Thursday, January 4, 2007

Private vs Public

A naked body is a potent signifier. Naked=sexual. Naked woman (usually)=sexual object. Naked=sexual=shameful/sinful. Naked pregnant woman=naked nonvirgin. Naked=beautiful/sexy or not so beautiful/sexy=judgment about beauty/sexiness. Etc.

I'd guess there is almost no human being on earth over the age of 6 who is completely comfortable about nakedness. Weird, really.

I'm not. For me, being naked in front of people is very uncomfortable. Before I did the first Human Body Project event I had experience in family life, with lovers and in locker rooms. Reactions I've had to these experiences ranged from closed-off feigned indifference to deep embarrassment. I do not feel comfortable walking around naked in front of my husband even though he professes fondness for my body. I do not and have never felt attractive enough. When I worked at the Omega Institute, a new-agey, holistic studies facility in upstate New York, I never even considered using the co-ed sauna. There may have been a time when I revelled in my naked body as my daughter does sometimes after a bath, but I don't remember it.

No wonder nakedness is associated with sex. The only time most of us are naked and kind of having a good time is when we're under 6 or having sex.

It's way out of my comfort zone to stand in front of an audience naked--especially as just that, a naked person. I.e. I'm not doing a job as a professional artist's model or someone who is posing or a stripper. I'm also not an exhibitionist. In terms of how I feel about my body, I'd say I'm a typical, 45-year-old, Canadian woman. The first Human Body Project event was overwhelming for me.
For many people the idea of doing what I'm doing is way too out there. Some things should remain private, right? What I write in these blog entries is way too out there, too. Again, I am out of my comfort zone in sharing what I share in many of these entries. I am a relatively open person but many of my blog entries are not confidences I would so publicly share.

It seems like routine obviousness that my life would be easier if I had not embarked on this public project (I offer this to my detractors). My body and my struggles would continue to be private.
But I'm going to make an argument here for rethinking these issues. What is so shameful about nakedness? What is so shameful about struggling? Who is not naked under their clothing? Who does not have struggles in their life? While I find it very difficult to expose my naked body and my ugly struggles with sanity and health, I also find it very difficult not to be seen as I really am. It's my own battle, for sure. And the Human Body Project is one of the ways I'm waging it.

But the Human Body Project is bigger than my own probably pathetic little quest for authenticity. As I mention in my artist statement, WE ALL KNOW that we live in a world that is unprecedentedly precarious. We know it but we don't know what to do. We want to do something but we don't know what. I'll say it again: until we viscerally understand our own vulnerability--starting with our own discomfort about being human and being in a body--and the way we share that condition with every other human being, we will not figure it out.

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