Earlier this week you may have seen that 100+ women posed nude near the Republican National Convention. The women were participants in an art installation/peaceful protest called Everything She Says Means Everything, with renowned photographer Spencer Tunick and his wife, artist Kristin Bowler.
“Over 1800 women signed up for the 100 spaces to bare all in this heightened arena of politics and protest and this number alone is a testament to their bravery and desire for change,” Tunick explains in an artist statement. “They did not know where they were going to pose when they signed up to be part of this art action, it could have been in the epicenter of the security zone, but they still wanted to participate. Our location was secret to keep the women safe and would only allow for a small number of participants. But 1800 women would have shown up naked in front on the steps of the convention to make art with what may be the most controversial subject in this presidential race, a woman’s body.”
Deanna Bergdorf, an Ohio resident, was one of the women who bared it all that day. She shares her experience with us…
By Deanna Bergdorf – As the sun was rising this morning, I gathered with 124 other women to pose in Spencer Tunick’s latest installation, “Everything She Says Means Everything.” We stood as a mass of bare bodies, holding large round mirrors overhead, to shine love, and light, and wisdom across a river and onto the arena where the Republican National Convention is being held. This short piece is a statement of my experience as part of this group of bold, beautiful women…
I was unreasonably nervous on the hour-long drive to the site, which turned out to be a small privately owned lawn opposite the Quicken arena. Honestly, I couldn’t even drink my homemade green juice or eat the KIND bar I brought along for the ride. But as soon as I arrived in the parking lot my nerves subsided. Seeing women of all ages and shapes and colors getting out of their cars and walking toward the site confirmed for me the significance of what we were doing there today.
Spencer greeted the group, let us in on all the logistics of the photo shoot, and then talked for a few minutes about our purpose as we waited for the sun to peak between two tall buildings. I fought to hold in my tears as he explained that we were gathered together to make a statement against the rhetoric of hatred that’s being spewed out from the Republican party; against the misogynistic, xenophobic, racist, anti-LGBTQ, ableist platform that has defined hating others as an acceptable American lifestyle.
Someone asked why we were instructed to bring a large sheet or blanket with us. Spencer explained, “Nudity is illegal in Ohio,” and added ironically, though not amusedly, “… but carrying guns isn’t.” Should the police arrive we could cover up the site with our collection of bed linens. Fortunately that was never an issue and we were able to carry on with the installation freely.
Now, about that…
We exchanged our clothes for mirrors and took our places in a loosely assembled formation on the lawn. In what was essentially an instantaneous shift, I went from feeling quite nervous about being undressed in public to not caring about it at all. I stood there feeling curious about how quickly nature takes over. Was this my natural self shining through and being completely comfortable in nothing more than my own skin? There must have been some force of nature in effect because just moments prior, my recent weight gain of about 25 pounds (brought on by moving from Hawai‘i to Ohio. Thanks Ohio.) had me cringing at the prospect of baring my newfound fleshiness in public. Yet there I was, totally unbothered by my lack of clothing.
More significantly, I was struck by the sameness of all the different bodies. All kinds of shapes and sizes were present. We were old and young; we were mahogany and golden, pale and bronze and freckled. Some of us were sleek and lean and “unblemished” by pregnancy and childbirth and years of breastfeeding. Others held decades’ worth of stories in their wrinkles and creases and folds. But, the most interesting affect of this collection of difference was (to me) the feeling of overwhelming sameness. I had to look closely to even notice who was fit and who was “fluffy” because that kind of detail, or maybe categorization, became little more than background noise.
I was unreasonably nervous on the hour-long drive to the site… But as soon as I arrived in the parking lot my nerves subsided. Seeing women of all ages and shapes and colors getting out of their cars and walking toward the site confirmed for me the significance of what we were doing there today.
We had left our all of our things on the ground, our bags- from plastic supermarket bags to expensive name brand leather totes and everything in between, along with our shoes- our Sperrys and Havaianas, our 3-inch heels and cowboy boots and dollar store slippers, along with our keys and phones, and then not given them another thought. These things, these items that distinguish one of us from another, were discarded. Without this accoutrement, without the trappings of our socialized states of being, our bodies blended together in what looked and felt (again, to me) as an incredible sameness. Maybe this is what happens when we allow ourselves to exist, if only for a few moments, in a communal state of being that is outside our typical conventions.
This afternoon I read a local TV station’s online report about this installation. They closed the piece with a comment from a viewer who felt that this work “kind of degrades” women. Folks, context is everything. We live in a society with social and sexual norms crafted by Puritans and reconstituted to meet the needs of the capitalist system. This kind of work calls all of that into question by posing, literally, the natural body against the constructed environment. What’s really degrading to women is having equal (or superior) education and doing equal (or superior) work as men, but getting paid only $0.79 for every dollar earned by men. But, I digress, back to the installation…
If I could change one moment of the day it would be this- at one point in the shoot we had been holding the mirrors overhead for what seemed like ages. My shoulders burned under the effort and I reprimanded myself for not working harder at the gym. An older woman not far from me announced, “I’m struggling.” And I’m absolutely gutted to have to admit that in that moment I stood silently. I wanted to cheer her on and say, “It’s alright. You’ve got this!” But by the time the thought made it from my heart to my lips, the moment had already passed. So friend, if you read this, please know that I was cheering you on, and I’m sorry that I only did it silently. I’m a weirdo introvert who always waits too long to say the right things. But you, friend, you were amazing out there today!
Keeping true to the habits of introversion, I left this event learning only one other person’s name- the pregnant Tupperware lady (who btw I can’t wait to buy some kitchen items from!). Although I didn’t talk much while on site today, I want all of the participants in this installation to know that I have so much love and admiration for each one of them. The work we did today was beautiful. We were many individuals brought together in a spirit of openness and true collaboration, striving toward a singular purpose of shared wellness. Thank you to Spencer and his team for creating this moment for all of us to share with the world.
Now, our next task must be to pursue, or keep pursuing, the creation and sustainment of this kind of purpose-guided community. Let’s continue to shine our love, and light, and wisdom on platforms and practices that condone constructed disadvantage and social injustice. Our efforts, in all of their various forms, will move us always closer to living in a state of shared wellness.
Deanna Bergdorf has dedicated much of her career to championing issues related to women and children. As an Assistant Faculty member at the Winter/Summer Institute she works to mobilize communities around issues including HIV/AIDS, gender violence, and economic inequality in New York and Lesotho, Southern Africa. Her primary research interests are in education reform, prison reform, and American history. When she is not busy chasing after her 3-year-old daughter, Deanna enjoys yoga, cake decorating, and outrigger canoe paddling.