms, but I can’t bite my own tits, pull my own hair, hold myself down, scratch my own back or spank my own arse! Those things won’t drive an orgasm as quickly as direct clitoral stimulation but they’re definitely one of the most awesome things about being with someone else. The joy of partners is the feel and taste of cock, the smell and weight of their body, watching the expressions on their face. And at the risk of making it goal-centred on their orgasm instead of mine, I bloody love spunk! Seeing it, feeling it, tasting it. All those things matter to me more than an orgasm when I’m fucking someone. 

So what happened when I ditched Tabitha’s #30dayorgasmfun? Well, I went back to business as usual, which meant some days I worked for 12 hours and was happy as Larry, some days I lazed around, more interested in books than sex, I had lots of indulgent freelancer lie downs, and I had glorious orgasms with a partner. But I stopped putting a daily target on it. I am pretty sure that if my orgasms were added up they’d total the ‘one a day for 30 days’ target but I was so much happier when I wasn’t counting. And although I said above that I failed at Tabitha’s task, I don’t actually think I did because it made me think about my orgasms and the part they play in the overall fulfilling picture of my sex life in a considered way for perhaps the first time ever. And it made me promise myself I wouldn’t worry so much!

Always Coming Second

March 2016 and the early days of a new partnership. We’re talking around the headlines of each other’s lives; comfortable enough to talk about the bigger picture but not yet talking about the finer details.

“So, he is your primary partner then?”

It was phrased as a question but his assumption that the answer would be yes meant he delivered it like a statement of fact.

“No!”

I could tell from the look on his face that he was taken back by the force with which I’d answered. “I don’t have a primary partner,” I added. At that point his look of surprise turned to confusion: “How can you not have a primary partner?” For him, married with children, it was quite clear that our fledgling relationship was a secondary partnership. That I would be coming to things with the perspective of not having a primary partner momentarily destabilised his notion of what we might become. “I don’t want a primary partner,” I clarified, keen to allay any unspoken questions or concerns he might have of the ‘well if he’s not your primary partner are you expecting me to become that?’ kind. But he couldn’t really understand that I didn’t want a primary partner, or rather how I could be happy being a secondary partner when I didn’t have my own primary partnership. As I tried to answer his questions I realised I didn’t really know all the answers myself. Not because I thought that what made me happy was wrong, just because I’d never really thought about why it worked for me. I started this post about two hours later.

My mind has wandered to it every so often since then, but I have never felt compelled to finish it. In truth, I didn’t think I ever would. I occasionally reference partners in written posts and on these pages you’ll find photos of them, of me taken by them, of us, or even of their wives taken by them, but I’ve never written about how my relationships work and never felt the need to. While I hadn’t really expected to publish this post, thinking it through over time helped me process my views, why I respond in the way I do to some things and how I want to label my relationships so they make sense to everyone involved and help me articulate my expectations. Earlier this year, I was answering some questions @19syllables had and I heard myself say “I have a half written post on this. It’s got a great title!” “Oh, write it! I would love to read it,” she replied. Then this Twitter chat happened last week. And so I find myself putting a structure to various musings.

I guess my starting point should be why I don’t want a primary partner. Happily, I don’t have any horror stories that influences this, just a very average roll call of mid-teen obsessions through to lovely late-teen and early twenties boyfriends. Then in my mid-twenties I moved in with a boyfriend. He was brilliant, we were in love and we’re still in touch. But I felt trapped and I felt lonely. I rarely, if ever, feel lonely when I’m alone, but it’s amazing how lonely it is to be with someone when it’s not a situation that suits you. Where some people find security and warmth in a shared home I found claustrophobia. I wanted to travel, he wanted marriage and babies young. I detest routine and our habit of going to the supermarket every Monday actually made me miserable. To this day I cannot bear to be in a supermarket with a partner. I rounded the corner of an aisle in my local Sainsbury’s a couple of years ago and spotted a guy I occasionally fucked and I actually backed away. Seriously! Not because we’d fallen out or I looked rough but because the idea of wandering round a supermarket with a partner rang such Pavlovian Bell of misery!

Was my response to my relationship with Nik because we weren’t right for each other or was it because fulltime relationships genuinely don’t suit me? I don’t know for sure. Maybe there is someone out there with whom I’d happily blend my life, but nothing about the thought of it appeals to me. In my early thirties I made efforts with traditional online dating, not yet admitting to myself even that I didn’t want what all my friends were embracing. The truth is the idea of shared diaries, family events, planning holidays together – all sources of joy and security to many people – make my shoulders go up. Finally accepting that a more flexible and (as far as is possible when you’re an adult and running a business!) commitment-free life is one that best suits me was a great relief.

For a while what that did leave was a life with little or no sex. There was lag time between me ceasing the joyless task of trying to meet ‘the one’ and the point at which I realised I could have relationships that worked for me. I know I’m not interested in casual sex or informal ‘friends with benefits’ arrangements that only mean occasional sex. I want the benefits of a regular partner or partners. I want to learn about someone’s body and they to learn about mine. I want the connection to improve over time as we get to know each other and to have the confidence to suggest and try new things, which I don’t think I would have with casual partners. I like the relaxed intimacy that comes with knowing someone well. I want partners who understand my insecurities and know how and when to reassure me. For a while I assumed all that security was also tied in with a larger commitment to a ‘proper’ relationship and that I couldn’t have one without the other. Not wanting commitment or casual sex meant I just checked out of the dating game altogether for a while.

Then in 2012 a colleague pointed me to OK Cupid and a whole lot changed. I’ve learnt so much about myself and what my expectations are in the years since. One of the most significant is my shifting notion of what constitutes a relationship and becoming comfortable with referring to what I have with partners as relationships. It’s really only in the last year or two that I’ve stopped saying I don’t want a ‘proper’ relationship. And it was a conscious decision to stop saying that. Something not being ‘proper’ suggests that it isn’t important or that I have no expectations. I want to engineer what makes me happy by being more vocal about my expectations, believing I can find people to meet that and that I am worthy of having them met. And I decided I no longer wanted to undermine what I have with people who are important to me by suggesting they are not ‘proper’ just because they’re not fulltime or traditional.

Why would I suggest that what I have with someone who has been in my life for more than three years, introduced me to this community and has at times listened patiently while I work through my ‘theories of me’ isn’t proper? Why would I downplay the man who I’d only see once a month when he taught me so much about my body and what I enjoy and with whom I started to see some of my partnerships through a structure of polyamory? He met me within days of meeting another woman. He spoke immediately of his desire for a long term committed relationship, saying he could see that developing with either of us. I definitely didn’t want that; she did. “Would I still like to invest in our romance by being his secondary partner?” he asked. Aside from thinking the use of the word romance was charming, this was new label for me. That was my first experience of someone developing a more committed relationship while still ensuring I knew I mattered. With him I discovered that I love to hear about partners’ more significant relationships. I also started to recognise that I only feel vulnerable in my relationships if there’s a not a plan of some sort in the diary. He and I would periodically get our diaries out, look ahead a couple of months and get a couple of week nights and a weekend day in the diary. I don’t like planning more than a couple of months ahead but I also need to know that there is time that will be mine. If I have that then my equilibrium is pretty sound; I’m not someone who needs daily contact or any of the support structures you can expect in a fulltime relationship.

Over time I’ve come up with my own label for how I describe what I look for and that’s ‘partner light’. I can’t really type that without giggling since a friend quipped “well as long as you’re happy with your relationships sounding like an incontinence pad, I guess that makes sense!” but to me it’s the most simple way I’ve found to describe the balance of what I’m looking for. More than friends with benefits, less than fulltime committed partner. And to bring this back to @coffeeandkink’s original tweet, that is why I thrive on being a second.

Over the last five years I’ve had five partners who in some way were or are significant. Of them only one didn’t have a primary partnership when I met them. I have always felt more secure in the partnerships where there were wives, partners or in one case a cohabiting parenting partnership, which meant there were or are people and things that must be prioritised over me. Their need to fit me round the structure of family life or their primary relationship means there is an imperative to plan well, which makes me happy. I find deep reassurance in knowing they have chosen to place me alongside much bigger things in their life while never needing to worry that they will one day want more from me than I am prepared or able to give. In fact, my interest in one partner fell off a cliff when it turned out he was getting divorced.

And as for the partner who wasn’t in a committed partnership when I met him in 2013? Well, most people in the blogging community don’t need an introduction to what’s happening in his life! Happily, I’d say I don’t really recognise how we are now compared to before. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say I don’t recognise myself in that partnership? I don’t know. But I do know I feel more secure in what we have now. How much time I have with him hasn’t really changed. In fact, as much as I may need reminding of this if I’m being grumpy, I probably see more of him now. Or certainly more in terms of quality time and plans made in advance which keep me happy. I never worried with him about needing to give more than I could but I frequently had a self-destructive degree of insecurity about thinking there were women more exciting or better or hotter than me. As his life has changed over the last two years and I’ve recognised my desire to keep him in my life, my confidence in articulating what I want or what I am worrying about has grown. I no longer pretend I am comfortable with winging it, I make sure we have plans instead. And the upshot is rather than feeling diminished or threatened by such a significant change in his life I actually feel more secure; I more clearly understand that I am valued when time is made for me and what we have continues to exist and evolve alongside something that is so magnificent and so much bigger than us.

I don’t really care how partners label me. They can call me a second or a partner or a lover. The label doesn’t matter to me as much as knowing I am valued and seeing my place in a structure. For me, having the commitment of partners who choose to see me regularly and build me into their lives without there being any expectation of a deeper commitment or more formal blending of lives is where I feel at my best.

It’s almost like I’m hardwired to always come second!

Joy

It will be of no surprise to any of you who read this blog regularly that I love a bit of outdoor nudity! It’s such a happy joyful thing. It was the awesome Molly Moore who introduced me to that joy. Sure, I had swiftly slipped out of my clothes in a park in Berlin and one in South London for a couple of al fresco photos before my day out with Molly in summer 2015, but I had never relished the feeling of being naked in nature. That day as I sank into a bath not of bubbles in my shiny white bathroom, but of grime and bugs under the dappled light of a canopy of leaves, I truly relaxed. Staring up at the bright July sunlight dancing and twinkling through the thick green leaves was as absorbing as looking at a night sky when you’re in the middle of nowhere.

Later when I was preparing to post the first photo from that day I discovered the Japanese expression shin-rin yoku. Shin-rin yoku translates as forest bathing. It’s a practice that promotes the calming and restorative benefits of spending time in forests and participating in activities that keep you in touch with nature. Oh how I thoroughly endorse that practice! Two of those photos are now framed in my bathroom and they make me smile every time I hop in the shower. The white lie I tell visitors (because everyone asks about them!) who don’t know about this blog trips easily off my tongue now: “Oh, my friend belongs to a photography club and her monthly prompt was nudes and she wanted to do something a bit different.”

Since that day nearly two years ago I have had many more days out naked under the trees and it never gets less joyful. And even more than being the subject I love wielding my camera and being a catalyst for others’ forest bathing experiences. Some of my favourite photos from days out with friends will never make my blog as they compromise people’s anonymity, but are the ones where faces are free of frown lines but crumpled with laughter.

Tabitha with her arms aloft and her face tipped up to the sun, laughing like a sun goddess in her element; Chiaroscuro flicking two fingers at me and roaring into the camera as I laugh at him trying to climb a tree naked (updated on his instruction to include the shot of him telling me to fuck off!); Maria with an almost beatific smile on her face as I photograph her in a cemetery that nature is reclaiming; Haiku and I giggling like out of control school girls as we reach the other side of the bridge and both look over our shoulders at Jedi Hamster. Whatever personal reasons people have for taking part in Exposing 40 I love that they have so much fun doing it.

And of course there’s the faintly ridiculous. A dog and a fox crashing mine and Maria’s peaceful spot with their vicious-sounding fight. Exhibit A telling me to ‘get back down, I haven’t taken it yet’ during this shoot, not knowing that from my position prone across the path I could see someone walking towards me; small talk with walkers asking about some ruins as we grin and silently will them to move on so we can get our kit off again! Oh yes. Getting naked in nature really is the most uplifting freeing fun thing to do.

Here are a few of my favourite photos from those days out, including two completely new ones from recent shoots with Maria and Honey.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Shaping the Body

It’s Saturday, it’s sunny and even better I have a guest post from @jedihamster001. I’ve had my eye on the Shaping the Body exhibition up in York for quite a while now. I’ve been to the city twice in my life; she’s a regular visitor. So when she hopped on the train north recently I added this to her list of things to do. She’s wrong about her “less than perfect” body (*insert Paddington Bear hard stare) and about 99 Red Balloons, but other than that this is an awesome read!


As good and solid a friendship as Exposing 40 and I have, our opinions differ on a lot of things: She’s never seen Star Wars, I’ll never love anyone the way I love Chewbacca. There are entire whatsapp conversations dedicated to which language one should sing 99 Red Balloons in (German, obviously). I once had to pretend it was agave nectar sweetening our watermelon mimosas (sorry about that, E40, but who doesn’t like honey?!).

When it comes to getting our kecks off in front of others, again we’re different: E40 joyfully takes hers off at any given opportunity and invites lusty gazes, whilst I don’t really believe that anyone could, would, or indeed should want to look upon my less-than-perfect form.

So when I found myself on a random weekend in York a few weeks ago, I was really interested to go (at her suggestion) to the Shaping The Body exhibition at the Castle Museum: charting 400 years of fashion, food and life, and how the definition of the ‘perfect’ body has changed over the centuries.

That weekend was almost 20 years to the day since I’d first visited the city before going to college there, 18 years old and with no clue about who or what I wanted to be. As walked through the city on my way I started thinking about how I looked in 1997, what I wore, and how I felt about my body.

I’ve always been a big girl, and as a teen I was painfully aware of my flaws, comparing myself to my thinner friends and batting away any compliments, convinced that I was being at best humoured and at worst, mocked. I had no clue about dressing myself: scruffy student stayed with me far longer after graduating than it should have done and I honestly have no idea why denim shirts were such a big part of my wardrobe. No really. I had THREE.

These days, I use my clothes as my costume. When I need to feel powerful at work, it’s the rock chick look with lots of mascara and big high-heeled boots; to feel demure it’s a flowery dress, sandals and a shit-ton of lip goo that my hair invariably gets stuck in (I said I knew how to dress myself, I never said I was graceful!). My clothes are my armour, making me into the person I need to be at that given moment. Take away that armour and I’m just a wobbly thirtysomething overly concerned about her backrolls.

Shaping the Body works hard to show its visitors that worrying about how we look is by no means a modern phenomenon:

“In today’s selfie generation, it is said that we have become more image conscious than ever before, with the lengths that people will go to in order to achieve the ‘perfect’ look seeming ever more drastic, but the reality is that even before the age of the digital camera, people would go to extremes to conform to fashion, whether through changing diet or clothing which modified the body’s shape,” [taken from the York Castle Museum website]

There’s an interesting trawl through some torturous clothing – a corset that cinched in the waist to mere inches, spiky heels that could easily double as a weapon, and I’m pretty sure I spotted a dress lined with mercury. Century by century and, latterly, decade by decade trends and styles are analysed: I laughed for about a year when I realised that circa 1752, ‘you’re looking thin’ could have been seen as an insult.

All of this was interesting but by no means ground-breaking. What really made me catch my breath was further into the exhibition, exploring body image, how we view our bodies and how we define ourselves with what we wear.

img_2701A clothes dummy covered in labels where people were encouraged to write about how they feel about themselves yielded the header image, and the below brought tears to my eyes – the artist had made a plaque to commemorate the moment the first time he tried on a man’s shirt in public after coming out as trans.

A transwoman had donated the outfit she wore when she felt she first ‘passed’ as female; punks described how they were judged not on their personality but on their hairstyles; fashion students created pieces in response to the theme ‘Identity’ with mixed results – some felt more profound maybe than others, but emphasised that it’s unfair to scoff at another’s insecurities.

It gave me a lot to think about as I exited through the gift shop. I’m not sure I learned anything new but as a resource for teens/young people to combat the constant barrage of what constitutes ‘perfection’, it’s invaluable. My 18 year old self would have loved it, I think. 38 year old me is still laughing about the denim shirts.

Things that made me go WOW

More than two weeks has passed since the WOW Festival and I had meant to write something before now. Where does time go? I went to a couple of really thought-provoking sessions, one on body positivity and one on the politics and socioeconomics of food and will draw some reflection from those together in a longer post at some point over the next few weeks. But before that I wanted to share a few quick recollections of some things that grabbed my attention and that I think some of you may be interested in.

Foreign Body by Imogen Butler-Cole
This was a really beautiful, powerful and courageous show exploring healing after sexual assault. At times it was hard to remember to breathe. The physical performance was captivating but the power comes in the verbal testimonies from the performer, the perpetrator of one of her assaults and survivors of sexual assault. That the perpetrator was included in the show was both powerful and particularly relevant given the festival had bowed to pressure to remove a session where a speaker was to appear alongside the man who raped her.

Many of us know Emily Rose through Twitter or from Eroticon; as Emily Jacob she runs Reconnected Life and was speaking on the panel after the show. Related to the controversy, she made some really interesting points about the need to involve men who assault women in dialogue, saying it will help break down the misconception that rapists are ‘a mysterious monster in the shadows’ – “they are our neighbours, people we know, perceived pillars of the community, and that needs to be talked about.”

Foreign Body is showing at Hamilton House in Bristol on Friday 31st March and Saturday 1st April if you happen to be in the area.

“Your human rights are our human rights”
In her closing address on the Sunday afternoon Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, Jude Kelly, noted that she was speaking to a room of predominantly white women. She called on us to not just check that privilege but to use it where we can to create change.

This echoed the call to action I had heard in two sessions over the weekend where twice speakers had spoken of how the human rights of Asian communities are ignored in the face of white people’s fears that they would be tiptoeing around cultural practices. “Don’t be afraid to speak out because you’re white, it’s not offending another culture.” said Coco Khan of The Guardian in the Sex and the Subcontinent session, “If you see a friend being bullied or abused, stick up for them. Your human rights are our human rights.” That came on the back of a discussion about a young Asian man who after 13 years in a relationship with another man came out to his family, but was so publically shamed by them he committed suicide.

The day before Jasvinder Sanghera, the founder of Kharma Nirvana which supports victims of honour crimes and forced marriages, told the audience that in one academic year in one local authority in the north of England 110 girls were removed from the school register to be forced into marriage. The police officer who raised it was disciplined. 110 girls removed from schools to be taken out of the country to be forced into marriage and no action taken.

Be each other’s Wonderbras
Phyllis Lyon had never heard the word lesbian when she became friends with Del Martin in 1950. In 1952 they became lovers. On Valentine’s Day 1953 they moved into an apartment on Castro Street in San Francisco. In 1955 they founded Daughters of Bilitis, the first social and political organisation for lesbians in the US. In the 1960s Betty Friedan, then president of the National Organisation of Women, referenced Daughters of Bilitis when she coined the expression ‘lavender menace’ to describe the threat that she believed lesbian associations posed to the emerging women’s movement.

Another woman we heard about was Ida B Wells, the first black female editor of a newspaper in the US and a civil rights and women’s rights activist. Wells had a long running and public feud with Frances Willard a white suffragist and also dedicated a chapter of her book A Red Record to condemning Willard for using rhetoric that promoted crimes against African Americans in America. Apparently, as recently as 1967 black women were told by white women to walk at the back of feminist marches in the US.

These stories were shared in the Badass Feminists from History session. We learnt that throughout history some of the biggest challenges to the feminist movement has come from other parts of feminist movement. Author Kathy Lette called on us to be each other’s Wonderbras and always support each other. The Pollyanna in me agrees with that. But this piece argues that the intersectionality of issues within the movement means there has always been and will always be ‘infighting’ and that debate and argument are inevitable, healthy and make it stronger. I can see both points.

Both the above stories and 50 more can be found in Modern Women: 52 Pioneers.

Postscript: Lyon and Martin married in June 2008 in the first same-sex wedding to take place in San Francisco after the California Supreme Court’s legalised same-sex marriage in California. Martin died three months later.

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