This week, we’re sharing stories from Steve Kolowich; Stephanie Clifford and Jessica Silver-Greenberg; Taffy Brodesser-Akner; Carolyn Murnick; and Jamie Lauren Keiles.
For Racked, Jamie Lauren Keiles spends a week at a naturist camp to learn “why people get naked.” As she exercises, sun tans, and square dances her way through a week garbed for the most part only in shoes, she gets stripped not only of inhibitions around her own body, but also of notions around naturist intent: most enthusiasts take off their clothes not for sexual reasons, but simply to feel free.
I was visible as a newcomer by the fact that I was at least 20 years younger than any other guest…I tried my best to answer their questions: How did you find this event? Why are you interested in learning about naturism? It was hard to feel professional with my bare ass on a chair. In my best journalist voice, I told them I wanted to learn why they got naked. This wasn’t really true, but it sounded okay. The leather-skinned woman turned in my direction.
“Well,” she asked, exasperated. “Have you ever been completely nude in the sun?”
After dinner, I walked to the lake, down an isolated trail in a thicket of trees. The sun was not scheduled to set for two more hours. The light came green and filtered through the leaves as I stopped midway to pull off my shirt, then continued down the trail, fully nude except my shoes. A breeze off the lake took stock of every fine mammalian hair on my body. Walking naked in the woods makes you feel like a real goddamn Homo sapiens. My posture looked stupid, like it had been formed in a time before women were dainty. My brain was a mass of electrical signals; I wanted to kill an animal, or maybe be killed by one.
But here, in stretching class, naked old people weren’t a secret. Aging bodies were taken on their own terms — not feared, but accommodated. Without the tell of age-betraying clothes (Costco sneakers, Reagan-era windbreakers), it felt easier to believe that their bodies could be mine. As I watched a woman lift her leg over her head, I wondered if I ever knew anything about time.
At night I walked to the canteen for a square-dancing lesson. I had never square danced before, but I was looking forward to learning something I could take with me out into the clothing-mandatory world. The canteen was a big, open rec room with old arcade games and bad fluorescent lighting. At the center of the floor, the rough shape of a square had already begun to form — three women, four men. It turned out that everyone else already knew how to square dance, with some having square danced their way into adulthood all the way from elementary-school gym class. They forged on with the lesson for my sake only. I felt the familiar flush of gym-class humiliation, except now I was also naked.
The first thing I learned was that square dancing is not the same as line dancing. Line dancing is a synchronized group dance where everyone faces in the same direction and nobody touches. Square dancing is an elaborate coupled dance with lots of touching and changing of partners. My partner was a shy man in black tube socks and a Casio watch. I did not feel eager to have him hold my naked body, but soon he proved a dependable dancer. Our first song was a wife-swapping routine called “Push Ol’ Pa, Push Ol’ Ma.” It opened with a jaunty fiddle and a move called “grand left and right” that involved shaking hands with different partners around a circle. As the ladies traveled clockwise and the men counterclockwise, I took extreme care to connect with each outstretched hand. I shook the hand of a 7-foot-tall man with back hair. I shook the hand of a gay man in pearls. When the song was over, everyone agreed that I was a really good square dancer. It is easy to learn quickly when the risk of failure is grabbing a stranger’s penis.
This week, we’re sharing stories from Eliza Brooke, Aaron Cantú, Michael Kruse, Lucinda Chambers, and Lucas Reilly.
At Racked, Eliza Brooke looks at that enduring style icon — the French Girl — and the big money to be made riding her aspirational, stylishly flyaway coattails. Not sure who the French Girl is? Here you go.
Who is she? She’s intellectual, cool, and a bit of a romantic, but she doesn’t give her approval easily or smile too much. She might run around in black-tipped Chanel slingbacks, or barefoot if she’s on vacation. She has a signature perfume. She eats cheese without abandon and nurses a single glass of wine all night because she’s a master of reasonable indulgences. She’s almost always white, hetero, and thin, and you can only conjure her by willfully ignoring the many French women whose daily routines do not involve bicycling along the Seine in miniskirts with baguettes tucked under their arms.
But the French Girl’s influence is tangible. She makes money for big American drugstore chains, department stores, independent brands, book publishers, magazines, and digital media companies. She definitely has something to do with the fact that rosé, sales of which outpaced the rest of the wine market last year, has become so popular in the US.
As part of my New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve vowed to read the hundreds of books I already own. Last night, I started and finished Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun Story by Jeanne Córdova, which I received last year courtesy of a giveaway from Danika Ellis, a book blogger who runs The Lesbrary. Córdova’s 1990 memoir is compulsively readable—I couldn’t put it down. She writes about her decision to join the convent fresh out of high school, her growing unease regarding church politics, her deep friendships with her fellow postulants and secular students alike, and, eventually, her decision to leave the novitiate. Córdova is well-known for her 2011 memoir, When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love and Revolution, which describes her political work and LGBTQ community organizing in the 1970s. She was a force for good in the West Coast queer community. She edited a lesbian magazine, created an LGBTQ business directory, and even organized the Gay and Lesbian caucus to the Democratic Party. Sadly, Córdova died a little more than a year ago. I wish I could have met her.
In the two years since I compiled the first installation of “The Lives of Nuns,” Autostraddle wrote about queer nuns in history, Racked shadowed (fake) nuns growing marijuana, and The Huffington Post reported on a nun’s murder and the students who want the truth. Those stories and more are included below. Seclude yourself and read. Read more…
My makeup routine is nonexistent. I wore mascara to a presentation on my birthday last week, and before that, I had my friend apply my red lipstick in an Au Bon Pain in New York City. I’m uncoordinated, anxious and fidgety—my idea of hell is eyeliner application. But I appreciate the artistry that goes into the creation and execution of gorgeous makeup. I’ve watched tutorials, and I’ve watched my friends draw wings on their faces. They enjoy it, and I am glad for them. Beauty criticism analyzes the ways we can subvert a society that would have us subsumed by self-loathing. We use the tools we’ve been given. Makeup, then, can be a weapon. And it can be damn fun. Read more…
Here’s how I feel about hiking:
When I was 17, in my last year of high school, I took a statistics class. Notoriously bad at math, I braced myself for a semester of angst. Instead, I found that I understood the course material, loved my classmates and had great rapport with my teacher. Encouraged, I signed up to take the Advanced Placement statistics course and corresponding exam the next semester. My parents were understandably wary; they’d witnessed a decade of temper tantrums and failed math tests. But, I stood my ground. I wanted to take this class, and I did. The class was tough, but not impossible. I passed the exam. Now, almost a decade later, this is one of my proudest moments. No one thought I could do the thing, and I did the thing anyway.
My recent fascination with hiking is ridiculous: I am an indoor kid. I love Netflix, snacks, sleeping, that Bubble Spinner game and owning a thousand books. Sweating makes me panic. I have never gone on a run for fun. I’m scared of bugs and the dark. I’ve never peed outside. What possible success could I have on the trail?
I want to prove to myself that my soft, pale, weird body can do hard things. I want to rise to the occasion of living. I want to learn to love the outdoors before I get some life-altering injury, or become too addicted to my phone, or die, or something else. I want to be able to say, I did that. I can do that, too. I am strong. I am capable. Honestly, I don’t know if I’m stable or hardy enough to learn to love hiking, but I want to give it a fair shot. I owe myself that much.
I can’t hike right now (excuses, excuses) because I’m out of town for a wedding. So I’m reading about hiking. Below are seven stories about the outdoors, outdoor apparel, hiking buddies, bodily transformation, body image, abuse and sufferfests. Read more…
I can see your future / there’s nobody around.
It was a typically brutal Maryland summer, and I worked for a small music publishing company. I was often alone, collating or alphabetizing or organizing something, armed only with my iPod. I alternated between Belle & Sebastian’s The Life Pursuit and Keane’s first two albums. When my workday was over I’d walk the half-mile to the church on Main Street where my mom was a secretary. Or I’d go to the local library, its silence so different from the tense quiet of the publishing office. With my soundtrack, these walks became existential adventures. Even now, as I hit play on “Another Sunny Day,” I am still walking down the sidewalk, my sternum swollen with something adjacent to love.
I like thinking about this time in my life. I think I am still looking for something that feels like those walks. They felt endlessly, stupidly romantic. I didn’t need anything except a charged battery. It’s unrealistic that my entire life should feel like a two-mile radius in the town where I had a dissatisfying part-time summer job. I think what I miss is a path with a destination. Then, I could take as long as I wanted on my walk or try a different route, but I knew where I was going. I don’t know where I’m going anymore. That’s what this part of my twenties is about, and that’s okay, but it’s deeply unsettling. I’m too anxious to take in the view or to consider an alternate path. I am desperate for news of the future.
1. “The Cat Psychic.” (Rachel Monroe, Hazlitt, May 2016)
When she returned from a month-long trip, Rachel Monroe’s cat, Musa, didn’t want to be near her anymore. He avoided their apartment and stayed outdoors for long stretches of time. Distraught, Monroe did something she never thought she’d do—she called a pet psychic to see if she could repair their relationship. Read more…
Cora Harrington, bra expert behind The Lingerie Addict, has seen both sides of the issue blossom as a consumer and consultant to brands. As a black woman operating as a blogger in the lingerie industry, she has a particular investment in the success of the one brand that is producing bras for her skin color. “Fast fashion always offers a discount and it makes people think sales are the norm. There’s a secrecy in the American market: you should get whatever you want, this should be on sale, the customer is always right. That’s not the case in lingerie. Let’s stop this trend of penalizing minority businesses because they don’t have access to the same resources as majority-owned corporations. If your budget can only stretch to Target, petition Target to carry bras in a range of hues. Ask Wal-Mart to carry some brown bras. Hit up the H&M Facebook page, and start tweeting at Forever21. But while we’re being honest, let’s talk about what’s feasible for a new brand, and acknowledge the business reality that cheap bras are something only a few global conglomerates can actually afford. Independent design is a different world, and the story is so much more complex than it’s given due.”
— Beauty writer (and lover of lingerie) Arabelle Sicardi writes at Racked about the small, independent designers and boutiques struggling to provide quality underthings in the face of climbing costs and customer entitlement.
Don’t call them alternative: Missy Suicide carved out a niche online for “the sexiest, smartest, most dangerous collection of outsider women in the world”:
She called the site Suicide Girls: “I hated the word alternative. Nobody lived in these John Hughes compartmentalized sects of people anymore, with the squares and the punks and the goths. I felt like alternative was the worst — like, alt to what?” She adopted the phrase “suicide girls” from Chuck Palahniuk’s book Survivor, where it’s used to describe “girls who chose to commit social suicide by not fitting in.”
Photo sets are the site’s centerpiece and consist of anywhere from 40 to 60 photographs. They must start with the model fully clothed and end with them fully nude; nudity begins in the first third of the set. Sets have to be consistent, with the same location and concept throughout. But what makes them particularly unique is that the models, not the photographers, are the ones quite literally calling the shots.
“I used to say we had a thousand applications a month,” says Missy, “but about six months ago I asked if that was still right and was told it’s actually 25,000 a year. Just the other day, I heard it’s about 30,000 now.”
Julia Rubin reports at Racked.