blasphemy

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Sometimes I feel vaguely guilty for taking pictures in front of churches. Like I’m exploiting other people’s sacral lifeblood for my own aesthetic reasons. I genuinely believe that spirituality is open-source, that adding a little of it to an artistic endeavor never hurt anyone, but…others don’t necessarily know I’ve thought that far ahead. I don’t want to look like just some basic bitch taking church selfies.

But? If you’re gonna take outfit pictures in public, strangers’ reactions are kind of the last thing you should be caring about.

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On that note, though, I’ve become increasingly aware recently of how outfit pictures are perceived outside of the fashion blogosphere. I know perfectly well that they’re considered narcissism barely disguised as art. And that nags at me sometimes when I take photos in public: is this just vanity? I don’t think so. I really don’t. I love photographing the human form, especially the artistically clothed one. I’m around me 24/7; it’s just plain more practical to experiment on myself than to enlist other models. And I’m also fundamentally a creative loner: I find it difficult to communicate my ideas to others and open them for amendment. Controlling every aspect of a shoot myself is usually more satisfying to me.

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Not only that, but using yourself as a model when you fall so considerably outside the range of acceptable mainstream models can be really powerful. Now, I’m not a “personal is political” kind of person, and I’m not a big fan of throwing “fuck you”s in people’s faces…but I do think fashion blogging is awesome in part because of how democratic it is. May the best outfits win. I follow bloggers of so many sizes and colors and genders, and I love that I can do that.

It’s not gonna change the world. But it might help change my little corner of it.

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subjectified

7days

Not gonna brag (jk I’m totally gonna brag), but my letter to the editor got into the Seven Days today! Let the flame war commence. (To clear up the name confusion once and for all: Sierra is my first name. Skye is my middle name. I respond equally to either, but I find that Skye rolls easier off the tongue, so I use it more often on the internet.)

Now, before I pick up my mic, let me acknowledge that I do understand why people are sick of certain kinds of images. It does grate on me, artistically speaking, to see the same concepts over and over. We do need more variety, both in types of women and in the ways they are depicted. THAT SAID. The way we as a culture talk about making those changes throws many, many women under the proverbial bus.

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Here I am being hot – and totally subjectified – at the beach!

~

We typically designate as “objectifying” those images in which a woman displays a particular, though inexact, amount of skin. That, far too often, goes unquestioned. Are we not responsible for this assumption? Are we not beholden to examine where it comes from? I can’t say for sure, but I’ve got a damn good guess. We’ve grown up in a culture that shames and vilifies overt sexuality. We speak of “pleasures of the flesh” as though they were divorced from, lesser than, pleasures of the whole self. And I see this rhetoric creeping into even the most progressive statements. It’s rare to witness discussion on objectification, particularly women’s objectification, go more than skin deep. Forget that there are many ways to be objectified, umpteen ways to have one’s agency diminished: the end-all of whether a woman is subject or object lies in the amount of skin she’s showing and how sexualized that skin happens to be.

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What makes a nude shoot inherently more objectifying than a clothed one? You could argue the opposite: the clothed woman is but an object to display the artistry of the garments or the photographer’s technique. Instead, our collective minds jump right to “exposed flesh = object”. Maybe the thread of puritanical thought runs deeper than we’d like to admit.

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And therein lies what chafes me. Why do we assume that the solution to objectification is to stop depicting sexualized women? How is that anything but victim-blaming? “If you don’t want to be seen as an object, you should stop dressing like one.” Fuck that and fuck you. It’s not my problem that American culture heaps such baggage on my body. It’s not my responsibility to tiptoe around people who can’t affirm my humanity. I will wear what I please and photograph myself in whatever lecherous poses I desire. If you think that makes me an object, if it prohibits you from treating me with respect, then god help you. That is one hundred percent your problem. Respectability politics in a nutshell.

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It’s not about whether the woman is naked or clothed, sexualized or not. It’s not even about whether she’s submissive or dominant. It’s about whether she’s treated well, compensated fairly, and given the choice to opt out of the job. This focus on nudity and sexuality frustrated me partially because it’s a red herring: there are so many ways for a model to actually be objectified. Is she 14 years old and coerced into shoots too mature for her? Is she forced to lose weight? Do people refer to her as a “walking clothes hanger” rather than a full participant in the celebration of sartorial artistry? There are so many aspects to devaluation of agency. Boiling it down to clothed vs. not, chaste vs. sexy, demeans a woman’s choices about her body and detracts from the actual issues at hand.

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I realize what a broken record I can be about this. But it’s so important to me. Sex-positivity and the end of shaming will never get anywhere as long as we cling to old definitions – any definitions, really – of what personhood and agency can mean. What it really comes down to, for me anyway, is that I will never know what someone else experiences as empowering. It’s not my place to tell anyone what their self-expression should look like. All I can do is wield my words and try to make the world a more accepting place – of sexuality, of controversy, of nudity.

*drops mic*

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