What we talk about when we talk about boobs, part 2

On Monday here we introduced the book Uncovered by Jordan Matter, and featured four of the women in the book. Today we feature four more portraits and interviews.

Em & Lo: How did you two end up taking part in this photo shoot?

Mike: I heard about the project somewhat based on my working as a figure model, as a male, I would clearly not qualify but mentioned it to Mary. She agreed to pose and wanted me to pose with her as well.
Mary: And I am always up for a trip to NY.

E&L: We found it interesting how Susan Seligson describes in the intro how baring her breasts took the power away from the oglers by making a preemptive strike, she felt that it shifted the power base. Did you experience that?

Mary: I felt a little self conscious but also feel it should not create the “scene” it did. It should be normal.
Mike: I agree it should be normal. I don’t believe it shifts the power base to any great degree. Females always have power; I understand the intent of the statement but based on what I bring with me I don’t know that it shifts a power base.

E&L: Do you think this project worked? Do you think the photo shoots did change people’s view of what it means to see bare breasts? Or is there the chance that guys who like to ogle breasts will just see this book as one more chance to ogle?

Mary: I believe the project worked based on what people have said, combined with the photos. There will always be guys who don’t want to expand horizons and will not get past the ogling.
Mike: I agree the project worked, from an artistic and and visual environmental base. The actions are a strong statement. I also agree that not everyone will get it on that level and simple oglers will see what they simply ogle.

E&L: Did this photo shoot change the way you think about your own bodies or your boobs?

Mary: I don’t know that it changed what I think of my body, but being part of it (the project) is good.
Mike: It did not change what I think of my body at all, but I’ve worked as a nude model for years and don’t even think much about being bare. From my standpoint, the barefoot sandals I wore got as much attention as being shirtless.

Em & Lo: Do you think this project worked?

Ellie: I don’t know if it is big enough to put a dent in our society’s puritanical views when it comes to nudity, but I hope it did. I hope it’s seen as beautiful and normal and not risque.  Breasts shouldn’t be shocking.  And besides, if we were covered to our chins, they’d ogle our ankles.

E&L: How did people around you react to the shoot?

Ellie: There’s a very angry looking man in the background of one of my photos.  Most people seemed uncomfortable with it.  A female cop threatened to arrest us.  Others giggled or became indignant.  My favorite was a gentleman standing near us during some shots outside Port Authority — for the 60 seconds I had my shirt off he ran a very colorful commentary about his ideal female breast, how mine compared, and how he appreciated Jordan’s choice of subject matter.

E&L: Are you glad you did it?

Ellie: Like most people, I had really poor body image. I am glad I did it because it led me to art modeling and that experience helped me appreciate what is mine and why I should be happy with it.  It’s kinda of fun just to say I did it, especially since I tend to be shy.   And I like the context, the whole message of the project.

E&L: Who have you showed it to?

The first person I showed it to was my mom.  Most of my friends have seen it, both male and female. The guys I’ve dated find it really exciting.  It’s not something I hide, but I don’t necessarily promote it either.  Never coworkers, at any job.  The guys I worked with in construction already saw me as just boobs and ass with no brains.  Showing it to them would have not improved the situation.

E&L: So what did your mom say when she saw it?

Ellie: My mom thought the picture was really beautiful, but it was shocking to her, not because I was topless in the middle of NYC, but because she suddenly realized her little girl was all grown up and is a c-cup.

E&L: Women constantly complain about what it’s like to walk past a construction site; working in construction, are you dealing with that kind of attitude 24/7?

Ellie: I actually stopped being a carpenter, as much as I loved it, and keep it as a hobby.  Maybe I’m a terrible feminist, but it’s very tiring to have everything you do, your entire competence second guessed, undermined, just because of gender and for no other reason every single day.  If I had been in a union or working for a large company, maybe it would have been different.  But I was working for a really small company, I was the only girl.  My boss told me flat out he would never pay me more than any of the guys, even though he acknowledged that I was one of his best employees.  I ended up going in a whole different direction.  Plus it’s nice leaving work not entirely covered in dirt.

E&L: Was it your idea or Jordan’s to pose in the hard hat? And how do you think this image differs from the kind of images you see on calendars that, say, a construction worker might put up on his office wall?

Ellie: It was Jordan’s idea.  I avoid wearing them unless absolutely necessary.  He actually wanted to do it a little more dirtied up, make me look more sweaty and grimey, but was afraid of crossing that line from tasteful to pin-up. So we decided on just the hat and work boots to contextualize the image and its background, and help tell the story we see all the time on work sites, just a normal construction worker, taking a lunch break and cooling off by removing her shirt. Just like the guys.

Em & Lo: We found it interesting how Susan Seligson describes in the intro how baring her breasts took the power away from the oglers by making a preemptive strike, she felt that it shifted the power base. Did you experience that?

Emma: Well, for this Grand Central Station photo, Jordan was shooting me from one of the staircases and it wasn’t until I was topless that I realized that nobody could see that I was being photographed. I just looked like a crazy lady bearing her boobs in rush hour. The comments that came at me varied from “How dare you?” to “You go girl.” But it was very clear everyone had an instant opinion of breasts; size, form, purpose? And they expressed it. At that point, so exposed, I probably would have felt more comfortable going bottomless. It wasn’t until a very nervous Marine approached me and could barely form a sentence, that I felt a little fabulous.

E&L: Do you think this project worked?

Emma: Yes. I think it is impossible to turn the pages of this book and see only breasts. You see the women, sure they’re topless, but they’re women. It’s a book, but it’s not Playboy and it’s not National Geographic. I think it takes a snapshot of women and their breasts and starts a million conversations about big, small, long, short, sexuality, breastfeeding, cancer, implants and confidence. That’s a lot more complex and real then ogling at cleavage.

E&L: Did this photo shoot change the way you think about your own body or your boobs?

Emma: I’ve always treasured my boobs and never really judged them too much. They suit me. But when I saw the shots, I cringed a little: we don’t usually see pictures of ourselves partly naked in public. I made myself look at every picture even if my left boob was on one side of the frame and my right was on the other. Once I accepted and appreciated the realness of it and the balls it took, I was immensely proud myself, I must admit.

E&L: Are you glad you did it?

Emma: Thanks to these shots I noticed a mole on my right shoulder which turned out to be a Melanoma. I didn’t have a dentist let alone a dermatologist at the time, so I have these pictures to thank for bringing it to my attention, and getting treatment. I know that my mother and sister and girlfriends would love this book. I’m sure I can present the book to my father, and the other men in my life in a way that doesn’t say “Hey check out my boobs” — but I’m still working on the words.

Em & Lo: How did you end up taking part in this photo shoot?

Trisha: I first learned about Jordan Matter and the “Uncovered” project on a blog. I was struck by the beauty in the images he created and tickled pink at learning that a woman could be topless in New York (under certain circumstances) and couldn’t be arrested for it. At the same time, a friend of mine had died from colon cancer at the age of 32, and after her death, I’d made a vow to ”Say Yes!” to the positive, life-affirming things that entered into my life. So I decided to contact Jordan to see if he could use a short, overweight woman like me to be in his book.

E&L: So what are the circumstances that make it legal to be topless in New York?

Trisha: According to the statute (of which Jordan keeps a copy on him whenever he does his outdoor shoots), New York is the only U.S. state in which a woman can’t get arrested for being topless… provided that she’s not also violating laws against public decency at the same time.

E&L: Do you think this project worked?

Trisha: One of the things I love about the book is that you’re able to see that how women see themselves and are seen in our “enlightened” society hasn’t changed a lot from how things were in the 1950s, and I think that there’s something wrong about that. The story in the book that makes me just a little bit angry is the one with the breast cancer survivor who was on a date with a man and just as they were going to be intimate, she reveals that she’s had a mastectomy. His response? He decides he can’t be with her because she has only one breast and he doesn’t consider her to be “beautiful” anymore.

I would hope that anyone who buys this book also carefully reads what we’ve written about ourselves. My story takes place on a Long Island Railroad train car after a long night of drinking, and when confronted by someone who audaciously thinks that I’m pregnant and making a fool of myself by singing to keep myself awake, I instead declare that it’s okay, I’m only fat and being a drunken fool.

E&L: Did this photo shoot change the way you think about your body or your boobs?

Trisha: Well, I suggested that Jordan shoot me with the other woman because I was having so much fun that I was sad that I didn’t get to be topless more. But whenever I see pictures of me, I only see the flaws. I know I’m fat, and it bothers me.

E&L: Are you glad you did it?

Trisha: I’m very glad I did this photoshoot and I happily have a copy of the book in my apartment. But I also struggled with mentioning the photoshoot and subsequent book to my parents, so I really didn’t say anything about it until the book was released last year. At the same time, I know it’s a matter of time until someone connects the me who writes semi-professionally online to the me who was in this photoshoot, and I’m not sure I will be able to deal with the consequences of that action. The fact that I may not be offered jobs due to being in this book is something I have to deal with as well.

At the same time, I’ve had friends of friends tell me that they thought it was so empowering to see me like that, and at least one of my friends has said I’m a hero to them for doing it.

E&L: You mention your professional concerns — is this something that you considered in advance? If so, why did you decide to go ahead with the shoot anyway? If not, are you still glad you did the shoot?

Trisha: When I did the photoshoot four years ago, I was working an entry level white collar job doing data entry, but the company was very relaxed about enforcing a dress code.  However, I now work as a high level admin assistant in a company with a more “buttoned up” look and more strict policies on personal expression. Contrast this to the fact that I’m also an established writer who promoted and published sex-positive comics ‘zines for three years in a row about seven years ago, and you’ll see why I have a reason to harbor some trepidation.  At one point, I was cultivating one type of persona and now I have another, and the two don’t necessarily agree with one another.  Considering that we live in an age where with a few keystrokes, you can find out almost anything about anyone, it’s not the discovery I fear; it’s what will happen as a result.

However, ultimately, I am still very proud of the photoshoot and the work because I still believe that celebrating and demystifying what all women’s bodies look like as opposed to a certain few is important; it’s also just as important to encourage other women who have unhealthy attitudes about weight gain and weight loss to see themselves in a positive light.

And this includes myself as well.  I recently started a new relationship and one of the first things I showed my boyfriend about myself was this book.  Within these published images of myself contains my bravado, my ballsiness, and my insecurities.  I hoped to show him that by not overthinking the photoshoot and interview that he could also find it within himself to confront and tackle the self-improvement projects he was scared to face, while at the same time letting him know just a little bit more about what he was getting himself into. He hasn’t run screaming yet.