Art Buff is a term I would ordinarily associate with rakish entrepreneurs investing in an up and coming artists work, or an aged high-society dame who buys what she likes because she can afford to. It doesn’t usually make me hyperventilate in terror at the prospect of exposing myself to over 100 total strangers in a public place.
I had heard of the previous naked tour that the NGA held, and my hyper critical internal monologue immediately launched into an explanation of why I would not go. You’re too fat, too squishy, too white, too pink, too flabby, too thick, too hairy, too old, too weak, too scared… On and on and on. I’m nothing if not adept at tearing myself down and reminding myself that, yes, I’m gross
Enter my good friend Amy, and a proffered plus-one position to attend the latest naked romp through the NGA for the Hyper Real exhibition.
Before I even really knew what I was saying, I had agreed to be her date for the evening, and a one-week countdown to one of my greatest fears began. You see, for someone who puts himself out there as much as I do here on my social media (not to mention my online,,. dating); I am immensely uncomfortable with my physical form, basically from the neck down. It is a very tired cliché, but I just don’t like my body. While I possess all the means to actually do something about it, at thirty-two years of age I’m no closer to making any sort of change to how I feel about myself than I am to retiring.
I guess maybe that is why I so unflinchingly accepted the ticket to Art Buff – as a challenge to myself to come to terms with my body, and to those of 100 plus strangers. I knew going in that there were two likely outcomes. One – I would come to see myself in something of a different light when presented with a multitude of other bodies, and perhaps become a little kinder towards myself. Or two – I’d develop an eating disorder.
In the lead up to the event I told a few close friends about what I was about to put myself through, and I was surprised to find that while many of them expressed that they could never do it themselves, they were very encouraging and even supportive of my attending Art Buff. Whether it was the chance to live vicariously through someone else’s baring all, or whether they had my best interests at heart I do not know. What I do know is that after a week of toying with various treatments to inflict upon myself to prepare for the big event (spray tan, waxing, man-scaping, lipo-sculpture, some sort of a head transplant…) I downed a couple of gins with my friend and then hopped in an Uber to the National Gallery.
The event itself was perfectly ran. The NGA and Vice staff managed to process the necessary paperwork for the 100 strong crowd, get us upstairs, undressed and pop a drink in our hands in a very short time. It was of course a bit awkward to begin with, and I intensely remember spending the first fifteen minutes or so making an uncomfortable degree of eye contact, as if to psychically convey “I won’t look at your junk, I promise!”.
But after choking down two cocktails (sorry guys, they were deeply unpleasant), I found that I was surprisingly relaxed. I started chatting with strangers. My posture changed and I ceased to unconsciously suck in my gut. With everyone around me as naked as I was, there was a sort of shared vulnerability and openness that I really wasn’t expecting. I realise how gauche that last sentence reads, but it was honestly true. As more time moved on and we began our Art Buff tour in earnest, I found that my gaze began to wander. Not always in a sexless way either (I am only human, after all), but primarily in appreciation of the human form in all its weird and wonderful glory.
We’re an odd looking bunch, and never more so when you get a group of us together naked but for footwear; and there is something intensely engaging about our bodies.
The more time I spent around other naked men and women I have no romantic or platonic relationships with, the more comfortable I actually found myself in looking not just at the art, but at the naked bodies of strangers.
Which of course begs the question, what effect will this whole Art Buff experience have on my relationship with myself?
To be perfectly honest I don’t actually have an answer for you as yet. I woke up this morning with a dusty hangover and I haven’t had muh time to stop and really observe my own body in light of the exhibition. But I think that I will, as something of a further challenge to myself, start spending a little more time looking at myself, rather than maintaining eye-contact with myself in the mirror as I realise now I have been doing for some time. That whole panicked “EYE CONTACT AND I AM NOT A CREEP!” moment I mentioned earlier? Yeah, spoiler alert – it’s also how I deal with myself.
Art Buff was actually a tremendous experience, and I can honestly say if the NGA and/or Vice were to turn this into a semi regular series, I’d go again, and again, and again. I wouldn’t say that I left the event feeling empowered per-se, but I met interesting people, I got myself well and truly out of my comfort zone, and I guess I have sort of started a conversation with myself about just why it is I am so deeply unhappy with how I look naked. I know that the majority of this post is a psychiatrists wet dream, but all things considered I feel really good about Art Buff, and I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to attend.
Did you attend Art Buff? Or a similar event? Would you in the future? Let me know what you think in the comments below – I’m dying to hear your thoughts.