A coupla months ago, I got together with an old friend from college. It was a friend I hung out with often in school and frequently after, but I hadn’t seen him in probably 20 years. He fell off the radar shortly after getting married. He’d moved to Delaware and now lived in Florida.
As is often the case with old friends, within a few minutes we were talking amiably and enthusiastically as if we’d traded email last week. When I mentioned my eagerness to get back in shape, he fondly recalled that I used to wear a variety of yoga pants (they were called running tights back then) and unitards as casual fashion. I reached for my phone and showed him a photo from 2002 of me in a Jean Paul Gaultier catsuit. I’m quite proud of it as it documents me at my most fit, flamboyant and fashionable. We chatted about the suit for a bit, then he decided to scroll through my photo gallery.
This surprised me, but I’m new to smartphone ettiquette. I quickly told him the rest of the gallery was of the women who inspire me toward my fitness goals or in general inspire me due to their poise and athleticism.
The first picture was of a woman bodypainted head to toe in a design that looks like a purple floral zentai with artful seams walking down Duval Street in Key West during Fantasy Fest in 2004. A woman is chatting with her and both are grinning, painted woman graciously and the other woman looks almost intoxicated by painted woman’s presence. I know I always am; she’s nude amid thousands of clothed people, many of them have been drinking for hours, yet her presence is well, charming. And why not, she’s just won the body paint competition. The picture holds consistent interest for me as the men in the picture always look constipated to me, as if they can’t quite wrap their minds around what’s going on, when to me it’s obvious, this woman overcame her inhibitions and in a very generous way is sharing that triumph. Why not identify with her rather than sulk over the fact that you can’t have sex with her?
Maybe it’s because I live in New York City or maybe its because I lived in Dallas in the ’70s when women responded to the Texas heat by wearing as little as possible, but I’m keenly aware that I’m actually going to make it with a very small fraction of 1% of the women I find interesting and attractive, so I better find other avenues to appreciate their virtues. I was taught to learn from the strengths of others around you, and as a basically shy guy, I’m always moved by those who triumph over their inhibitions. It’s something I work at every day (and occasionally succeed as in that photo of me in the Gaultier catsuit),
I looked at my friend, and to my slight chagrin, he had the same constipated look as the men in the photo. He moved on to the next picture and his constipation turned to utter bewilderment. Purple woman has asked me not to share her photos but I have permission to share the next few. It is of a bondage art piece called Double Straddled and features the model Wenona, the model/rigger Maria Shadoes and the rigger Lew Rubens. To me, it’s one of the most amazing pieces of rope artistry ever created.
Your eyes do not deceive you. Wenona, who is on the left in the first two photos, and Maria have their legs in a Chinese split and each is bound to a bamboo pole. In my days of devout yoga practice, four or five classes a week, I could get pretty close to doing a regular split, but I never got my legs much more than 120 degrees on a side split. These ladies are at almost180 and bound! In addition, the arm position is extreme, and to be elevated puts even more strain on the body. Maria conceived the pose and she and Lew did it singly before they befriended Wenona for this 2005 shoot. I corresponded with Rubens who told me that the bind lasted about an hour in terms getting the women in rope, elevating, photographing, lowering and untying. That’s an amazing feat of athleticism and endurance.
I explained this to my friend; he nodded, but his expression remained unchanged. He pushed the phone back to me saying he grasped all that, but he said with an expression bordering on a snarl, “why were they naked?”
My friend is no prude, so this initially caught me off guard (the Groucho Marx in me wanted to point out that Lew was wearing clothes but I refrained). I started to explain that the rope marks are part of the photographic aim, and I also began to wonder what sort of outfits he expected. Then I realized his reaction was consistent with his response to Purple Woman. He was probably put off by the fact that Wenona, Maria and Purple Lady were nude without any implicit attention to the arousal he might feel. In other words, they were/are hard to objectify, but that’s kind of wonderful. Very few people like being objectified and instead there are much richer possibilities from recognizing a woman’s sexiness as one of *many* admirable traits about her.
Then I realized that that might be a mouthful for a casual conversation that was on its third beer, so we switched to updating each other on college pals and left it at that. But my rant stuck in my craw, so I put it out here.
In general, I think a woman whether nude in front of a camera or full dressed on the street briefcase in hand has her own agenda first. I like head strong people and risk takers. Take Wenona for instance, she’s developed a remarkable physique, bared it all, and trusted Lew and Maria in what has to be considered a difficult position. I’m nowhere near that dedicated to my fitness (I was and hope to be again sometime soon), nor am I physically self confident enough to bare myself in front of cameras and others (the photo shoot was the centerpiece of a party of Lew’s with a couple dozen attendees). Lastly, the trust element is also beyond me. I consider these all virtues and admire Wenona immensely for her work. I also love Maria, who sadly passed away a few years ago, for both creating an extreme position and modeling it herself (talk about walking the walk!). And of course, Lew did both amazing precision ropework then the literal heavy lifting to elevate the women and he managed the photo shoot.
My encounter with my old friend led me to believe that we haven’t come as far we think we have in terms of gender equality and that we need to get there soon. We’re missing out on appreciating a lot of potential inspiration!!