“[Plastic] is perhaps the hardest material there is. It is hard, because it refuses its environment, creating a sealant or barrier that remains impermeable to what surrounds it. It influences its environment while remaining mute to that environment’s influence,” (Davis 351).
Working with plastic, specifically vapour barrier, gave me an opportunity to use the object as a representation of myself and my mental illness; an indirect self-portrait. The purpose of vapour barrier is to protect something from the outside environment. It becomes a shield.
I feel understood by this object, this material. I feel as though I carry around my own vapour barrier whenever I leave my room, and although vapour barrier does not let ‘debris’ in, by default, it also doesn’t allow ‘debris’ out.
I should have known from the beginning, but I enjoyed the attention.
Why do we get a high when a friend of our ex sends us a message?
I mean, I definitely wasn’t interested, but he didn’t seem to mind. “Just want to be friends,” he said.
Why not? We would be starting school together in the Fall. Besides, it would be nice to know someone other than the guy who broke my heart just a week earlier. Plus, the two of them would be living together. Maybe then I can show my ex that I am definitely not boring.
I still remember the feeling when he said that. The man I loved thought I was boring. My tied-together self-esteem shattered completely. There was no way I could put it back together this time.
I cringe when I think back to that night. I was already drunk even though I was only halfway through my second drink; those light-weight high school days. I was in the washroom changing from shorts to pants, getting ready for the bonfire, when he walked in. I remember laughing, thinking he was trying to get a glimpse of my body, but he just sat on the toilet seat and started crying.
“We can be friends.”
I remember begging him not to leave, but he did and all I could do was hug the toilet and wait for my friends to find me.
What an asshole.
I went home that night, drunk and shattered. Looking back, I don’t know if I was more upset that he dumped me or that he thought I was boring.
Those words followed me into the Fall. New school, new friends, new freedom, and all I could worry about was not being boring. So, I drank until I wasn’t. I was that girl who knew where every party was, every night of the week. And I made sure he knew about it.
His roommate and I became friends. Yes, the one who slid into my DMs during the summer. We were in the same class, we liked the same tv show, and I enjoyed having a direct resource that could let my ex know exactly how fun I was. Besides, it was the first year of university; everybody just wanted to be friends with everybody else. Or at least everybody was just trying to be more popular than everybody else.
I guess so was I.
I still remember when I got his text. It was nearing two in the morning. I was laying in my tiny cardboard-like residence bed waiting for the booze to guide me into a deep sleep.
He wanted to come over and hang out.
I told him no. I was too tired, and I wanted to be alone.
He came anyway.
I heard the knocking on the lounge floor door and the last thing I needed was him to wake up my room mates. So, I let him in, told him we could hang out for a little bit, but then he had to leave.
I turned on our favourite tv show. We weren’t even five minutes into the show when he leaned over and tried to kiss me.
I shoved him away.
He tried to persuade me at first. Pretended to be hurt that I didn’t feel the same way about him.
That’s when he reached for the waist band of my pyjama pants.
All I remember is that I kept saying the word, “no.”
Over and over again, that’s all I could say. I remember squeezing my legs together, hoping that my thighs could save me.
I blacked out.
I woke up on the floor, hugging my trembling body, trying not to scream. I tried to remember what happened, but my mind refused to look back. I was confused. I know I wasn’t drugged because I didn’t drink anything. Google explained that our minds can go into something that sounds to me like a ‘self-defence mode’. The mind blocks out the trauma, refusing to put your body through that pain again.
It was terrifying that I didn’t know what had happened to me. All I knew was that I didn’t want anyone to know.
I was ashamed.
I was ashamed because it felt like I just let him. I could have screamed but my body was frozen. I kept asking myself, why did I let him beat me?
Anytime I had heard a story about this happening to another, it was always “if you’re careful, you’ll be safe,” “if you stay away from scary places, you’ll be safe,” “if you cover your body, you’ll be safe.” No one ever mentioned, “be careful, a friend might take advantage of you in your own house.”
I just want to go back and protect 18-year-old me.
An entire year passed before I told anyone.
A friend of mine was a photographer and needed a model to grow his portfolio for his graphic design aspirations. It was in the midst of the shoot when he came walking through the apartment door. My entire body froze. I don’t remember breathing. That photographer was the first person I told. I told him, because I needed to get out of there.
That’s what I felt when I finally got the words out. Near the beginning, the words I kept choosing were, ‘sexually assaulted’. I wasn’t ready to say what it really was out loud. The word ‘rape’ made it feel like I was victimizing myself and the last thing I wanted was to have people make a big deal out of it. I didn’t want to talk about it; still don’t.
“I’m sorry that happened to you.” It’s whatever.
I later found out that most sexual assault and rape cases go untold, because the victim feels embarrassed by the event. When I first found this out, I felt relieved that I wasn’t the only one. Then I was angry.
Why the fuck are we so afraid to stand up for ourselves when someone else hurts us.
Maybe this bullshit goes back to kindergarten when you got in trouble for being a ‘tattle tale’. We have been accustomed to letting bad people get away with bad things, because we don’t want to be that ‘tattle tale’.
Or maybe we’re afraid that if we tell someone, they will shun us for ‘not being careful enough,’ for ‘hanging out with the wrong crowd,’ for ‘not watching our drinks closely enough.’
The second time I told anyone was to my group of coworkers at a restaurant. There were only four of us who worked in the coffee shop, so we had grown to be really close.
The one’s reaction was exactly as I had always feared: “Why didn’t you do anything about it?”
Another one shut her down so fast, I didn’t have time to feel bad about myself: “No one knows what their bodies will do when they’re in shock, until it happens.” I had never been so grateful for anyone in my life up until that point.
I understood her question though.
“Why didn’t you do anything about it?”
I, myself, have thought those very words when reading about other people who have been raped.
I had asked myself that same question so many times. I felt like I was just giving myself excuses.
For three years I kept telling myself that maybe he just didn’t hear me when I told him no.
For three years I kept telling myself that a friend wouldn’t do that on purpose, it must have been an accident.
It took my three years to convince myself otherwise.
Two months ago, I received a text message from an unknown number.
I simply replied, “hey sorry, who is this?”
when I was 18 I was raped by someone I thought was my friend.
As my fascination with the shower experience which shifts the body into a reset or a sense of relief, grew, I have become interested in photographic journaling.
I began to photograph my mouth as I tell the stories of my own vulnerabilities.
This first one is entitled, When I was 18, I was raped by someone I thought was a friend.
I want to take the viewers on a story throughout this period in my life where ‘alive’ was not what I want to be.
I had been awaken to the fears of the world and stripped from the ideas of “if you’re careful, you will be safe”, “if you cover your body, you will be safe”, “if you don’t walk alone, you will be safe”.
However, it has come to my attention that I do not want the viewer to know the story or the title of the work when they first see the exhibition. I want to take them on a journey.
This has inspired an exhibition of photo albums. The albums will be filled with personal photographs of the year this event happened to me, although my face will be cut out of them; ‘protecting the victim’.
There will be text regarding this event throughout the photo albums, slightly getting darker and sadder until the last pages, which we reveal the event in its fullest.
There is something that happens to my mind when I come out of the shower: My body begins to have control again, letting the anxiety fall into the background. The hot steam shifts me as I become aware of every molecule of steam. It’s a reset.
Mapping these moments with long-exposed photographs have allowed me to demonstrate my body language throughout this peaceful period of time.
My mind is clear again.
It is vulnerable and yet it is empowered.
Dear My Love,
I don’t even know where to begin.
Did you know that to become a butterfly, a caterpillar first needs to digest itself? (Jabr). It needs to take in every flaw, imperfection, and absorb in itself entirely. Otherwise, it can’t become the butterfly.
Maybe that is what it means to grow. To become the butterfly, you must drink in all that you are; love yourself so much that you are unwilling to part with any piece of you.
You used to be so sure that your artwork was helping you. “It’s similar to therapy,” you would say. And in some ways it was. You can’t keep all that hurt inside of you. You have begun to burst at your seams. And the bursts will always happen in the most inconvenient of timing. These works of art gave you an escape from that for a little while. But the truth is, they haunt you.
When you create your work, your anxiety and suicidal ideation becomes the main focus; becomes the definition of you. The negativity and sadness surrounding it repeats itself as you keep track of when these things happen to you. All your work ends up doing is reminding you of the sleeping beast that stays within you; following you wherever you go.
This isn’t what you wanted.
You wanted to heal. You wanted to learn to admire yourself. And yet, the thought of loving yourself terrifies you.
Your anxiety doesn’t help either; spreading rumours about you without any mercy. “The fretty chatter that makes us so nervous and unsettled and unable to grasp the ‘present moment’ at the end of yoga classes when the instructor talks about it as though it’s something you can buy off the shelf,” (Wilson, 2).
I have never heard truer words.
According to everyone on the internet, there’s this thing called, ‘self love’ that will solve all of your problems. Apparently it’s so easy to do. All you have to do is love yourself and ‘poof!’ all of your issues gone, just like that!
So why is it so unattainable?
People talk about ‘self love’ like you can just order it online and have it arrive at your doorstep in 24 hours. Maybe they’re hiding the fact that they haven’t been able to attain it either.
For me, loving yourself means to be at peace as you accept every part of you, fully and unconditionally, including the things that you cannot change. It always sounds easy enough until you try. My love, I have seen you wrestle with panic attacks as your anxiety takes over and fills you with horrifying ideas. A dance between your mind and your soul. Your soul just needs to learn to lead.
Your soul is a beautiful gesture as it dances its way through life.
Your mind is just stronger right now.
But you are not alone. We will get there together. I will be by your side fighting with you.
You feel so vulnerable when you try to love yourself. You suddenly become aware of all the flaws and you begin to think back to all the times someone said something awful about you.
“You’re weird. Like fine half of the time, but annoying the other half when you talk too loud.”
So I stopped talking all together.
So I drank until I wasn’t.
“I think you could look as hot as her if you followed this diet plan.”
So I starved myself.
These people didn’t even realize the effect that their words would have on you: still don’t realize. But every time you talk, every time you drink, every time you eat, you remember their words and suddenly want to disappear.
Anxiety doesn’t allow you to forget those things. And that is the hardest part about loving yourself; standing up for yourself; telling yourself that those people are wrong during the times that you believe they are right.
I can’t wait for you to experience a day when you can stand up and proudly say “I am beautiful inside and out.” And mean it completely.
I can’t wait for the day when you can tell someone they’re wrong when they put you down. The day when you can go to an interview and mean it when you tell them that you are the most hardworking badass that they will ever employ. The day you forget about the sleepless nights you had thinking about all the mistakes you made that day. The day when you can love yourself so completely and honestly that when you look in the mirror, you sigh with a smile as the weight on your shoulders has been lifted.
I can’t wait for you to become the butterfly.
Your Secret Admirer
Jabr, Ferris. “How Does a Caterpillar Turn into a Butterfly?” Scientific American, 10 Aug. 2012.
Wilson, Sarah. First, We Make the Beast Beautiful. Dey Street Books, 2018.
I have realized that asking strangers for their vulnerabilities was simply just research.
I wanted to know what made others feel vulnerable, what they thought about vulnerability, and most importantly how they acted when they became vulnerable by answering the question.
The answer I found was empowerment.
I want to feel empowered. I, myself, want to represent this release of empowerment through my art.
I am beginning a new work: I will map my body as I dry off from the shower.
I think I’m excited.
I tested my project proposal.
I was not satisfied.
There is something so beautiful between two strangers sharing their deepest fears; their deepest vulnerabilities. This thing, this moment cannot become tangible; no matter how hard I force it too. I can’t recreate this moment of purity. More importantly I can’t recreate the moment of relief that comes after the confession; the moment the weight was lifted.
I have decided the moment is the work.
I never thought I would do a performance piece. I don’t have the courage. Slowly these strangers gave me the courage; gave me the freedom to be vulnerable with them. Many of these moments are ones that I will never forget. And for that, I thank you strangers. Thank you for sharing a moment with me even though we didn’t know each others’ names.
For everyone else, I wish you could have been there.
Throughout my autoethnographic practice involving my experience with anxiety and suicidal ideation, an aura of sadness has surrounded my work as I seem to only focus on these negative experiences that happen to me. I have begun to question why that is and why I feel so vulnerable to love myself—anxiety and all.
This has led me to ask others what makes them feel vulnerable. By admitting their vulnerabilities, do they become vulnerable? What if I’m a stranger to them? A stranger recording them. Will they trust me with their confessions?
I propose to display video recordings of strangers telling me their greatest vulnerabilities on television screens. However, the footage will have no sound and the screens will be hidden behind white curtains. The white curtains will be translucent enough so that movement can be seen coming from behind them. This will intrigue viewers to pull back the curtains, revealing the vulnerable beings.
Will peeling back the curtains put the viewers in a place of vulnerability? The white curtains within the white gallery space will be uninviting, especially within a setting where one would normally not touch the work. There will be a sense of uncertainty, as one approaches a curtain to pull it back.
The sound will be taken away from each clip and mixed together to create a diverse audio recording. The recording will be looped as a collective and played from hidden speakers above the space. This will allow the viewers to receive all of the information in an indirect way, so they are unable to piece together which words are coming from which body.
The televisions will be placed on the walls and floors at the same level throughout the space. Half of the screens will be placed on plinths, while the other half is hung on the walls. The organization will give a sense of order, mimicking one’s more confident exterior which typically hides their vulnerabilities.
The television screens will have white wooden frames and boxes covering their outer black frames, to give the appearance of windows. I want to avoid the question of ‘technology in society’ and the presence of televisions may ask that. The white frames and boxes will assist in keeping the space clinical.
Throughout this study I am wondering if there is power in being vulnerable. I am hoping that through the courage of others—as they trust me with their vulnerable selves—that I can face my own apprehension of loving myself completely.