What stories does your body want to tell? #1
[I’m doing this photo-essay series for seven days as a part of something I’m doing for my PhD. I think a lot of the time, we force certain stories onto our bodies and make our bodies reflect or express only very carefully manufactured, ‘pretty’ parts of ourselves. I wanted to dig into the other stories that we usually don’t tell (because we’re ashamed, or embarrassed, or self-conscious, or angry, or…). As I say below, in this first post, social media worlds trick us into crafting these lush, enviable sides of ourselves — so people will admire us, so we find validation in our own lives. But is it really only have to be superficial, ‘happy’ things that give us those things? Don’t the other darker stories deserve space too? Could there also be some beauty, some value in discomfort and unpleasantness? Might we discover more authentic (and what is that word anyway?) connections, at a time when we’re so disconnected, when our interactions are mediated only through surface presentations of our selves and our digital bodies?]
“But before we can hope to get anywhere with images, we need to disclose ourselves to ourselves.”
~ Joan Solomon (with Jo Spence) in What Can a Woman Do with a Camera?
I’m trying this for seven days, a bit of rawness. Finding what comes out in the spaces between the visual of photographs (selfies) and text. How much am I really willing to show / say?
I know (and you know) that social media is a funny place where we only show the sides of ourselves that paint a very perfect picture. We want people to look at our posts and feel Facebook envy. We hide the messy, the awkward, the uncomfortable, the downright dull. So for 7 days, I’m going to self-consciously poke at all the parts I don’t normally talk about; and I’m not sure this is really a good idea because I know it’s going to open up all kinds of old wounds again and it’s going to be uncomfortable AF. But then, this is also what this whole PhD is about, so let’s go there.
I took this photo last weekend, just before I met a guy. It is deliberately slutty because I wanted to see if I could put myself into that place, play that version of the kind of girl who bullied me in school, whom I feared but also slightly revered, whom I secretly wished I could be. (Lipstick is Annabella from Nars, by the way, which is incredible, except that when you kiss a guy, he also ends up wearing Annabella all over his face. Awkward.)
When I look at this photo, even just after I took it, I felt like I was looking at someone else. It is completely incongruous with the person that I am and I’m not sure how I feel about that. It’s interesting, a bit thrilling, to think that all it takes is a bit of paint for you to turn yourself into the very person that you spent so much of your life feeling intimidated (reviled? awed?) by. It is also frightening, how easy it is turn yourself into someone you don’t recognise.
When I do this, I almost manage to achieve a kind of ‘beauty’ that I spent so much of my youth thinking would finally make me happy. When I was younger, I would think, “If only I could look like this, if only I could be ‘beautiful’ enough for a guy to think I’m hot, if only I could look like _____, then I would be happy”.
So here it is now. A ‘beautiful’ version of me. When the guy, S, came over, he didn’t even really say hello. He just wanted to kiss me. He told me I look hot.
And I don’t really feel anything. It all feels quite… ordinary. I think, “Well, this Nars lipstick sure looks good” but then, not much else. I wonder if it’s different for women who are naturally beautiful, who don’t have to use magic makeup potions. What is it like to feel beautiful, really? Because this — this feels like fraud, it’s like playing dress-up. It looks like me — and I can almost say I like how this looks — but it’s not me at all. How comfortable do we ever feel with the way we look, really?