Happy Monday people. This morning the sky is a white purple grey and rain is tapping softly on my window. Coffee has been made and I’m writing this from my studio, waking up and collecting my thoughts. Goals today is to finish an oil painting I have had parked for a few months, to touch up another that I completed during a live model session a few weeks ago. Then finish a few more digital images for prints, and stick to the plan. Showtime when work has to be ready to hang is 3 weeks away. No time to wait. Regina Spektor’s song Edit begins to play. It’s sound feels appropriate to my mood, despite the morning’s apparent calm.
I reflect on the weekend. Saturday was the 8th Annual World Naked Bike Ride, and I came, body paint in hand and brushes in the other, to provide a supportive role. The space was downtown with a gravel lot on one side, encased in a white tarp and within the bike racks from Comfest. On the other was one of the artist warehouses that Franklinton has collected within the last 10 years or so. One of the few spaces I had yet to personally visit. But this is why I am here, to visit, to participate, change some bad habits that have been isolating me.
Anyway, so I find some of my friends, that had a hand in organizing the event and figure out where I’m supposed to go. I’m given a green wristband, not one with writing on it though. Those are for the riders, for in case they break down on the road, or get arrested should they opt for total nudity. I am eventually in the gravel lot next to a table and the people begin to roll in. Soon the space is filled with semi to fully nude individuals, some friends, many strangers. You could find all types, young adults to elderly folk. Fat, thin, hairy, shaved, hairless. Some wearing masks, some wearing wigs, some wearing battery powered fairy lights. I holler that I can paint people, and I sing to them as I do. Daisies on a pair of breasts, tribal markings on a face, leaf and vine on the back or side. The paint I found is a bit more expensive but marvelously opaque. Not bad for 5 bucks. I’m able to mix the white in with some of the less pigmented paints on the table and create some strong colors. Some people come to me, and have an idea of what they want. “Write on my back ‘Your bike isn’t working because that ass is still fat‘” she says, telling me that she’s had that yelled to her as she rides. She is not obese but a healthy adult female. Some don’t know what they want, and I smile and tell them to trust me and then off I go, making lines and designs. Other people nearby are painting each other, which is good. I’m only here to lend support and encouragement. For some this is their first time, to dare to ride in this, to expose themselves even if only partially, and to take part in an act of public civic disobedience. The purpose the ride is to to highlight, the vulnerability of cyclists to automobiles, protest our dependence on oil, celebrate our beautiful bodies by rejecting all forms of body shame.
When I arrived I had seen a pair of cops talking to one of the organizers, a gent I know. I found out later that they were just getting his info just in case. I estimated over 200 people were there that day, 300 people were registered on the facebook event. Soon the space is packed with people, talking, laughing. The press of bodies gave the air an earthy scent even though we were outside on a fine June evening, the sky nearly cloudless and fading to purple. Soon it’s time for the riders to assemble, and I make my way to the street to watch. I am not riding, and I’m also not anywhere close to the state of undress with the mass of people around me (wearing jeans, a tank top, and a scarf that I use as a shawl in case I get chilly). Now it’s time, and off they ride for 10 miles through the city streets.
I remained behind, helped clean up the paint table and put away what I knew went where. A few stragglers who missed the event had come, one couple as far away as Cleveland (several folk had come from out of town for this). I send them to the organizers that were left so they could volunteer and stay for the after party. A one legged lady arrives with food for the bikers, vegetarian and with meat. I can’t recall what she had made but she was pleased with it’s flavor and telling us all “You haven’t had food like what Grandma makes”. She’s a trip. I talk for a time with an older gent about nudity and how he wants to turn nudity into a religion (kinda late for that, this one is one of many that incorporate nudity as part of their spirituality).
A little over an hour the bikers return, and the party begins. Soon the warehouse is filled with people in a state of mostly undress, if not completely. I dance, I run into folks I know here and there, and some folks would think a space like this would be sexually charged. Not really. There was no orgies, no sex, some flirting sure but that happens at all parties. Everyone I saw was good hearted and respectful. There was no body shaming and general acceptance. The only bad behavior I saw was from folks who hadn’t been at the ride trying to get in. I spent time hanging out by the front door, and listened to guys (all guys, who had no wristband who were trying to bargain their way in.
By the time I left the party was still going strong at 2 am. I left with wry thoughts, I was still wearing what I came in, and in fact I was the most clothed person at the party. I had practical reasons, I didn’t have a secure place to store my wallet or phone and as good as the vibes were I can’t risk losing either. The other reason though is while I have been attending clothing optional events for years I always wear clothes. It’s one of my contradictions. Body positivity is part of the work I do. I strongly feel that no matter our shape or state of health we shouldn’t be ashamed of the skin we are in. These are our fleshy spaces that we inhabit as we rocket through life, we shouldn’t hate what we are. How many times do we let physical shame stop us from experiencing what we want to experience? There’s many articles about how the advertising/marketing industry has always placed idealized versions of what people are supposed to be like, and the lifestyles we should have. Not just body type, but skin color, clothing style, accessories, the car you drive, the things in your home, we are sold and told what we should be to be ‘good’, ‘desirable’, ‘loved’, ‘wanted’. To impress one another with things, and to be a thing, an object to be seen as beautiful and sexy. To not be that is to be less, to be the object of ridicule, to deserve all the bad things that come your way. Deserve pain, isolation, loneliness, lovelessness. Human culture by nature raises up the people we wish we could be like, but especially with modern social media and in your face 24-7 ads and apps, all the screens vying for your attention, it’s hard to see the truth for what it is. That there are forces in the world telling you what you should be because they get financial gain from it, and there are people who have decided that what they say is true, and perpetuate that message. That is what they know to be true, right, and good, and they use those stereotypes as a whipping post to punish anyone who doesn’t conform. This is not a recent Trump era notion, it’s an attitude that has existed longer than I have been on the planet.
I am told ‘Next year you’ll ride with us! We will find you a bike or you can ride in the pedicab. We will paint you and you will come!’ I am thinking, yes… maybe I will. Maybe not fully nude but… one thing I am aware of is we must always push our boundaries. This one is a huge one for me, lots of emotions behind it, which means… I definitely need to work at tackling it. I should after all practice what I support, eh?
On my way out to my car, I am stopped by a couple driving by. ‘Which way to the naked bike ride?!?’ A man leans out the window and asks me. Looks like a dude in his 50s, all grins. A woman is driving, she looks resigned and stony faced. I say it’s up the street, it’s not hard to miss as there are people hanging around outside, “But you can’t get in” I say “you have to had participated in the ride to go to the party”. The guy says yeah sure “But there are naked people?!” Ummmmm sure. Dude goes on about wanting to see the naked bikers, clearly a voyeur. I am tired, and I don’t give any shits about a dude who thinks seeing a pair of tits is somehow amazing. There are images of naked people everywhere online. Naked people are not a big deal, and the only reason we think so is because we retain our puritan values that nudity is sexual and sex is a sin. This is not a battle I am fighting anymore tonight. So I leave and let him talk at my back.
Changing attitudes about ourselves, and each other takes time. It’s a constant conversation. Art is part of that and speaking of which it’s time to get back to work. Sun is starting to come in, it’s stopped raining. So. Let’s begin.