psychology
23 Nov 2018

Our naked bodies, ourselves

What happens when a sexologist and a photographer ask women to undress for a photo shoot? 

Wysokie Obcasy
Paulina Reiter Wysokie Obcasy, Global
Our naked bodies, ourselves - NewsMavens
Wdzięczność album cover, Facebook.

The following fragments from Paulina Reiter's interview with sexologist Alicja Długołęcka first appeared in the Polish weekly "Wysokie Obcasy" in November 2018. 

Paulina Reiter: You were looking for women volunteers willing to undress for a photo project. Did you get many applications?

Alicja Długołęcka: Many. I was amazed and moved not only by the turnout but also by their willingness to trust us. After all, these women knew nothing about the project. Tamara Pieńko -- the photographer -- and I didn’t have a precise plan, so we were all the more thankful for their openness.

PR: What kind of women volunteered for your project? 

All sorts. Girls as young as 18 to women in their 80's. Women who struggled with their weight, women after several pregnancies. One of the photos showed a lactating breast, one a vagina of a woman in labor. We met women with different bodies: amputated limbs, paralysis from the waist down or muscular atrophy. Some of the middle-aged participants were able to look at their own bodies with a new respect. 

Their motivations varied from what we usually associate with nude photo sessions. We had no specific objective, but the character of the project certainly wasn’t erotic. The tone was set by our volunteers.

PR: You often emphasize that the women who appeared in the project were free to   choose which body part they wanted to show.

In order to open up, we need to trust. Trust ourselves and trust the others involved. We made a deal with our participants -- they could decide how much they wanted to expose themselves (both emotionally and physically) and which of the photos would appear in the album.

We provided them with space, peace, intimacy, and a non-invasive photographer. Tamara has the wonderful ability to become invisible during shooting -- she hands all the power over to the participants.

Apart from trust, we also stressed the lack of judgment. It might sound cliché but it was incredibly important. The lens of Tamara’s camera didn’t evaluate. It was kind, sympathetic and sent a clear message: whatever you do is fine. 

And lastly -- time and attention. Many women came to realize that even though they spend plenty of time taking care of their body, they often hold it to excessively high standards and fail to provide it with enough real attention.

Perhaps that’s why after the session many of them were very keen to talk about the experiences that marked their bodies for the rest of their lives. They all stressed how meaningful it was to express all their thoughts and fears in an atmosphere of complete acceptance. They also appreciated the fact that for once their nudity wasn't sexual.

PR: You asked each of these women what her body means to her.

We live in a Judeo-Christian culture where most people accept a dualistic concept of the body and soul, and treat the former as a prison for the latter.

Many women associate their body with limitations -- as we grow old, our body loses mobility or starts drifting away from esthetic standards, which often becomes a source of misery.

PR: I often hear mature women complain about their bodies. They feel let down and disappointed by their physical abilities and appearance. 

I think that gratitude for our body comes with age. As people get older, they become more aware of their mortality and therefore they appreciate the fact that their body is still functioning. It’s a shame we don’t get to feel it before. We usually acknowledge this when we become ill. That’s when we start to understand that it is the body allows us to experience sensations, and therefore to connect with the joys of life.

PR: Your photo album suggests a few exercises, for example: "Get naked and stand in front of the mirror". What can we discover by doing that?

We see our reflection every day; we look at ourselves with various emotions, we dress up and change clothes, we trying to reach a certain ideal. We put on make-up, cover flaws, lengthen our eyelashes. Many women claim they would love to have more freedom, yet they still allow themselves to be limited by social standards. We often don't realize how strictly we censor our bodies on a daily basis. 

PR: Why did you decide not to show these women’s faces?

We wanted to demonstrate universal realities and not distinctive stories. The pictures are fluid just like female sexuality. It’s a story about all women.

***

Alicja Długołęcka is a sexual educator. 

Translated from Polish by Martyna Kardach.

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