My participation in Girl Crimson’s Radical Bodies photo project is a significant benchmark in my feminism. It has been pieces of art that resonate as the activators of change in my mind when it comes to women, bodies, and notions of femininity.
When I saw Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues for the first time, which was over three years ago now, I was floored. Uh, women are moaning on stage and talking about their vaginas and chanting cunt. WTF. It was awesome. Catharsis that I didn’t realize I needed. At that point in my life I never thought I could be in a show like that. No way. I did good clean musical theatre, ah thank you.
Well, I did end up performing in the Vagina Monologues a couple of years later. I performed a piece about the experiences of Japanese comfort women during the second world war, demanding an apology from the Japanese government. It was emotional. It was intense. I also wrote the piece I just posted below, about sensuality and our bodies. I also moaned in the ensemble chorus in the last monologue. Rock star moan. Or was it diva moan? Regardless -big step.
I also want to drop a line about Female Hysteria: A Burlesque Musical Comedy, in which I played the oldest of five sisters locked in a mental asylum for being crazy hysterical women folk. Turned out the cure was the invention of the vibrator by Victorian doctors to calm down these uppity loony women. But that’s a whole other thang.
I found reading a bunch of feminist theorists in my classes also progressed my thoughts on women, the construction of gender, misogyny, and being openly emotional. The theory was just the starting point though – it was through active sharing of these ideas where my feminism became most engaging. Thus, art. Art is inviting, creative, reflective and critical.
Now, I look back on the Vagina Monologues, as what Kali Shmali would call “feminism 101.” All good and righteous, yes I love my body. My vagina is a flower, tulip, river, got it. How about, I love my body, it’s beautiful, check it out. Heh heh.
I had performed in Cliterature as a performer with Revue Royale Burlesque, singing Taylor the Latte Boy, whilst slowly taking off my wintry garb to reveal a bustier (pronouned boo-stee-eh!, not BUST-ee-er) and awesome cuban thigh highs. Lots o fun. It was pretty innocent though friends, trust. And then just last year, during a technical glitch, I impromptu went up and performed my first ever slam poetry piece called “Flight: The struggle for speech”. My hand shook as I held my paper. It was strange to be so nervous, but it was a new form for me, slam. The poem is about how finding your voice, claiming it and then projecting it, is an internal struggle. At what point is holding back no longer an option, and you need to let yourself overflow? It is a piece laced with the classic theme of setting a woman free, like a bird taking flight. You can watch it actually, when I performed it at the UW Poetry Slam, on youtube here.
Anyway, to get to the topic I want to discuss. Radical Bodies. First the title. I love the word radical. The word itself comes from the greek(?) radek, meaning roots. Like radishes you know? They’re roots. (I also co-wrote a musical called Rooted. See! It all comes together!) So when you ask me about my radical body, it is about the root, core, essence of my body. Essentially, bodies are naked. Unclothed, unpainted, bare. What Girl Crimson was asking of her participants though, was “What makes your body radical?” And herein, lay the play.
We construct our own notions of what is radical, of how we present our bodies. Everyone has their own idea of what it is to be radical. And if you look at only the preview of photos on Girl Crimson’s flickr, you can see there is definitely play. There is makeup, jewelry, props, paint, tattoos – there is a diversity of women, taking a brave risk, and sharing their bodies.
Our bodies. A territory fought over by ourselves, our peers, our family, advertisements, magazines – standards that are imposed upon us about how our bodies should be. Other people trying to rip out the roots of our bodies. I’m tired of that shit. And I finally found myself in a place where I was comfortable and accepting and loving of my body, to show it off. That’s what I did. It was no longer trying to cover or alter my radical body. Instead it was: This is my body. This is what holds my life in it. Look. Ain’t it pretty?
I feel that some might think it was easier for me to do this, with a body that society would deem neither below or above average. That’s my convoluted way of saying, I have a “nice” body. I think it is anyway. Most of the time. But I will confess, as much as my body has never been severely under or overweight, my self-perception of it has been in the past, very negative. I grew up HATING my body hair. Runs in the family, the hate on hair. Now, I let it grow. In grade school I worried about my thighs, and in high school my skin and stretch marks, and recently, my chronic hives I get from stress. At one point I wanted to be black, so I could be a legit soul sister like Lauryn Hill because, if you haven’t heard, Asians Don’t Sing the Blues. At other low points, I wanted white skin, not yellow skin. Racism hurts when you’re a kid. Bad. I used to hate Korean People in Canada as a whole too – for being immigrants. Uh, my parents are immigrants. Shit’s messed up. It has been a series of big and small realizations about society and myself that have led me to love myself and my body the way I do now.
I want to talk about the photos. So stunning. This year I honestly did not feel up to emailing Girl Crimson to be a model. But it was two sneak peek photos of beautiful women I knew that went up, and I was immediately inspired to email Girl Crimson. The intensity in their faces, the colours, the composition, the women! It was too much! Beauty overload! It takes a lot from both sides of the camera to create a beautiful photo.
So I was paired up with Susan, champion of dandelions. (She was one of the awesome folks who lobbied the Ontario government for twelve years to ban pesticides). We met ahead of our shoot and got to know each other, which turned out to be supremely helpful. Girl Crimson wanted to contrast bodies in her black and white shoot. It was a good juxtaposition.
The shoot was early on a Sunday morning. We warmed up with some shots with our tops on and then got down to business with the revealing shots. My friends, what a liberation. Honestly, let’s burn bras. They are cages! Nudity is great. So great. I didn’t feel embarassed about my bare breasts. It felt really good. And if you haven’t seen these photos, they are elegant. This ain’t no trashy centrefold in the billiards room kinda photoshoot (though if you want a calendar, they are available!). When I saw the tiny playbacks of the photos on the camera, I was shocked. That’s me? Yup, and those are my boobs. Yup. HOT.
About Girl Crimson’s method. She doesn’t push. She gently works with you to compose the shot. She’ll give you some direction like, chin up, eyes this way, but she doesn’t come in and completely place every single body part. I like that. It’s a collaboration. It felt really nice to be the subject of a photoshoot. It is legitimating. Not that everyone needs a photoshoot to know their body is beautiful. It’s more of a celebration of our bodies through a medium that will capture, in that moment, what your body was feeling and showing right then and there.
If you want to get involved with Girl Crimson’s work, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. I was so glad to have worked with her. I think she’s a big deal. It’s really important to me to collaborate with artists who value similar things – you get better art.
There is more I can say, but this post is way longer than I anticipated. That’s what I get for trying to talk about art and feminism in one post. Hah. I am meeting up with Girl Crimson tomorrow to see all the other shots that weren’t in the Cliterature show. So excited!