Unreal Nature

December 16, 2015

She Revealed and They Saw

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… By the time she has everything off but her g-string, most of the men were sitting forward in their seats, just staring.

This is from the essay ‘Naked Women’ by Mary Gaitskill found in Infanta by Ralph Gibson (1995):

… When I was eighteen, a few years before I became a stripper, I posed naked for a photographer. The circumstances were too embarrassing and tedious to describe; suffice it to say that the result was competently done black-and-white prints. I kept one, which I forgot about. When I found it twenty years later, I was both fascinated and saddened by how much more than nakedness it reveals. In it my body is beautiful and poignant in its youth.

[line break added] But my face is full of pain and fear made more striking by the childishness of my features. I doubt if the photographer was trying to be so revealing, and I doubt that I was feeling especially hurt or fearful during the moments that I posed. The camera caught my emotional gestalt without anybody trying. Yet when I show the picture to people, both men and women, they don’t always see the pain and fear. “Sweet,” “angelic,” “lovely” are all words people have used to describe my eighteen-year-old image. When I tell them how I see it, they can see it too, but I have to point it out.

… Terry was a thirty-eight-year-old stripper who’d been in the business since she was eighteen. She had apparently been very beautiful but when I met her she’d lost her looks as well as any interest in stripping except as a way to support her daughter. The older women talked about how hot she had been and I found that hard to believe; whenever I saw her on stage she was desultorily doing the bare minimum required.

One night when I was working with Terry there was an obnoxious bunch of men in the front row giving everybody a hard time. I remember feeling bad for Terry because even though I knew she was tough I didn’t think she was inhuman and I figured she might feel more vulnerable to these guys without the imperious facade of youthful beauty. When she went on stage I could hear the men doing their number and some impulse made me come out of the dressing room to see how she was handling it. I stood in the shadows and watched her do her usual bored act, looking perhaps a tad sarcastic.

[line break added] Then something happened. Subtly, and by degrees, she seemed to inhabit her body. I saw her scan the audience, actually making eye contact, as if to take their measure. She went right in front of the obnoxious guys and slowly, she began to do a balls-to-the-wall strip. At first I felt hurt for her; how disgusting, I thought, that she should be trying to win over these idiots. Still I was surprised at how compelling she was, especially considering that her body wasn’t great. Her movements weren’t pretty or polished, nor was she being cartoonishly lewd. It was as if she was using her body to talk to them. And she was saying, “Okay boys, let’s cut the crap. I’m here to talk to you about fucking.” By the time she has everything off but her g-string, most of the men were sitting forward in their seats, just staring. One persisted in heckling but the others ignored him; she had them. When it was finished she picked up her clothes and sauntered off the stage. She got bigger applause than any of the young beauties that night.

I didn’t say anything to Terry, but the incident impressed me deeply and still does. I’m not sure what really happened between Terry and the men. But it seemed as if she was showing them a part of her sexual self with simplicity and an odd kind of dignity that gave her an integral strength. I think she also allowed her emotional self to infuse the sexual display and that, as men, they were touched by her without quite knowing why. She revealed and they saw — and in seeing perhaps for just a moment saw themselves differently. No wonder they applauded.

-Julie

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