This is my tenth year blogging about shows in the Minnesota Fringe Festival. When I started, in 2004, I had never heard of a “blog,” and I needed to come up with a name. I thought “Full Frontal Fringe” sounded, I don’t know, edgy. Daring. Playful. Hot? (I was single at the time.) I chose the name a decade before I knew that my first actual Fringe Festival performance would be in the nude.
So now it all makes sense.
Except maybe the part where my first Fringe appearance will be naked. That sort of seems like I might have skipped a few steps, doesn’t it? My lovely friend Natalie Wass has written a truly enchanting and funny story, and I felt that this would be a tremendous chance to have my first on-stage performance (terrifying) with someone I love and trust. I can’t say performing in the nude was something on my bucket list, but when crazy, mostly legal and non-lethal opportunities come up, we should take them. Right?
I imagined that performing nude with no real lines would be easier than performing with actual lines. I’m not sure yet if this reasoning is flawed. Very likely. I do have to say that I took to naked like a fish to water. Yes, that first rehearsal was tough (we didn’t typically rehearse in the nude, but Natalie gave us the chance to “practice being naked” at the end of some of the rehearsals). But after that first time, after I’d checked out everyone else’s parts and hung out a bit, the nudity became irrelevant. There was no pointing and laughing. No inappropriate staring. It was just neutral. Stripping down to bare nothing became easier and easier.
I consider myself an evolved woman, with a healthier-than-average level of self-confidence. I am fairly tall, broad shouldered, with a very female hourglass figure. Not a small hourglass. Regal. I like to think of myself as a handsome woman – I’m just not the stature for “cute.” (I have bitterness about this, I admit.) My whole life I’ve been bigger than those around me. I developed early, and while breasts in high school are a useful asset, they’re not so much in the fifth grade. Starting in about third grade, my schoolyard nickname was “ox,” due to my size. I was a gangly, awkward kid with very thick glasses and very few friends. I didn’t care that much about it at the time; I was perfectly happy with my books and my horses. I knew I wasn’t pretty, but I did know I was smart. I actually liked being called “teacher’s pet.” Much better than “ox.”
My entire universe changed in the eighth grade, when I got contact lenses. Turns out that under the Coke-bottle-bottom glasses, I had these enormous brown eyes. They are nice. Also, the previous year, when my classmates were just getting braces, I had mine removed (a benefit to early development is that you get braces years before everyone else). I’d already had the breasts for a while. Things started turning around for me in the looks department.
This show experience has erupted a volcano of body image issues that have accumulated over my lifetime: I am beautiful. I am fat. I’m strong. I’m too big. I’m perfect. I’m flawed. My flaws are my perfection. My boobs are the biggest in the show. This is awesome! This is horrifying! The container that I live in that is my body is the biggest in the show. That’s just a fact. Why am I trying to distance myself from my body? “The container that I live in”? (Without which I wouldn’t exist, that one?) I know I’m not the biggest person in the whole world. SOMEONE had to be the biggest in the show. I sort of wish it didn’t have to be me. I’m embarrassed that I wish that. I can deadlift 271 pounds. If anyone gives me shit about being big and fat and naked and jiggly, I will kill them. With my thighs.
If anyone says I am perfect and beautiful, I will think for at least a second that they’re obligated to say that, out of social nicety. I always do. I wish I didn’t. If anyone compliments my bravery for doing this show, I will accept that without doubt. Because I am brave. I am confident that this is true. This is a weird thing to be doing.
How did I get to be this way? Where did my body insecurities come from? Why have I always lied about my weight on my drivers’ license? Because there are tiny subtle (and not so subtle) hints that there is one acceptable shape and size to be, and I am not that. The cute girly shoes are not made in my size. It helps that cute girly shoes hurt my feet and I prefer sensible shoes anyway, but even if I wanted them, too bad, don’t exist. There are clothing lines whose largest size is at least two sizes smaller than I am. Delicate, flowery summer sundresses are out of the question. They won’t accommodate the bra straps my 38DDDs require. I remember the guy shouting “You’re kinda cute for a fat chick” at me in high school like it was yesterday. I was 50 lbs smaller then. What the hell does that make me now?
As much as I’d like to think I’m special, I’ve learned, through hearing Natalie’s story, and discussing these issues with many women over the last months, that no matter how big or small or tall or skinny or apparently perfect they are, all women have issues about their bodies, and have or have had shame or embarrassment about them. This is so many kinds of messed up I don’t even know where to start – or how to fix it.
Maybe more nudity is the answer. Being naked with the cast has been an absolute joy. I’ve been thinking carefully about what has made this experience so fun, so effortless, and so freeing. I’m not being judged (except by myself – and less so when there’s not a mirror to remind me that I’m the XL). I’m not trying to impress anybody in the cast. I don’t know most of these people, and it doesn’t matter to me if they think I’m beautiful or ugly or smart or dumb. I’m not trying to seduce anyone, and no one is trying to seduce me. There is no element of sex or sexy or titillation. We have all been kind. But not in a body flattering way – just neutral. We’re all pleasant, nice people. It isn’t a contest. We’re all fine. We get to just “be.” We all win.
We’ve made the leap to be naked together (it was easier for some than for others), and now we’ll be making a much bigger leap by being naked together in front of hundreds of people. I believe in my heart that what I’m doing – what we’re doing – is not only okay, but really great. I’m terrified, but I am brave and know it will be fine, and hope that the audience will receive our nakedness as pleasant and neutral and maybe see themselves as fine, too. It seems so small, but it’s really huge, getting to a place where we all can just “be.”
So, come to the show. Fashion Risk or the Accidental Nudist. I’m indebted to Natalie for sharing her story, including me and being so excited about this production. She is my hero. I’m indebted to my husband for never wavering in his support of my participation in this show, for actually making me believe that I’m perfect, and discouraging any last-minute crash dieting (this may be self-preservation on his part; I’m mean when I’m hungry). I’m indebted to the cast for making me feel absolutely fine. I’m indebted to all the people who have endured all my musings about body image, public nakedness, and whether a particular angle might be too unflattering or revealing — even for a show about nudity. And I’m indebted to my dad, who has had the hardest time understanding why in the world I’m doing this, but has made some effort to try to understand and to try to see beyond his biggest worry (audiences comprised exclusively of ogling perverts).
We open Friday night at 10. I hope you’ll be there. I’m lucky I can’t see into the audience very well because of the stage lights. It would be hard to imagine all of you naked.