Shapely Shapelessness

A few weeks back @19syllables and I went to a private view of The Photographers’ Gallery’s latest show, Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s. One of the pieces that caught our eye was Ana Mendieta’s Untitled (Glass on Body Imprint) series, where the photographer uses glass pressed against her face and body to purposely distort her features and natural shape, occasionally to quite grotesque affect.

After the show I read a bit more about her work in an article called Shapely Shapelessness. I learnt how she used her work to mimic, parody and distort the ideals of beauty perpetuated by the fashion and cosmetic industry. Last week as I arched and twisted on my desk to arty affect, her work came back to me. So I decided that this week I would parody myself. Where last week I hid the bits I don’t like and accentuated those I do, with careful composition and a moody black and white edit, this week I have squashed my least favourite bits right up against the glass and taken the colour down to a point where it is almost insipid.

Although this is the antithesis of last week’s shot, there’s something about it I actually quite love. I don’t know what. Maybe the fact that I thought ‘sod it, let’s do this!’

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Sinful Sunday

Lightweight, part two

A couple of months ago I wrote Lightweight, exploring the issue of weight when there’s less of it. At the time I said I wanted to cover this issue more and I have spoken before about wanting to see more men on Exposing 40. Last night a friend read out a Facebook post from one of her male friends. As soon as she started reading I just knew I wanted to post it here. Happily he said yes, so I am very honoured to repost some very powerful and important words about male body positivity.

Anders, by Wolfgang Tillmans

Anders, by Wolfgang Tillmans

I had a busy couple of days this past weekend, (heck, the last couple of weekends), but I’ve had a lot of time to think in between and there have been a few things stuck in my head, bouncing around, that I’ve thought about sharing including one very personal thing about my journey to get in shape. This week I crossed a threshold that I’ve never crossed before in my entire life. Today I weighed in at over 150 lbs for the first time ever (152 to be exact). I don’t like to talk about my weight and almost never mention it because it usually comes with someone making a comment about me being lucky or “I wish I had that problem” but I’ve struggled with my weight all my life; not getting rid of it, putting it on. Growing up, and even in early adulthood, I was constantly inundated with people telling me I need to eat more or saying I look like I was starving and need to put on some weight or any number of beanpole references. I didn’t even break 100 lbs until I was almost in college.

One time when was about 16 I went to a friend’s relative’s house for dinner. She kept insisting I eat more because I was so skinny. She plopped seconds on my plate and pushed dessert in front of me. I tried to politely refuse but ended up giving in, and shortly after dinner threw up in the bathroom from eating so much. I never told my friend or his mom, but it felt horrible. I was so embarrassed and felt unbelievably ashamed. It was like that at a lot of dinners when I was a kid, although thankfully not with my close family. People saw my weight as a problem they needed to fix or at least tell me how to fix.

Being the skinniest boy in Junior and High school also meant I was voted most likely to get my ass kicked for no reason other than most people could. As an adult it got slightly better but still had its issues. For my first real professional job, I had to shop in the boys section at the department store to find dress pants that would fit me.

Needless to say I’ve had a pretty bad body image almost my entire life, but I never talk about it. Partly because I know so many people struggle with losing weight and see being skinny as the perfect way to be, and partly because no one takes it seriously. I’m not trying to say that what I’ve gone through is harder or worse than what anyone else has gone through regarding any body shaming but what I felt was and is real nonetheless.

But today I’m proud. Today I’m happy for me. I smiled at a scale for the first time in my life. And it was a real scale! The kind with the sliding weights and everything. And I didn’t have shoes or heavy clothes on either. This was legit.

I share this because for the first time in my life I’m starting to feel good about my body, and that’s something that guys (and particularly skinny guys) never ever talk about, but I can assure you there are lots of us who feel it. We just can’t and don’t talk about it.

I love my body right now and it makes me happy, and if I can share my happy and cause someone else feel that way too, then sharing is worth it.

 

Manicured

Manicure 2I emailed this photo to a partner once. If I remember correctly the subject line read ‘manicured’. A teasing photo to show off a fresh shave and a new manicure. And you know what, full disclosure – I’d applied a dab of concealer because I had an ugly spot from an ingrown hair. It glowed like a belisha beacon and to my mind didn’t make the photo that hot. I wanted his cock to twitch, not for his mind to think ‘ooh, that looks a bit painful!

But would I dab a bit of make-up on before opening the door to a lover? Errr, no! No more than I would arrange my legs as I do for a photo, or angle myself to create an allusion of cleavage that if you look at me straight on is actually more of a nice wide highway through my chest up to my neck! And no more than I would expect a lover to hold his cock as he does when creating a glorious photo, or to stand perfectly upright, legs apart in that way that’s just so spine-tinglingly hot when you see it on screen.

Erotic photos are often designed. Created to prompt a reaction – a shiver of anticipation, a lurch in the stomach, a hollow ache. And that’s fine. Photos (and film) are great for that. But if you tried to position yourself like that when you were actually in the same room, you’d just look fucking weird and, more to the point, you would be thinking so much about how you look you’d almost certainly not be in the moment.

When companies like Ann Summers create cynical events like today’s Facebook session on ‘vagina contouring’, advertised with a photo of a full make-up bag but actually promoting a ‘non surgical enhancement’, they are yet again sending a message that in real life women need to ‘beautify’ to look like the well-lit, artfully arranged, air-brushed versions they see in photos and films. Sessions like this, which I am sure the PR would try and tell you is about helping increase women’s self-confidence, just give women something else to worry about. Think about how it feels, not how it looks! If you’re interested in contours I suggest you pop into the far more sex and body positive Sh! – they’ll ply you with fizz and let you have a good old feel of Rosie the vulva puppet. She’s got a very prominent G spot – you can’t miss it!

And if you’re with a man or woman who you think you need to enhance the look of your cunt for, then I suggest dumping them. Find one whose face gets so close the odd ingrown hair is out of focus anyway, who’ll casually pick off a stray bit of tissue without fuss, who’ll ignore or giggle with you at the odd farting sound, and for whom blood is just another fluid that’s occasionally there. Someone who enjoys a real cunt, basically.

Undressing for Dinner

‘Are you hungry?’

‘Um…I don’t know, I don’t think so. Maybe. I think the fizz has filled me up. But yes, probably.’

Eloquent!

I’m not sure if it was a teasing question, or just comic timing but I’d blatantly been staring at his cock, visible as he sat on the bar stool in the too-short white robes we’d just changed into. Hungry? Yes.

I like to buy experiences as birthday presents. Presents that create memories. My Mum gets trips to gardens and lunches with views. My best friends and I have saved £20 month for years and go on weekends to New York and spas, and dance at concerts. Exhibit A got dinner at The Bunyadi, London’s first naked restaurant. I’m not sure if the 40,000+ waiting list is fact or clever PR built around the number of people that signed up for more information when news of London’s latest pop up restaurant was released earlier this year, but I only booked a week or two in advance so I’m suspicious about that spin!

A few minutes later we were shown to our table through the black out curtains to the side of the bar. The restaurant, a ‘complex’ of private booths created with winding bamboo walls is in near darkness, lit only by candles. Once in your booth you disrobe. Seats are tree stumps, the tables made of wider slices of tree trunks. Terracotta plates and wine goblets and edible cutlery removed all the clatter of a normal restaurant. The website isn’t wrong when it describes it as having the feel of a spa. The waiters and waitresses are also naked, bar some strategically arranged ivy underwear: ‘It’s a very A Midsummer Night’s Dream outfit,’ observed Exhibit A. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the food, assuming it would be okay at best and that the experience would be the main attraction, but actually it was delicious. And no hot food or liquids that could create a painful accident if you spilt it in your lap! Salmon sashimi, steak tartare and a coconut mousse. There’s a choice of vegan or non vegan too.

Directing us back to the bar after dinner the waitress told us robes were no longer compulsory in the bar. Back on the bar stools you soak up the experience of collective nakedness. It was at that stage that the ‘rules’ come into focus. No photography (the ones here were snapped quickly in the changing rooms) and ‘no sexual activity’. A quick affectionate slap to my arse or me unthinkingly running my hand up and down his leg as we chat suddenly comes into sharp focus and something you wouldn’t think twice about when clothed suddenly has a frisson about it. But a good teasing one! ‘The best and worst bit of last night was the constant tease of just wanting to take your cock in my mouth and feel it get hard and not being able to,’ I messaged the next day.

I’m sure some people keep their eyes firmly on themselves and their drinks, but we’re not those types of people and happily (but discreetly!) drunk in the nakedness around us. ‘If you could fuck anyone in this bar who would it be?’ he asked. ‘Her,’ I said, nodding to a woman stood at the bar to our left, chatting to her friend. Of course he immediately struck up conversation. What followed was two hours of conversation covering everything from careers in law to non monogamous partnerships to our blogs to sex positive and sex negative parents to body piercing and Doxy wands. I’m not sure if I vocalised it or just thought it, but at one point it crossed my mind that I hadn’t for one moment felt self-conscious or tried to tuck in my belly or worried about my flat nipples.

At the end of the evening, wobbly from the wine and atmosphere, we all get dressed. I remember looking at the two women we’d spend the last couple of hours talking to and being surprised at what they were both wearing. I’ve no idea why, really. I don’t know what I would have put them in, but I remember thinking if I’d been asked how they’d dress based on the conversations we’d been having and their different confidence levels I’d have probably swapped their outfits over. A reminder that so often our clothes are our armour and part of the story we tell the outside world about ourselves.

We all go our separate ways. Him to have an unfortunate end to the evening involving a bike and a pavement, one of them South and me and the hot woman to share a taxi to South East London where we both live. I could say my evening ended there, but it would be a lie. Three hours later in bed she says, ‘This is so bizarre. I’ve spent all evening saying “don’t look at her tits, don’t look at her tits!”‘ ‘Really?!’ ‘Yes! I clocked you as soon as you two walked into the bar.’

That was a surprise! I’m not self-depreciating; of course I know people fancy me but I always assumed I am more of a package! Not someone you’d notice as they walked into the room but someone you fancy more as the layers of their personality and experiences are revealed. I rely on good dresses and skinny jeans that show off my legs, shoes and jewellery that catches the eye. Things that distract from the middle bit, basically! I didn’t imagine for one minute that naked me walking into a room would catch an eye or that being perched on a stool with my belly rolled up and odd-shaped breasts on full display would be in any way hot to a stranger.

‘Ha! He asked who’d I’d most want to fuck minutes after we sat down and I said you.’

‘Oh my God. I assume nobody ever fancies me. I think they always fancy my hot friend.’

So there you have it. Great atmosphere, delicious food and assumption-busting encounters. 

Marble

“Dear God! How beauty varies in nature and art. In a woman the flesh must be like marble; in a statue the marble must be like flesh.” Victor Hugo

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This photograph is by the wonderful Nicolas Laborie (The Photographer). He’s starting a new wetplate project exploring gender equality and the depictions of different body types in nude art. He’s looking for women and men of all ages, shapes and abilities to take part. I have only good things to say about the experience of being photographed by him and I have learnt so much about how I should regard and celebrate myself from his images of me and our conversations. You can find him at @Nicolas_Laborie or drop him a line at info@nicolaslaborie.com if you’re interested. You know you want to…

Sinful Sunday

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…

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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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