drawing porn is not an invitation for sex
posting porn is not an invitation for sex
being open about your sexuality/fetishes is not an invitation for sex
dressing in skimpy clothes is not an invitation for sex
posting nudes is not an invitation for sex
none of these things mean you are entitled to sex
an invitation for sex is an invitation for sex
How stripping off to play Helen of Troy on the London stage changed the way I feel about my body
It’s October. It’s dusk. It’s the second week of rehearsals for The Trojan Women, a modern version of Euripides’ tragedy in which I’m greedily playing three different roles: Cassandra, the maddened seer (a teenager in red-and-white striped long-johns); Andromache, trophy widow of the city’s most decorated soldier; and Helen of Troy, “the face that launched a thousand dicks”.
I’m standing in a dirty office in the old BBC training building on Marylebone High Street. There are dirty blue carpets on the floor and dirty great fluorescent tubes on the ceiling. There are six other people here. They’re all dressed; I’m in a bath towel that I’m about to let fall to the floor. Nobody knows yet, but I’m not wearing any knickers.
Yesterday I did this scene topless but kept my leggings on. I’ve never had so much eye contact in my life. Today, I’ve resolved to go the whole hog. As I wait for my cue, I feel an utterly primal feeling of fear and wrongness that seems literally to be coming from between my legs. Christopher Haydon, our director, is expecting me to wait until we get into the theatre before I disrobe completely, but I know if I do it too many times with my pants on, I’ll never be able to take them off. I just want to get it over with.
The towel drops. I don’t look down. I put my knickers on backwards. Afterwards we joke that where Chris was sitting, right in the line of fire, will be where I tell my dad to sit when he comes to the show. ‘Hi Dad,’ I wave at the plastic chair, sick to my stomach. ‘Hi.’
On the way home I text my friend Matthew from Morecambe and tell him what I did with my day. He texts back: “It’ll never be this bad again.” I don’t believe him, even for a second. I don’t feel relieved; I don’t feel brave; I feel like a sparrow that’s banged its head on the patio doors. But it turns out he’s right.
“I saw @louisebrealey’s pubes last night. The play was good too,” tweeted a critic from What’s On Stage magazine the day after Trojan Women opened. Although none of them have so far felt the need to share the experience on social media, a lot of other people besides this charming man have also seen my pubic hair in the past two weeks. In fact, more people have seen my pubic hair in the past two weeks than in the previous two decades combined.
When I first read Caroline Bird’s fierce, funny script and saw the stage direction: ‘Helen drops her towel; she is in no hurry to get dressed’, I felt a bit ill and wondered if the scene would have the same impact without the nudity. But Helen of Troy’s towel is not just a towel; it’s a gauntlet. She drops it to embarrass her mortal enemy; to show that – although her life’s on the line – she’s not going down without a fight. Crucially her nakedness also lets the audience see how bold, how beautiful she feels. It’s not about pubic hair. It’s about power.
Still. The idea of standing naked anywhere in public scared the shit out of me. The idea of standing naked in my own bedroom in front of someone who wants to have sex with me scared the shit out of me. The idea of standing naked in a theatre the size of a corner shop, five feet from the audience, whilst pretending to be Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman on the planet? That sounded like a very bad idea indeed.
“But you’re an actress!” said my best friend when I told her I was afraid. “Yes,” I said. “An actress, not a stripper.” I’ve been doing this for ten years and I’ve never even had to get down to my underwear. It’s not something you sign up for with your Equity card. (Although now I think about it, my bare buttocks were once pressed so hard against a very frosted glass door – in an awful thing with Martine McCutcheon – that the glass broke and my bum was, in both senses, cut.)
“But you’re slim!” she insisted. “You’ve nothing to worry about.” Ah. That old chestnut. Slim women don’t have insecurities about their bodies. Slim women don’t have cellulite or thread veins or knees that always seem to look grubby. Slim women aren’t allowed to be frightened about taking their clothes off in public. Because they are slim.
I have psoriasis. My belly and back sport red scaly patches, a bit like eczema. You can’t catch it. Loads of people have it. But it’s not pretty and it leaves a funny sort of leopard-print pattern on your skin when it deigns to go. From sixteen to eighteen I was covered in a crust from collarbone to calf. (It came back with a vengeance when I was homesick on my first telly job, a three-year contract with Casualty. The make-up artists on the show photographed it for their files. Desperate to leave, I went to see the man in charge and lifted up my top. I’m pretty sure that was the first time anyone had flashed him to get out of a job.)
Like thousands of other women – and thousands of men – I also have stretch marks. I grew four inches one summer holiday and the skin on my 13-year-old bottom neglected to keep pace. Ever since I’ve had white lines that circle the slopes of my thighs like terracettes. Normally I don’t give them a second thought. But normally I’m not naked in public.
In the BBC series Sherlock I play Molly Hooper, the awkward, besotted morgue mouse with the Christmas-present bow in her hair; not Irene Adler, the feline dominatrix with the slash of a red mouth and the flawless arse. (I almost got to stand in as Irene at the read-through for A Scandal In Belgravia; but on the big day Lara Pulver was free after all.) My point is that when you act on television, you’re obliged to think about how you look in objective terms. It saves time, and tears, because how they say you look is how they say you’re cast. So I learned very early on that I’m not “telly beautiful”. I’m “girl-next-door”. I’m “quirky”.
The theatre, though, is a different world. Actors pretend on stage, audiences pretend in their seats and, together, if everyone stops disbelieving hard enough for long enough, we might magic up something amazing. In the theatre I can be a nine year old on a swing; I can be a sex-mad teenager in platform heels; I can be from Sunderland.
In the theatre, the logic runs, I can be Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world. My 69-year-old friend George, not realising we were doing an update of a Greek tragedy, tried to help: “It’ll be fine, you’ll be wearing a mask.”
In the end it was fine. I realised playing Helen of Troy was impossible, like playing the idea of a woman. So I ditched the surname. In my head, I’m just plain Helen.
Horror films scare me witless but I absolutely love them. It’s the same story with acting: I find it frightening but the fear makes me feel; it makes me feel alive. And while you’re screaming your head off, you’re definitely not dead. The prospect of standing in front of people with nothing on and feeling great about it was alien, horrific, and completely intoxicating.
I really wanted to know what it felt like to be that woman. Not the psoriatic sixteen year old who looked in the mirror and saw The Singing Detective. Not the apple-cheeked student who spent all three years at university with a jumper tied round her waist to hide her bum (they were the dark days of high-waisted jeans). And not the actress who, last week, finally put two books on cellulite in the recycling. Not her. Not me.
Last night an elderly audience member asked me after the show if I thought I’d given away something precious by letting people see my body. I didn’t know how to answer her, but it made me think. The fact is, I’ve gained way more than I’ve lost. I stand there every night, totally naked, with people gawping or giggling or gasping and looking away, and I feel okay about it. I feel good about it. Some nights I even feel bold and beautiful. I do, however, feel a bit uneasy about how I got there.
Exposing myself to 75 strangers a night has made me think a lot about what psychologist Susie Orbach calls “body terror”, the chip in your brain that tells you your body isn’t good enough but if you buy this cream, eat this thing, do this exercise, you can look like Rhianna and you will be happy. The idea that to be beautiful you must have one specific body: poreless skin, endless legs, tits that would get stuck in a champagne glass.
I grew my underarm hair for the occasion because I wanted to be naked on my terms. Or it was something else to hide behind. Or I wanted to make a point, that you could be beautiful with hairy arm-pits. I don’t know, really. The thing is, women feel like we have a choice about shaving, but we don’t. Not really. It’s not any sort of real choice. It’s a choice between looking normal and making most potential lovers gag. All but one man I told was openly appalled. My ex said, ‘That’s disgusting, you’ll look like a Minotaur.’ He’s a funny man. I was nervous about it. Up to the last minute I wasn’t at all sure that I wasn’t going to shave it off in the secret shower behind the loo roll-holder in The Gate’s toilet on press night. But a weird thing happened: I started to like it. When you can see my pubic hair as well, it looks kind of great – like it matches. Like a hat and gloves. Like it’s meant to be there.
We all know the bleached, waxed, sprayed, toned, sliced, photo-shopped people we see every day aren’t real. It’s not how we are. It’s not how we’re meant to be. It’s rubbish. But it’s insidious rubbish. It’s hard not to want to look, well, better. And, as an actress, I’m part of the problem. Actors are illusionists. We feel like we have to be; we get work based on what we look like. I know which angle I look best at. It’s the angle I present to photographers. It’s the angle I’m presenting in the photo with this piece.
I don’t want the young women who look up to me because I’m a feminist and I’m in a TV show they love to feel like they somehow fall short. So I should have stood on stage as Helen of Troy, flaws and all, and thumbed my nose at body terror and body fascism. But I couldn’t; I just wasn’t brave enough.
I knew that to do it, I’d have to pull off the mother and father of all confidence tricks. I’d have to treat my psoriasis with steroids and hope they worked; I’d have to try and tone my thighs; and, if the lighting looked like a Tube train or a shop changing-room, I wouldn’t have stood a chance.
In the end it involved a lot of pluck, a little plucking, fourteen hours on a Pilates machine, a pink spotlight pointing at my breasts and actually pumping up the fitness ball my mum bought me one long-ago Christmas. (I opened the box. It came with a free exercise VHS.) In the minute and a half it takes to do a quick change from an distraught, weeping Andromache into La Belle Hélène, our stage manager Jess sluices body oil on my back in as non-erotic a fashion as possible while I smear make-up over my scars and cake on mascara.
It’s getting easier. I’m not sure if the audience can still see the lines on my legs and the leopard spots on my belly and the dimples on my bottom. But the more times I stand out there, the more normal it feels to be naked and not shy; the closer to Helen’s boldness I come; and the more it doesn’t matter if they can. Maybe at some point I’ll even look down.
At some point I should also probably tell my dad I get naked in this play. He’s coming tomorrow. ‘Hi, Dad, if you’re reading this. Hi. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you when to close your eyes.’
The rest of you, you take your chances.
A shorter version of this article appeared in The Times newspaper on December 11th 2012
Copyright Louise Brealey 2012
All photographs are Copyright Mary Turner 2012 (please credit if you reblog)
I’m mad at Nixon because I had to take an ethics exam today because of him
A visual history of Richard Nixon getting lazier
The best Dr. Who .gif you will see all day.
Ohio really did go for President Obama last night, and he really did win. And he really was born in Hawaii. And he really is, legitimately, President of the United State - again.
And the Bureau of Labor Statistics did not make up a fake unemployment rate last month. And the Congressional Research Center really can find no evidence that cutting taxes on rich people grows the economy.
And the polls were not skewed to oversample democrats. And Nate Silver was not making up fake poll numbers about the election to try to make conservatives feel bad; Nate Silver was doing MATH.
And climate change is real. And rape really does cause pregnancy, sometimes. And evolution is a thing. And Benghazi was an attack on us, it was not a scandal BY us.
And nobody’s taking away anyone’s guns. And taxes have not gone up. And the deficit is dropping, actually. And Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction.
And the moon landing? Was real. And FEMA is not building concentration camps. And UN election observers are not taking over Texas. And moderate reforms on the regulations on the financial industries and the insurance industries in this country are not the same as communism.
Listen. Last night was a good night for liberals and for democrats, for very obvious reasons. But it was also possibly a good night for this country as a whole.
…But if the conservative movement and the conservative media and the republican party is stuck in a vacuum-sealed, door-locked, spin cycle of telling what makes them feel good, and denying the actual lived truth of the world, we are all deprived, as a nation, of the very debate between competing, feasible ideas about real problems.
Last night the republicans got shellacked, and they had NO idea it was coming. And we saw them in real time - in real, humiliating time - not believe it even as it was happening to them. And unless they want to secede, they will need to pop the fictional bubble they have been so happily living inside, if they do not want to get shellacked again.
|—||Rachel Maddow. (via frostbiiite)|
The Disturbing Origins of 10 Famous Fairy Tales
by Emily Temple (reblogged from Flavorwire)
In one of the very earliest versions of this classic story, published in 1634 by Giambattista Basile as Sun, Moon, and Talia, the princess does not prick her finger on a spindle, but rather gets a sliver of flax stuck under her fingernail. She falls down, apparently dead, but her father cannot face the idea of losing her, so he lays her body on a bed in one of his estates.
Later, a king out hunting in the woods finds her, and since he can’t wake her up, rapes her while she’s unconscious, then heads home to his own country. Some time after that, still unconscious, she gives birth to two children, and one of them accidentally sucks the splinter out of her finger, so she wakes up. The king who raped her is already married, but he burns his wife alive so he and Talia can be together. Don’t worry, the wife tries to kill and eat the babies first, so it’s all morally sound.
Little Red Riding Hood
If you can believe it, the Brothers Grimm actually made this story a lot nicer than it was when they got their hands on it. In Charles Perrault’s version, included in his 1697 collection Stories or Fairy Tales from Past Times: Tales of Mother Goose, there is no intrepid huntsman. Little Red simply strips naked, gets in bed, and then dies, eaten up by the big bad wolf, with no miraculous relief (in another version, she eats her own grandmother first, her flesh cooked up and her blood poured into a wine glass by our wolfish friend).
Instead, Perrault gives us a little rhyming verse reminding us that not all wolves are wild beasts — some seduce with gentleness, sneak into our beds, and get us there. The sexual undertones are not lost on us — after all, the contemporary French idiom for a girl having lost her virginity was elle avoit vû le loup — she has seen the wolf.
This story is pretty simple: a miller’s daughter is trapped and forced to spin straw into gold, on pain of death. A little man appears to her, and spins it for her, but says that he will take her child in payment unless she can guess his name. In the Grimm version, when the maiden finally figures out Rumpelstiltskin’s name, he reacts rather badly: ‘The Devil told you that! The Devil told you that!’ the little man yelled, and in his fury he stamped his right foot so hard that he drove it into the ground right up to his waist. Then he took hold of his left foot with both hands and tore himself in two.” Ick.
Here, Perrault is much nicer than Grimm — in his version, the two cruel stepsisters get married off to members of the royal court after Cinderella is properly married to the prince. In the Grimm story, not only do the stepsisters cut off parts of their feet in order to fit into the glass slippers (surprise, surprise, the blood pooling in their shoes gives them away), but at the end, they have their eyes pecked out by doves. Just for good measure.
First of all, in the original 1812 Grimm version of this tale, the evil Queen is Snow White’s actual mother, not her stepmother. We don’t know, but that makes it a lot more terrifying to us. The Disney version also left out the fact that the Queen sends the huntsman out to bring back Snow White’s liver and lungs, which she then means to eat. And the fact that she’s actually not in a deep sleep when the prince finds her — she’s dead, and he’s carting off her dead body to play with when his servant trips, jostles the coffin, and dislodges the poison apple from SW’s throat.
Most notable, however, is the punishment the Grimms thought up for her. When the queen shows up at Snow White’s wedding, she’s forced to step into iron shoes that had been cooking in the fire, and then dances until she falls down dead.
Hansel and Gretel
The version of the story we know is already pretty gruesome — the evil stepmother abandons the children to die in the forest, they happen upon a cannibalistic witch’s cottage, she fattens them up to eat, they outwit and kill her and escape. The Grimm version is basically the same, but in an early French version, called The Lost Children, the witch is the Devil, and the Devil wants to bleed the children on a sawhorse. Of course, they pretend not to know how to get on, so the Devil has his wife (who tried to help the poor kids earlier in the story) show them. They promptly slit her throat, steal all the Devil’s money, and run off.
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair. Well, in the Grimm version, she does, a little too often, to a prince, and winds up pregnant, innocently remarking to her jailer witch that her clothes feel too tight.
The witch, not to have any competition, chops off Rapunzel’s hair and magically transports her far away, where she lives as a beggar with no money, no home, and after a few months, two hungry mouths to feed. As for the prince, the witch lures him up and then pushes him from the window. Some thorn bushes break his fall, but also poke out his eyes. For all this extra bloodshed, however, there’s still a happy ending.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
In this tale’s earliest known incarnation, there was no Goldilocks — only the three bears and a fox called Scrapefoot, who enters the three bears’ palace, sleeps in their beds and messes around with their salmon of knowledge. In the end, she either gets thrown out of the window or eaten, depending on who’s telling the tale. Interestingly, it has been suggested that the use of the word “vixen” to mean female fox is how we got to Goldilocks, by means of a crafty old woman in the intervening story incarnations.
The Little Mermaid
We all know the story of the little mermaid: she sells her voice for a pair of legs, flops around for a bit, then wins her prince’s heart, right? Well, not exactly. In Hans Christian Andersen’s original tale, she trades tongue for legs all right, but part of the deal is that every step will be nearly unbearable, like walking on sharp swords, and the day after the prince marries someone else, she’ll die and turn into sea foam.
Hoping to win the prince’s heart, she dances for him, even though it’s agony. He claps along, but eventually decides to marry another. The mermaid’s sisters sell their hair to bring her a dagger and urge her to kill the prince and let his blood drip onto her feet, which will then become fins again. She sneaks up on him, but can’t bring herself to do it. So she dies, and dissolves into foam. Later, Andersen changed the ending, so that the mermaid becomes a “daughter of the air” — if she does good deeds for 300 years, she can get a soul and go to heaven. Many scholars find this rubbish.
The Frog Prince
Traditionally the very first story in the Grimm Brothers’ collection, this story is simple enough: the princess kisses the frog, out of the goodness of her heart, and he turns into a prince. Or, if you’re reading the original version, the frog tricks the resentful princess into making a deal with him, follows her home, keeps pushing himself further and further onto her silken pillow, until finally she hurls him against the wall. Somehow, this action is rewarded by his transformation into a prince, but it’s not even the most violent. In other early versions, she has to cut off his head instead. That’s rather far off from the traditional kiss, don’t you think?
Anne Rice, writing as A.N. Roquelaire (sp) took the original sleeping beauty tale, including the rape, but watered it down to “force” and the king, a prince at the time, became her “Master”.
I always wondered how she came up with the premise for “the claiming of sleeping beauty”
imagine that you have a four year old and a really beautiful giant chocolate cake
and you put the cake in front of the kid and that’s it you dont give her any plates or any utensils you just sort of set the cake down in front of the kid and then tell her not to eat it
This is sickening, but right on target. Which I suppose, is the point.