A reflection on nude body painting

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It was the kind of thing that I wanted to do alone, but needed a push in order to get there, alone.

Then again, I should probably ask myself: how alone did I expect to feel surrounded by fifty naked bodies?

Nudity in the Upspace was exactly how it describes itself, and that was the most surprising part of it all. It was nudity, and it was in the Upspace, and that was that. When I entered the room, there wasn’t a red carpet. There wasn’t a naked phe waiting on their knees to remind me how beautiful my shoulders were. There were no pamphlets, no introductions, and no emptiness. There were people, and they were naked, and there was paint on their hands and arms, and down their backs. That was, essentially, it.

The first things that hit me were the bodies and the smell. Everyone stood so nonchalantly that you might’ve thought they were wearing invisible clothing. You don’t realize that you’ve never seen dozens of naked bodies in a room at once before until you see dozens of naked bodies in a room at once. That sounds a lot more obvious than it feels. The air was kind of tangy, like body odor mixed with body odor. It’s just a smell, and we all know what it is. It’s like the way sex leaves itself behind in a bedroom.

And speaking about sex, there was none of it. Boys were touching boys, boys were touching girls, girls were touching boys, but we were finger painting like innocent children. We weren’t exploring each other’s bodies as much as we were literally painting. It wasn’t a holy ritual or a moment of divine intervention. We were simply being. Sometimes, even though we’re rabid college students, being isn’t about sex.

I quickly adjusted to the faint odor and the lack of sex, and when I did, the room became a box. It was safe and not scary; it was a capsule. I didn’t know what time it was or how long I had been there for. Someone wrote my name in Hindi on my back. I had a flower around my belly button, an arrow on my thigh, polka dots on my collarbone. I never felt like someone was staring at me, and I felt like I was always staring at everyone. I wondered how I looked. I was curious of my own shape – where things looked nice, where things didn’t. I wasn’t self-conscious, but I wanted to see all of the paint on my body at once. I wanted to step outside of myself just for a second to see what other people saw, which isn’t something I always want to do. If you didn’t know, sometimes, young ladies don’t want to see themselves at all.

You don’t realize how different each body is until you see fifty of them, naked as the moon, under spotlights. I feel like this is me saying what I’m supposed to say, but how can I avoid the truth? There are not fifteen variations of a young woman. There is not fat legs, too skinny, fat all over, average but not toned, in shape, skinny, probably doesn’t worry about what she eats, and the other categories I’ve created in my head. There are a trillion different ways our skin decides to cling to the hip or to dimple below a butt cheek. Boobs are so fucking different! And who the hell knew?

How can you compare people when there’s nothing similar to compare? Standing there, covered in wet paint, my hair gathered loosely, my fingertips stained, I realized how indifferent we are when we’re shoved into clothing and tucked away into high-waisted or v-necked spaces.

And I wondered how everyone else in the room, held together by all of this skin, felt depending upon how they looked. Was there a latent insecurity hidden beneath all the color? Should I envy those unconcerned with posture and poise while naked and painted? And do those whose bodies are not praised like godly figures of sex and beauty have a right to enjoy the innocence of this moment more than those who get love all the time?

To think that this chain of questions ran through my mind makes me crazy, so I really can’t imagine how crazy it makes you. I wasn’t freaking out, nor was I self-conscious. I was suddenly curious of the ways everyone saw each other, which I don’t believe to be a bad thing. Everyone looked normal and nothing mattered, which was beautifully weird.

Earlier in the day, a friend texted me to ask if I was still planning on going. I told her I was, and we agreed to walk over together. I was glad I had her in the beginning. When she left later on, I didn’t. I needed to leave alone. I needed to do something by myself because, as I had realized, I really was the only me there is or was, if that makes any sense at all, and I wanted to bask in that warm sun of feeling okay alone. When I felt ready, I left. I slid my dirty black tennis sneakers onto my painted toes, put on my shorts and shirt, and I walked out by myself. I was euphoric.

You could see paint down my legs and on my palms. You could not see the way I felt, and it was a feeling I wanted to encapsulate forever. It was, as I said, an okayness. It was a happiness, it was an acceptance. It was there, I think, because I had seen something I had never, ever seen before. Sometimes, we forget how rarely that happens.

I knocked on my best friend’s door and undressed, again, so she could take three photos of me: one from the front, one from the side, and one from the back. “I need to remember this,” I said. “It’s going to be important for my life, one day, that I remember this.”

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