Beautiful, after all—reflections on my experience on set of the m.bodiment shoot.

By Phil

I’ve been asked to write about my involvement in Egale’s m.bodiment campaign, which was launched earlier this month. In this post, I’m going to be focusing on what my experience was like on the set of the m.bodiment shoot. In order to facilitate the writing process I sat down with my partner who asked me the following questions:

Did you have any expectations going into the shoot?

“Prior to the shoot, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that I would be posing nude and that I would be participating in a discussion on body image issues related to gay, bisexual, transgender, two spirit, and queer-identified men. I saw this as an opportunity to bring forward several issues which I felt were largely being glossed over or dismissed by the larger queer community as a whole.
Many issues were brought forward including issues surrounding masculinity, self-esteem, race, mental illness, trans issues, heteronormativity, age, disability, and safety in gendered spaces. As a group, we were able to have an open discussion about these issues and share our own lived experiences with one another.

I feel so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to participate in such a beautiful dialogue, where I was able to interact and connect with such a unique blend of men from many different walks of life and with varied experiences and insights.

We weren’t given much information on what the entire process would look like and I’m very grateful for that, as I found it was much easier to relax and keep an open mind on set.”

On that note—tell me a little more about your experience on set. What was that like for you?

“As I arrived on set, I remember feeling quite excited and eager to start filming. My call time was at 10:30 and I was able to watch the first group as they went through the entire filming process. I was very moved by what was being shared—it was a privilege to watch.

By the time I had been called into the “dressing room” for makeup, I had begun to feel very anxious. It was at that time that I really began to process what I had signed up for. In ten minutes’ time, I would be undressing in front of the entire cast and crew—exposed for all to see.

As I stood in front of the camera, most of the excitement I had felt only moments ago was now eclipsed by intense feelings of fear and discomfort—I remember feeling quite shaky. We were asked to remove an article of clothing if the question being asked was relevant to our own experience. For example, we were asked to remove an article of clothing if we had ever felt rejected due to our appearance.

I felt extremely vulnerable and exposed.

As the day progressed, I was amazed at how comfortable I began to feel in my own skin. As for the group, I noticed that a sense of camaraderie was beginning to form. Gone were the awkward grins, rigid poses, and the nervous laughter from earlier that day.

On set, stood fifteen men who not even four ago had been complete strangers—only now, we were laughing with one another, sharing personal stories, uplifting each other, and connecting. Throughout the day, the atmosphere in the room often shifted from light to heavy, to tearful and back.
It was very a beautiful and liberating experience.”

Would you say this experience has changed your life? If so, how has it impacted the way you view yourself or the way you view others?

“Definitely—the twelve hours I spent on set were life-altering and so powerful to me. I felt somewhat reborn. I was finally able to rid myself of the chains I had placed on myself in relation to my body and my own self-esteem.

I was surrounded by so many wonderful people and I gained a lot of insight and perspective on the experiences of others. What fascinated me the most was the fact that despite our differences and varied experiences, we were still able to connect on such an intimate level and relate to one another.
I was a little worried that the impact wouldn’t last and that my renewed sense of confidence would dissipate over time. It’s been two months since the shoot and I’ve learned that my confidence and self-esteem will fluctuate throughout my life, and that it’s something I will need to work on throughout my life. I discovered the importance of defining my own worth—not only based on my appearance—but in a very holistic way.

As for the way I view others, I’ve always found it easy to see the best in people—to see the beauty in others. It’s a truism to say that in idealizing others, we often devalue ourselves. This experience has reinforced the idea that we must always look beyond appearances if we truly want to experience people as they are.”

What did you gain from this experience?

“Through this experience, I gained a lot of insight and learned about the importance of community, acceptance, vulnerability, and empowerment.
Too often, we suffer alone and in silence. In order to change that, we need to create communities where people are able to connect with and support one another; where people feel accepted. No one should feel like they’re not good enough or that they’re not worthy of love or acceptance due to things that are beyond their control.

I think it’s very important that people are given the opportunity to participate in open dialogues. Everyone deserves to have their needs met and their voices heard. I hope that this campaign will start a discussion that will lead others to accept themselves and those around them for who they are. As I mentioned earlier, we tend to compare ourselves—rather harshly, I might add—to those around us. It’s time that we celebrate our similarities and our differences.

In coming to terms with my appearance—I learned to sit with the fear, shame, and discomfort that I had been experiencing in relation to my perceived imperfections. I think many of us are under the impression that we’re unattractive or innately flawed in some kind of way. By exposing myself in front of so many people and allowing myself to be open and vulnerable, I was able to see myself as both imperfect and attractive—not flawed. As someone with dark skin and a small frame, I’ve always known that I don’t fit into the centric standard of beauty which is perpetuated in the queer community and larger community as a whole, but after this experience I’ve come to accept that I was beautiful, after all.
Honestly, everyone could benefit from an experience like this.”

In my next post, I will be discussing my recent invitation to the CBRC’s Gay Men’s Health Summit: Undoing Stigma, which will be taking place in Vancouver, B.C. on Thursday, November 5th and 6th. I will share any afterthoughts I may have regarding the summit and talk about what we as a community can do to fight stigma.

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