Our skin is a means or membrane that connects us to the world around us. I offer my feelings here on this topic because I suspect that from time to time, the work that I share on the interwebs (body-work: Yoga and visual art), may be misconstrued as utilizing sexuality to draw in or even manipulate the viewer. Sharing my experience may contribute to a broadening discussion and maybe even a broadening of vocabulary that we use to discuss and describe visual interpretations of the body.
The subject of skin, its glorification and increasing visibility on the internet is also of particular interest to me as a Canadian who has put roots down in Egypt. I have come to love the communities in Cairo that I am a part of. I also love the creative outlet that social media affords me. This has raised some interesting tensions and questions when I choose to show more skin via the outlets that the Internet offers.
I am timid when it comes to sharing my passions with new people, but have embraced the medium of social media as a way to bridge the gap between what I am able to share in person and what I produce in my own private space. I can share something I made in the comfort of my own four walls with the public- much in the same way in which art has been produced for centuries. This works especially well for sharing with people in different communities around the globe, as our networks become more diasporic and spread out.
The privilege of producing in the comfort of our own privacy, may lead one to share perhaps 'too' intimately. As our medium now surpasses realism, and straight up offers snapshots of our lives (albeit still manipulated from the artistic/creator's perspective), the intimate quality of the work being shared intensifies. Link this back to social media and the internet offering an instantaneous international audience that can quickly mushroom out of our control, our understanding of the audience's experience become rapidly abstracted.
Who is that audience and how does this work relate to them? This has always been the most significant underpinning to my considerable anxiety about public speaking: how can what one person says be accurately interpreted by such a vast array of lenses?! This continues to cause some anxiety, even when my 'public speaking' is now localized in the realm of the interwebs, and more performative in nature, and thus somewhat depressurized.
One particularly sensitive facet to this anxiety is the matter of skin - seeing it. This is an issue that affects all of us, or that all of us have an effect on by participating in online communities. However we may not realize the vast spectrum of reaction and interpretation that local communities globally bring to skin - naked skin.
So, greater intimacy in our output and greater scope and diversity on the receiving end - audience... The crux of the matter for me, is that for a long time the body has been addressed through a sexual lense. I get it, our erogenous zones may be presented or suggested to the viewer. But does this necessitate a sexual gaze? This isn't a rhetorical question that has a given answer. I am really just asking, and I am also certainly not suggesting that everyone need be ok with showing his/her own skin in order to be appreciated in cyber-space.
Really, I am interested in the presumptions we project on the subject whose skin we are seeing. There seems to be a polarizing effect here; on one hand the subject is rendered hyper-attractive and on the other end hyper-repulsive, depending on the lens we are looking through. We may also all experience different perspectives on this issue in different stages of our lives, and I give no guarantee that I will feel the same about this down the road, that my lens will remain the same.
My current lens lets me see that sexuality is only one way in which we can view body-skin, albeit likely the most popular lens in a large part of the world. While I acknowledge that it is important to recognize the predominantly sexual interpretation of skin and bodies, I simultaneously do not feel it is most appropriate for me to accommodate this perspective by adopting it as my primary lens. Instead, I feel it is most useful if I am open and clear about my own embodied experience: what my feelings are on having and using this body, existing and interacting in this body – knowing all the while that how it is viewed informs both my experience and that of others.
The embodied experience for me is predominantly one of purity, innocence and connection. Now, those are some packed words in themselves. I use the word purity, for example, not with connotations of shame or chastity or righteousness, but rather with undertones of cleanliness of habit and commitment to healthy habit - that body is to me an instrument through which I get to experience life and which I revere for the experiences of sensitivity it offers.
I continue to approach this subject with sensitivity knowing that my images on social media are picked up in developing countries where access to education is more limited, and where public forum and public reflection on long-held beliefs is not yet as feasible. Public forum on long standing beliefs requires significant resources in terms of learned self-reflection, awareness, emotional literacy, self-soothing capacities, and learned self-regulation mechanisms, which are still in their sapling stage even in developed countries.
In ocular-centric cultures, where images of any kind are powerful tools, reflection of this kind is particularly important. There is value to the high accessibility in these visual sharing platforms, for example in opening dialogue on deeply held beliefs and allowing reflection of this sort. We can look for deeper exchange in conversation, sharing with the intention of being informed by the experiential wisdom of one another to find greater depth to the images we're confronted with, to find the power of the stories behind the image. It is in that exchange that we can experience deeper witnessing and connection with and to the lives around us, whether skin is a focal point or not- [Re]humanizing the subject of any image.