Background: This essay is an effort to compile and channel all my rampant thoughts about sex, sexuality, female empowerment, objectification and the male gaze. Last weekend, I was invited to be a part of a photo shoot with renowned Japanese photographer, YONE. In a nutshell, YONE likes to translate SEXY in his photos. He gives lots of creative freedom to his models to wear and pose however they want. Some girls take it all off. Some girls leave it all on. Overall, YONE himself is an amazing artist. A lot of his work look like this.
I took up the photo shoot opportunity as a way to 1) expand my network, 2) experience something different and 3) express my sexual nature. This was my first time in a photo shoot so I had no idea what I was doing. I told myself that if I was going to do the shoot, I wanted to bring something completely different. I didn’t want to look all raunchy and shit like the other girls. (Too predictable). I didn’t want to take my clothes off. (Too easy). I wanted to send a positive message that firm, strong and fun is also sexy. I kept my pants up, shirts on and legs closed.
1) Cocktail dress for the CLASS.
2) Fur vest, shorts and tank for the SASS.
3) Black spandex and mom’s 80’s t-shirt for the THROWBACK.
I entered the photo shoot wanting to stand out and challenge these norms. I left the photo shoot feeling like I looked like every other girl. Damn. I didn’t feel empowered. The shoot was a good experience and the people are amazing, but that’s just not my style. Prancing around and trying to look all hot and shit in front of the camera wasn’t all that fun for me. I’d rather go painting.
Even though I had something to say, I realized that the photo shoot was not my platform. I entered with one agenda and YONE had his–this was clear to me from the beginning (I just failed to recognize it). At the end of the day, this is YONE’s artwork and YONE’s message. This wasn’t MY photo shoot, it was YONE’s photo shoot. His narrative takes precedent over mine because he is the one in control of the camera, he frames the shots and he snaps the photos. It’s like elementary sentence structure: SUBJECT –> ACTION VERB –> OBJECT :: YONE –> CAMERA –> ME. Understanding the sexist, male-dominated context of our society, I feel inclined to reject the overt idealism of female sexiness and dress myself down. Sometimes I overcompensate by wearing big sweaters and shit. Then I wonder if I’m being too reactionary by responding this way. How do I embrace my sexual side without coming off as typical or slutty. At the shoot, I was trying to filter my feminist message through the male gaze and that just isn’t possible. It doesn’t matter what I was trying to say or trying to do, this can all get lost when the camera frames me a certain way, photos are rearranged in a certain way and photos are exhibited in a particular context like “GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS”. Haha yuuup.
I asked YONE to credit all my photos with my name and website that offers all my artwork and writings. I don’t know if he will actually care to do this. In the case that he doesn’t, I would be just another anonymous GIRL GIRL GIRL amidst the bunch, and I’m not okay with that. I don’t want to be known for just a “pretty face”. I have so much more to offer than that. TRUST. I appreciate the genes mom and pops gave me but I don’t consider “good looks” as much to be proud of because it’s not something I worked terribly hard for, yadidamean? I am very thankful for this experience. I can be quick to judge other girls in photographs like, “HOE.” Now that I know what it feels like to be on the other side, I can better understand the pressures of succumbing to the feeling of sexy and desirability; at the same time, it has helped me affirm my own views in how I want to function in this world.
Thanks for reading.