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Ode to Selfie – a Covid-19 callout

 

Please send submissions to chaoying.rao@gmail.com, or DM me directly on Instagram @femme.castratrice (my personal acc, because no one wants to send nudes without knowing who they are sending them to) and we can chat!

Submissions can be 100pc anon (fake name or no name), part anon (name but not linked to your social media so it’s up to you if you want to show them to people you know), or you can be loud and proud! Whatever you’re comfortable with.

Open to all women (self-identifying or otherwise), non-binary ppl. No cis men sorry. 

 

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During the lockdown I’ve noticed myself developing a habit of narcissistically performing to myself in the mirror. Lip syncing, dancing, posturing in a way that’s far too un self-conscious for what I was doing. Far too carefree despite what’s implied about women who do such silly, vain little things.

 

I’m thinking about John Berger – that old chestnut, and specifically about the tradition of the female nude in painting:

 

“She is not naked as she is.
She is naked as the spectator sees her.

 

(. . .)

 

The mirror was often used as a symbol of the vanity of woman. The moralizing, however, was mostly hypocritical.

 

(. . .)

You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure. The real function of the mirror was otherwise. It was to make the woman connive in treating herself as, first and foremost, a sight.” Ways of Seeing, 1972.

Well, isn’t that interesting. “First and foremost, a sight”. Trust me, I do think I look a sight. A damn good sight, that’s why I keep doing it. 

In the present moment and in the history of art, men have been using (wanking to) and depicting (painting, photographing, selling) the image of woman for their viewing pleasure. Naked women in classical art are often depicted with their eyes averted: this unconfrontational stance allows the male spectator to gaze without guilt. Without acknowledging that the image of sensuality is not theirs to look at. It does not, and never will belong to them. 

 

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So what about now? We all have smartphones. Vanity is depicted through our front-facing cameras, or back camera for that classic mirror shot. And unlike men depicting women in their work, a lot of the naked selfies we take are immediately deleted or never leave the safety of the cloud. The main spectator is the woman herself. We own our image and we have a choice in how we depict ourselves. This wasn’t possible before the #selfie.

Yes, you can argue that we’ve internalised the male gaze. Margaret Atwood put it best when she said: 

“Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it’s all a male fantasy: that you’re strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren’t catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you’re unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.” The Robber Bride (1993)

She’s definitely onto something there, but I’m inclined to believe there’s more. And if images and objects gain their meaning through context and how we choose to interpret them, I choose to interpret the naked selfie as an active gesture of owning your own image, your sexuality, and your body. In a world that continuously profits from the image of woman, we are made to feel ashamed for what lingerie companies and male artists depict without a second thought. Don’t believe me? Look on social media. Look at the images used to sell / titillate, then look at the collection of naked selfies we’ve shamefully stashed away. The difference is who authored those images.

 

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So, this is my call out. Send me your naked selfies. My only ask is that it’s a picture you took yourself, and when you look at it, you think ‘dayum, I am fire’. By drawing them, I hope to free them from the moralising constraints attached to the photograph. I hope to transform them into something you’re both proud of and able to show people (should you wish). And please send me a story about the first or most memorable time you experienced pleasure in your body, for yourself. Not performatively or for anyone else. Maybe your first orgasm, or first time watching pornography or reading erotica. Interpret this how you will… these are just suggestions. I’m sure you get the gist. 

Thank you so much to the women who have submitted pictures so far, and for all the wonderful, hilarious and touching stories that came with them. I cannot believe how many of us humped the shit out of our teddies / pillows / table top corners when we were children. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one. 

When this project finishes (no deadline so far, thanks covid), I’m planning to make this into a zine or publish a little book. Suggestions welcome. 

 

 

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