A few months ago, I was watching a local news broadcast when I saw a brief public interest segment about artist/photographer Spencer Tunick and a project he was going to be doing as an installation during the Republican National Convention. He was calling for female volunteers to be photographed holding large round mirror disks.
I’m not sure why I was interested in doing this. Maybe I thought it would be a really cool thing to be a part of. Maybe I enjoyed the idea of being in a piece of art, which is something I’ve done before. Maybe I thought the experience of being photographed naked would help me deal with my body image issues and bring me to a deeper understanding of what being comfortable in my own skin really means.
Regardless of my reasons, I went to the website and followed the instructions to apply to be one of the 100 women Tunick would choose to photograph. It was clear from the questions asked that he was seeking a diverse group of women: all colors, all races, all ages, etc. I answered the questions and sent a (clothed, as requested) full body length photo of myself. I clicked send.
I didn’t think about it again for weeks.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I got an email a couple of weeks ago saying that I was one of the 100 women picked to pose for this installation. 1800 women responded to the call for volunteers! It was unbelievable that I had applied on a whim and been chosen. My choice to do something so bold with such strong political overtones was a risky one. I told my husband and my kids, and one or two friends, but I largely kept my participation in this event to myself.
I questioned my own motives for doing this many times. What statement did I want my naked body to make to the Republicans coming to Cleveland for their convention? What about the current political climate in this country would make me take off my clothes and show myself so completely?
Here’s what I’ve come up with:
I did it for my daughter. I wanted her to see me do something risky and courageous, and to be a part of a strong artistic statement. I love her and I want the world to be a place where she is free to be completely herself, without apology.
I did it for my son. I wanted him to see the strength and power of women and how that is a thing to celebrate, rather than a thing to fear. I am raising him to respect all women, and that respect starts with me.
I did it for myself. I am 48 years old, overweight, and I had a hysterectomy less than nine months ago. I needed to show myself that I can be fearless and secure in my womanly body. I needed to be surrounded by other women not afraid to be naked and letting their bodies tell the world their story. Being there with all those women gave me the confidence to show myself as I am, without shame or fear of judgment. Not only did I feel beautiful, but I looked at my sisters and saw their beauty as well. I felt the ingrained jealousy and competition between us disappear, replaced by appreciation, respect, and admiration.
It was freedom I felt. I was free of all the self-hatred imposed on me by the images of perfect women, whose beauty is unattainable. I felt love for myself and a sisterly bond with the other women around me. What a feeling!
My body is mine. It is not a thing to be judged, prized, coveted, or taken. It is beautiful as it is. I believe that I, like all humanity, am created in the image and likeness of God, and that creation is nothing to be ashamed of. My naked body is a statement of freedom. Showing it in this photo says to misogynists and chauvinists that I will not be bound by their ignorance and stupidity. I have knowledge in my bones and wisdom in my curves. This body has brought two lives into the world and nourished them with its food. This body has provided comfort and shelter. This body has felt pleasure and pain. It is mine and mine alone, to use as I choose. Keep your laws and your judgments off of it.
I did this to be part of something bigger than myself. This piece of art shows my body as one among many. In some of the shots, our faces are not visible, perhaps to show how we as women are invisible to this world in so many ways. Our worth, our value, our contributions to the world are overlooked and taken for granted. Standing there together, naked and holding mirrors that reflected the sun and sky, we could not be overlooked or ignored. We were a force of nature, shown as nature intended. Some people, men and women alike, may laugh or say nasty and negative things, but that is because they are afraid of what our statement means. They are afraid to acknowledge that our worth as women doesn’t come from the outside. It comes from within.
In short, they are afraid to look in the mirrors we held up. They fear the ugliness of their own hearts and the ignorance of their own minds. We are a living, breathing, naked reminder of the subjugation of anything that these small-minded bigots can’t understand. They laugh and mock because they are cowards who are afraid to look at their own bias and privilege. It would take an honesty they do not possess for them to be brave enough to look at 100 naked women holding mirrors and see the truth.
Mr. Trump and all the other Republicans that are coming to Cleveland as I write: please don’t think that we are just something you can ignore. We are here. Look at us. See us. Know that we are waiting for justice and peace in the world, for all humankind. We are sick of war, racism, hatred, hunger, human trafficking, poverty, homophobia, gender bias, trans-phobia, and all the other sicknesses that keep us from truly being ourselves as we were meant to be. We are watching as you turn back the clock with your fascist rhetoric, and undo all the progress this country has made.
We see you. Have the balls to see us and look in the mirrors we’re holding up. Have the guts to give us real answers and not the stream of consciousness bullshit you spew. Think of us as your mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters rather than as 100 desperate and attention seeking free-loading pussies (as we were called by one of the comments I read about this project). Treat us with the respect we deserve. We bared all to tell you how we feel.
This piece is entitled “Everything She Says Means Everything,” which is the title of Tunick’s installation. Our politicians need to bear that in mind and listen. Ignoring, shaming, or abusing us will not shut us up. So, maybe they should listen and learn from the wisdom of women.