Archives for category: male

Each year for the past seven, painter and activist Andy Golub has organized New York Bodypainting Day, where dozens of models and artists from all over the world gather in a public place and create art together, using the human body as their canvas.

This year, we were sure the event would get cancelled — everything else had been. The Olympics, movies, Broadway, school. But when July 25 came around, god bless him, Andy was out on the street in Times Square. With a smaller group, it’s true, but there all the same, everyone wearing masks (sometimes two!) even when they wore nothing else at all.

This year’s theme was “freedom” and it was expressed in ways both explicit and implict. Images included raised fists, floating balloons and, naturally, birds.

But the visuals on display also included the simple fact of uncovered human bodies, and there’s no symbol of freedom more potent than that.

As a women’s group, we’re not generally advocates for men’s right to expose themselves, in part because that sort of exposure is so often wielded in an aggressive or hostile way. But there is no automatic reason that a man’s body should be a forbidden sight and no reason it should be an object of shame. A penis can be beautiful too.

As can vulvas, of course.

We applaud the women and men of Human Connection Arts, the nonprofit organization behind the event, for sharing their bodies without shame or fear.

(Yes, a few people deferred the moment of nudity to the last possible instant and covered up with paint as quickly as possible. But that’s okay too. Bravery takes many forms.)

And we thank Human Connection Arts for letting us participate! A chance to be naked in Times Square? We wouldn’t miss it for anything.

Of course, Times Square being Times Square, we weren’t alone. At one point a religious group marched through, protesting sin and attempting to save souls; at roughly the same time, a random neighborhood denizen, seeing our nudity, decided he wanted to share his own. Both incidents were a tiny bit stressful in the moment, but you know what? We love that we live in a city big enough to contain them both.

After the painting was done, the group took a walk down Fifth Avenue, past the main branch of the New York Public Library and on to the Empire State Building.

The crowd of spectators amused, enthralled or inspired by the procession may have been smaller than usual — and it’s for the best that it was — but the message was the same: we all have a right to be free, and artistic freedom is among the very highest forms.

Of course, it does lead one to wonder why a person going naked in Times Square on July 25th was free to do so, while a person doing the exact same thing at the exact same time in, say, Central Park (or even Bryant Park, just a few blocks away) would get arrested for indecent exposure. Or why the same person, unclothed to the same extent, standing on the same exact spot, would get arrested for it on July 24 or 26. Why is this sight wholesome and harmless one day and banned the next? Why must freedom be doled out with an eyedropper rather than erupting like, um, let’s say lava from a volcano?

But if drops of freedom are what we can get, we’ll take it for now. Remember: Enough drops, over enough time, can break down walls.

We formed this group a decade ago to fight the injustice of being treated differently because of an accident of birth — specifically, being born female in a world constructed by and for men. But as we’re constantly, cruelly, and painfully being reminded, gender is not the only axis along which injustice and inequality are dealt out. Race is another, and the events of recent months have been shocking, horrifying, heartbreaking. They have also been galvanizing, with thousands — tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands — rising up to say, “We will tolerate no more.”

We want to express our solidarity with the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement, and with anyone anywhere who fights for the right to live their life free from oppression, from violence, from cruelty, from fear.

(Our own encounters with the police have been few and in the end have all worked out okay — but that doesn’t change the gut-wrenching fear when you see armed men walking toward you with looks of impatience and intolerance on their faces, especially given the very real danger that you might one day encounter the “bad” cop who doesn’t know or disregards the law in his zeal to punish you for something that is no crime.)

As a group of readers, one small way we feel we can contribute is by directing people toward books that might help open eyes and minds and educate all of us about the issues surrounding race and racism in America. With that in mind, we are glad to share two recommended reading lists of books on these topics: one from The Book Table and one from Refinery29.

While we’re at it, another bookstore you should know about is Elizabeth’s in Akron. Not only do they offer a wide selection of relevant books, a portion of every sale goes to the Loveland Foundation to support their mission of making mental healthcare accessible for black women and girls.

Educating ourselves is only one small step — but it’s an important one, and we hope you’ll join us in taking it.

We look forward to the day when no person will be denied their innate human dignity or their fundamental equal rights because of the color of their skin or the conformation of their anatomy. The fight will not be easy or short — it already hasn’t been. But it is worth fighting.

In Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the va-va-voomish Jessica Rabbit, chesty cartoon vixen, famously says, “I’m not bad — I’m just drawn that way.” It may seem an unlikely rallying cry for a feminist group like ours. And yet. What woman has not felt, at one time or another, that the body she finds herself in through no act of her own does more to determine how people see, evaluate and treat her than anything she might do or say or think or believe or accomplish?

One of our goals since founding this group 8+ years ago has been to take back control over how our bodies are presented and how they’re seen. One of the ways we do this is by taking our shirts off when we feel like it, and insisting that there doesn’t have to be anything sexual about it — a bare chest is just a bare chest, whether it’s a woman’s or a man’s. Another way we do it from time to time is by taking pencil in hand and producing our own images of ourselves and each other. Why should men be the ones to decide how women’s bodies get depicted? Like Ms. Rabbit says, we’re not bad — why should we even have to be drawn that way?

All of which is by way of explaining how we found ourselves, a few weeks back, taking over a theater-district rehearsal studio, stocking it with pencils, erasers, sketchpads and Baked By Melissa mini-cupcakes (yeah, it’s a thing, all right? Georgia O’Keeffe would totally have done it if they’d existed back then) and spending several hours on each of two evenings transforming our bodies into art.

Here you see photos from the first for those two evenings. We had a really nice turnout — about two dozen people — and though there was some nervousness to start, by the end of the session pretty much everyone had taken a turn drawing and getting drawn.

It’s an interesting feeling, having a dozen people staring closely, minutely at every inch of your body in order to recreate it on the page. And just as interesting to stare closely, minutely at someone else’s body and direct your hand to reproduce every line, every curve.

The female body is a wonder. Every one different, every one unique. The male body, too — we had two XY-chromosomed pals along for the ride and got to draw some male anatomy as well. And not for one instant was any of it sexual. Not having clothing on is just that — not having clothing on. Our bodies are just these extended forked things, with joints and skin and stuff. Pass the cupcakes!

We had some trained artists, some novices. Also some experienced figure models and some newcomers. The more ambitious poses were mostly offered by the newcomers. (It’s experience that teaches you not to offer a pose holding an apple core in your mouth for ten minutes.)

Fun was had.

Then, before long — before long enough — it was over. We packed our supplies away, said our reluctant farewells, and headed out into the world again, where the billboards and taxi-top ads of Times Square offered Photoshopped images of cinched waists and made-up faces and cantilevered cleavage. We were back in the land of Jessica Rabbit once more.

But not for long! A second night of figure drawing was on its way, our pencils ready to come out again. As they say: watch this space.

A year ago, a singer and activist know as “Ton Dou” (an abbreviation of his real name, Tony Douglas) held the first of what he called his Ultimate Freedom Concerts — events held in public places (in this case, Times Square in the middle of New York City) where people of goodwill could demonstrate that being naked doesn’t need to be sexual or offensive in any way. For six or seven hours, a group of partially or fully nude people congregated in this high-traffic spot, in full view of locals and tourists, vendors and costumed characters, and peacefully sang, spoke, practiced yoga, painted one another, and explained to the baffled masses on the other side of the protective fencing what it was all about.

This year he did it again, and it went more or less as before: baffled masses on one side, naked people on the other, some mutual understanding gingerly arrived at between the two.

Was there any difference? Well, last year’s profound gender imbalance — two dozen naked men, one naked woman — was slightly less profound: there were maybe one dozen men and four or five women. It’s a step in the right direction.

And the interactions with spectators were less confrontational. Last year the group was met with some antagonism, especially from people stumbling on the event unawares after exiting the annual Brazil Day festivities a block away, coincidentally scheduled for the same day. It was again Brazil Day this year, but somehow celebrants from that event seemed more tolerant or curious than hostile. Maybe the slightly better gender balance had something to do with that. Stumbling across a pen of naked men in Times Square is somehow different from stumbling across a mix of naked men and women. And maybe it also helped that some of the Brazilians this year seem to have embraced at least partial nudity:

Participants were still in a pen, though. The group meets with the city’s blessing and under the protection of the New York Police Department, but that same police department mandates metal fencing between the event and the public, and the result is an inescapable suggestion of animals in a zoo. Then, too, the male participants are a motley bunch that include some sincere idealists, some grizzled veterans of the nudist scene, some starved-for-human-contact sorts who might otherwise be tossing tetrahedral dice (not that there’s anything wrong with that…), and some hardened exhibitionists (not literally hardened, thankfully — but it’s clear enough what they’re there for). The message is a good and healthy message — but the participants attempting to convey the message aren’t all equally good ambassadors for the cause.

But: one step at a time. Last year’s event was a bit shaky; this year’s was definitely better; next year’s should be better still. And we do wholeheartedly endorse the goal: to make nudity more acceptable, more understood, less a cause for shame or embarrassment or anger. We feel fortunate to live in a city where an event like this can happen, not just once but annually, and with no motive other than to make the world a better, freer place.

There are so many things we treasure about our get-togethers: the physical pleasure of being bare under the sun on a warm day; the confidence that comes from taking ownership of your body and being proud rather than ashamed of it, strong rather than timid; the knowledge that we’re taking a stand for freedom and equal rights and educating both women and men about what equality means and why it matters. But it’s also just really nice to meet other open-minded, non-judgmental women with whom we can really let our hair down, talk openly, and be ourselves.

What does it mean to be ourselves? It means reading what we want, without having to explain or apologize for our choices.

It means wearing what we want — and as little or as much as we want, for any reason or no reason at all.

It means making our bodies look the way we like — whether that means hair the color of a tropical sunset or a moonlit sky or ink placed wherever the mood strikes us.

It means eating what we like, whether that’s healthy or unhealthy, vegan or omnivore, knowing that our friends may not share our every appetite but will respect our choices.

It also means knowing our choices will be respected in other areas of self expression and personal pleasure.

We strive to live by that most useful kindergarten maxim, “Don’t yuck someone else’s yum.” Even when someone else’s yum looks like it must be uncomfortable–

–or involves stealing our food.

As we approach the season of family-themed holidays — Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas — we want to say that this is our family, and we’re proud of every one of them.

Except maybe the squirrel.

IMG_9959Our group’s name notwithstanding, we read all sorts of books, not just pulp fiction. (Not even just fiction.) But when we do read pulp fiction, it’s often from a line called Hard Case Crime, which was founded by a friend of our group who kindly gives us advance peeks into what they’re going to be publishing months and months before anyone else gets to see.

IMG_1708IMG_1765IMG_5166IMG_3593This summer, that meant getting an early look at a first novel called Charlesgate Confidential by film critic Scott Von Doviak. And what a great read it is. An art heist in 1946 leads to a hunt for the missing art in 1986 and then to a series of murders related to the still missing art in the present day, and it’s all woven together in a twisty, satisfying way, all over Boston (even though we read it all over New York).

IMG_4059IMG_7788IMG_1724IMG_7785IMG_7623IMG_7680And we’d offer to lend you one of our ragged, dog-eared copies,

IMG_0074except now we don’t have to because this coming Tuesday the book’s finally being published and you’ll be able to get a copy for yourself!

IMG_9929We don’t generally shill for books, even ones published by our friends, but this one is pretty terrific. Don’t believe us? Here’s what a random guy named Stephen King said about it on Twitter back in June: “Get this book, campers. It’s a fun machine…the white-knuckle kind.”

How did Stephen King get his hands on a copy? Are we saying that Stephen King came to one of our events and stole one of our precious copies of Charlesgate Confidential?? We are so, so, so totally not saying that. Because it wouldn’t be true.

But we do love us some Stephen King too. 🙂

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IMG_7732There we were on the sidelines, waiting for the Ultimate Freedom Concert to begin in Times Square, arguing the way bookish folk do: did the adjective “Ultimate” modify “Freedom” or “Concert”? Was it a concert celebrating the ultimate freedom, or was it the ultimate concert celebrating freedom?

It was a way to kill some time as the men inside the enclosure paced and noon turned to 1pm and 1 inched toward 2. One of the men, a sober, even severe, fellow in a charcoal gray t-shirt, held a microphone but didn’t speak into it. Drums stood in one corner, not being played. Yoga instructors balanced tentatively on one foot, then the other. Everyone was holding fire.

The man was a singer and activist calling himself Ton Dou, who’s been traveling around the country for the last several years, trying to persuade people that nudity isn’t anything to be ashamed or frightened of, and governments that it shouldn’t be illegal. Nudity, he believes, can be non-sexual and healthy and beautiful. And somehow he’d convinced New York City to let him hold a concert in Times Square fully nude himself, with anyone attending free to go fully nude as well.

But here we were, an hour and a half after the announced start time, and everyone was still fully dressed.

Was it cold feet? Literally, yes: going nude means going barefoot, and on this autumnal day the pavement was chilly. But maybe metaphorically as well. Ton Dou had the courage of his convictions, and he’d gathered perhaps two dozen men of varying ages and sizes and complexions to join him, but aside from one brave yoga instructor, no women. When Ton finally gave the signal and the clothes came off,

IMG_7727IMG_7720IMG_7744IMG_7754IMG_7724…it was surely the most penises Times Square has ever seen at one time, and all without a police whistle blowing or anyone getting carted off to jail. And that’s wonderful. We agree that nudity isn’t shameful or dangerous and that it shouldn’t be illegal. And yet — with the one brave exception, it was an all-male demonstration. Not even our cadre of body-positive women felt like stepping behind the protective fence and disrobing surrounded by twenty or thirty naked men and several thousand iPhone-wielding spectators. (One of the photographers at the event, a woman representing ClothesFree.com, who gladly goes nude in her own site’s videos, chose to stay clothed at this event. Several of our members who said they were curious and might attend changed their minds when they arrived and saw the gender imbalance.)

It’s interesting to note that this hasn’t been a problem when Human Connection Arts has held bodypainting events in Times Square — those have had a fairly equal mix of women and men from the start, and everyone felt comfortable. (Those also had paint, of course, which may not do much to hide one’s naked body, but does help disguise one’s face, which can be a consideration if you’re going to be naked in front of thousands of onlookers in one of the most public places on Earth.)

RandAIMG_8447IMG_8290So was the Ultimate Freedom Concert a failure? Not at all. It served its purpose: it showed that people can be naked, and can see other people naked, without any catastrophic consequences. People walking through Times Square to celebrate Brazilian Day got to see their share of, uh, brazilians. We overheard conversations between spectators and participants that suggested honest curiosity and supportive dialogue. (“What is this?” was the most common question, followed by “Is it legal?” and “Doesn’t your penis get cold?”) Some faces in the crowd seemed downright bored by the sight, and if that isn’t a victory, we don’t know what is.

IMG_7717But not being a failure doesn’t mean it was a success. A gathering that women don’t feel comfortable participating in — even if that wasn’t the organizers’ intent — might be a step in the direction of freedom, but the ultimate freedom it is not.

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IMG_7588When was it that nudity started being equated with weakness? Vulnerability, sure, we get that: if you’re naked, you’re exposed to the elements; and as Bruce Willis once taught us, when you’re barefoot it’s a bad idea to walk on broken glass. But the flip side is all those amphorae in the museums depicting the original Olympic games, where all the athletes competed in the nude. And what about those strapping classical statues? David v. Goliath? What about that island Wonder Woman came from — everyone trained naked there, didn’t they? (Not in the movie, maybe, but you just know they did when the cameras weren’t filming.)

IMG_7543IMG_7429We happen to believe that there is nothing weak about being naked, that nudity is a cause for pride and self-confidence, not fear or shame.

IMG_7531And when we get together as a group (as we recently did on our favorite rooftop sundeck), it’s an occasion for setting aside all those timid-woman cliches along with our clothes.

IMG_7681Having set them aside, what do we do then? We sun, we read, we snack; we do as we like. We make no apologies and ask no permission.

IMG_7653IMG_7661Even when the occasional refugee drops in from “man’s world,” there’s no question who’s in charge.

IMG_7608And we like to think that some of that extra self-confidence comes back with us into our daily lives even after the clothes go back on.

IMG_7384IMG_7576IMG_7545Do you feel proud naked — or would you like to? The summer’s not quite over yet, and even when it is, the fall usually has some warm days in it. Get in touch. Drop an email to toplesspulpfiction@gmail.com and tell us you’d like to be part of our grand adventure. We welcome body-positive women of every description.

Just call us Themyscira on the Hudson.

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IMG_6455For years, people — including our own members — have been telling us we needed to go to Gunnison, the nude beach in Sandy Hook, New Jersey. But it was in New Jersey! Even getting out members out to the beach in Brooklyn (Coney Island) or Queens (Riis) was hard. Gunnison is an hour and a half drive from the city, and almost none of our members have cars, for one thing. And yeah, there’s a ferry that can take you part of the way by water, but only part of the way, and then you have to get a bus, and the line can be long, and…

And we never went. For seven years.

But this year we finally did, and as everyone predicted, it was pretty wonderful.

IMG_6481IMG_6803IMG_6546IMG_6549Gunnison is a weird place. It’s in New Jersey but on federal land (a former military base, it seems), which is why even though New Jersey is more restrictive about nudity than New York is, you can actually go fully nude at Gunnison but only topless at New York beaches.

IMG_6791And it’s absolutely packed on a sunny weekend day — easily a thousand people. Not all aging hippies, not all leathery sun worshippers or hipsters with lumberjack beards and body modifications; you’ll find those types, but really you’ll find every type. There were a lot of couples just spending the day together, work buddies hanging out, recent immigrants from two dozen countries…it was like the crowd you might see on the subway at rush hour, only a) friendly and b) not wearing any clothes. This isn’t Burning Man, where you hang out naked with tripping artists and free spirits and Silicon Valley billionaires and their aspiring model friends. This is hanging out naked with random regular people — your dental hygienist is there in the crowd somewhere, and the guy who stocks supplies in your office’s mail room, and the girls who work the registers at the supermarket where you bought the strawberries and pita chips and guac you brought with you to the beach so you wouldn’t starve. Your bus driver is there (literally: we booked a bus to take us there and back, and in between the driver hit the sand himself, and he couldn’t get enough of it: “Oh man,” he texted us, “it’s my first time here. I love that beach!”). Your high school math teacher is probably there somewhere, or maybe your elementary school principal. And no one’s embarrassed or ashamed. Everyone’s just chilling.

IMG_6569One of the reasons is that there are no cameras, or almost none — the culture there is very much a no-photos culture, which meant we got some side-eye when we took out ours to memorialize this event. Of course we explained our goal was only to photograph ourselves. But we get it: it’s a crowded beach and a photo that’s got us in the foreground might have who-knows-whom in the background. Out of respect for the crowd and its norms, we took very few pictures (by our standards) and so have only a handful to share.

IMG_6565But picture taking wasn’t the point. The point was that here was a spot within relatively easy driving distance of the city where all the city’s denizens could strip off every stitch and just be human together. And that was an entrancing discovery. Of course we knew we could do that — we get naked together all the time, and we love it. But we’re used to doing it surrounded by strangers who range from indifferent to judgmental, and who certainly don’t respond to our nakedness by getting naked themselves. This was like walking into Central Park and seeing everyone in the crowd completely naked, from grandmas to teenagers, every skin tone and body type, a thousand vulvas and penises, two thousand breasts, and not an unkind word or uncomfortable glance anywhere. It was truly inspiring.

IMG_6505IMG_6692IMG_6729IMG_6757IMG_6780Will we go back? Well, it is a long drive. And the summer’s almost over. But how did Molly Bloom put it? yes I said yes I will Yes.

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IMG_6273This past Saturday, five dozen people took all their clothes off in Washington Square Park. Some of our members were among them.

IMG_6041IMG_6147IMG_6135IMG_6055IMG_4250Not only did no one call the cops on this display of naked bodies, but the cops were already there and fully supportive — they were present to make sure everything went smoothly and that none of the naked people were harassed or bothered. And none of us were.

IMG_6131Now, here’s an interesting fact: one day later, if any of us had tried to undress to the exact same extent in the exact same place, we would have gotten stopped, and maybe arrested, by those exact same cops. Does that make any sense to you?

Yes, Saturday was a special day: the 5th annual “New York Bodypainting Day” festival. For five years, artist Andy Golub has brought together fellow artists from all over the country and all over the world to paint nude models on one afternoon in the summer. And yes, there is an exception in the public indecency laws for nudity that occurs in the course of making or exhibiting art. That’s why no one got arrested on Saturday.

But what’s the logic? How can it possibly be the case that sixty fully naked women and men standing in a group is an inoffensive sight one day, but the following day even just one fully naked woman or man — perhaps lying among a bunch of sunbathers such as this group that watched us for hours on Saturday — is offensive enough to be deemed illegal?

IMG_6268The prude who says a breast, a vulva, a penis is always and automatically shameful may be wrong (in our humble opinion), but at least the prude is consistent. The person who says vulvas and penises are fine on Saturday but forbidden every other day is either the strangest Sabbath observer ever or else just a hypocrite.

IMG_6308But — as long as the hypocrites are making the rules, we’ll take such opportunities for freedom as we’re granted. One day each year when we can shed the last little vestiges of our clothes out in the park is better than none.

IMG_6312IMG_6190IMG_6292And this one was better than most. The weather was absolutely perfect (not a hint of rain in the sky), the crowd was supportive (not a complaint heard, at least by our ears), there were a pianist and a xylophonist nearby for musical accompaniment (randomly), and we even were graced with a street fair right outside the park, for when our thirst required fresh-squeezed lemonade to quench it (Andy kindly supplied some snacks as well, including unintentionally appropriate ones).

IMG_6253The art that emerged from this inspiring environment was suitably inspired. Meant to reflect this year’s theme, “Movement,” we saw everything from the literal, with moving flora and fauna–

IMG_6250IMG_6263IMG_6241IMG_6338…to the metaphorical, such as a bit of cubism (which began, remember, as an attempt to show movement on a static canvas — how great to see it attempted on a rippling moving canvas!)

IMG_4240…or the sort of movement that results in social change:

IMG_4258Speaking of which, we’re a bit of a movement ourselves, aren’t we? Sparking social change, making people think differently about what they’ve always assumed. Seeking freedom.

IMG_6326On Saturday we were free. In a way we rarely have the opportunity to be. Could Monday morning be just as free someday?

Yes. Someday. We firmly believe that. With or without paint, with or without clothes, bodies should be free.

IMG_6052IMG_6143IMG_6181If you’d like to join our little movement, drop us a note: toplesspulpfiction@gmail.com. With your help, we’ve got some brick walls we’d like to bust through together.

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