This photograph (a self-portrait made in conjunction with Sophia Emigh) is up at Wolff Gallery in Portland, Oregon, as a part of the show titled Now I Am Myself. The show features portrait work of women, by women, that subverts the male gaze. In other words, the work has other intentions besides showcasing women as they relate to men and specifically, the object of male sexual desire.
During the First Thursday gallery opening, a male acquaintance of mine made the comment to me, “You look about as unattractive as I can imagine you looking in this photo.” I don’t remember, but I don’t think I said anything in response at the time. I was just dumbfounded.
In retrospect, I’m glad that happened. Because it made me realize that it didn’t get under my skin. Me, who in a previous chapter of my life was bulimic for five years. Me, who for decades looked to my relationships with men to validate my self worth when I didn’t think I was enough.
I don’t care if this man, or any man, or any person sees my body as attractive in this photo. It was never the point of this work. The point of this work was facing my own shadows and stripping away everything that wasn’t serving my highest being and burning it in an act of personal ritual. It is baring all my vulnerabilities and saying fuck it, because I DON’T NEED YOUR APPROVAL.
I don’t think this man’s comment was made with malicious intent. It even crossed my mind that it may have been some terrible attempt at giving me a compliment. Regardless, it was a statement made with a lack of consciousness or consideration. Which is why shows like this are still important. Advocating for women and feminism is still important. We need to transcend the idea that women’s bodies can only be seen or discussed or utilized in relationship to men or sexuality. Period.
I’m glad this happened because it really helped confirm for myself that this work that came from real places in me is still living in the right places within me. It is a real, honest and ongoing conversation with myself that I am allowing people to see and be witness to. This work is about the essence of me and the evolution of me.
So again, other people’s opinions on how my body looks in this photograph and whether it satisfies their sexual preferences and desires and ideals is irrelevant to me. The conversation was never really meant to include anyone but myself.