Ophelia Shaves Her Armpits

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This piece started as an introductory course assignment to visually depict a location in abstract terms. I chose the shower.

Showers have been a contentious place for me personally for many years, going back to when I first started to struggle intensely with my OCD. When I was in the Junior High, our teacher gave us the assignment to write a short autobiographical piece, and late one terrible night I wrote mine, naked, both dripping and sobbing in my room. When I read it to my mother, she told me that I couldn’t turn it in because my teachers would think that I was psychologically disturbed, and I tucked it away in my journal and kept it hidden for six years. I had titled the piece “Despair In The Waters”:

The menace that had been stalking me from when I first could talk had dug it’s claws into my brain steadily deeper as the day drove on. I painstakingly freed myself of the contaminated garments. Freed? I was not freed, locked in this cold, invisible cell. Unable to break free my heart cries out: Please! Free me! Free me from my captor! Help me! Save me! What’s wrong with me? Where am I? Where have I gone? Who is this cold machine that I’m in? Please, come and free me! Touch me! Speak to me! Where is my family? Dreading, dreading. These scary thoughts run through my head. I was already in an agony. I’ve been in an agony, struggling through the day of late. Could anyone tell? No. No one could fathom the secret agony I carried, digging into my flesh and brain, mind and very soul. I stepped over the barrier. The mildew curtain stared me down. Hot droplets showered down upon my head. My arms performed the duty. As my head aches with anxiety and stress, I massage the white foam into my skull. My arms, my mid, my legs. No, did I touch the curtain? I scrub, the cleansed feeling never comes. Trapped, I am driven to scrub again. Tears flood my eyes as I scrub again and again. Oh, God! Oh my God! Lord, oh, Lord, save me. I scrub and cry. Tears mix with the water which flows on my ever unclean body. Scrub and cry. Scrub and cry. My God, my God! Through my torment, in my torment, I scrub and scrub again. Where is that clean feeling I once used to know! “Oh Lord, please. Lord, please. Lord, please.” Is in a whimper all my weakened body can say through the torture. Hot tears, scrub, scrub, Lord, please, Lord, please. Oh Lord, please. My throat feels swollen. Lord, please, Lord, please- will I ever escape? Minutes go by. Hours pass. Where is my family? They are all sleeping. Why won’t it end? What is wrong with me? The scary thoughts run through my head. You are not clean. You are not clean! Mind, STOP! There is no reason. This is the end, the last time. Oh Lord, please, Lord, please. I can’t stop. By a force of will I cross the barrier. I stand there, dripping, my abused body paralyzed to the spot. Tears flow down my face. I cry. My body wracking with tears, will it end? Cold. No one hears me but Him. Oh, dear God! I am driven back in. Scrubbing the red skin. Minutes go by, time lapses. Where is my family? They are sleeping. Lord, please, Lord, please. Please. Oh my God! Minutes go by, time lapses. Where is my family? They are sleeping. I throw myself onto my bed. Tears wrack my body. “Thank you, Lord, thank you Lord thank you Lord, thank you, Lord.” Unable to stop the words that flow from my tongue. But I am not done. I’m far from done. And where is my family? They are sleeping.

Symbolically, for me, showers are about much more than simply bathing.

I drew upon two really great classics to nod to in creating this piece, a commentary on women and mental disease. One, the character Ophelia, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who went insane and drown herself in a pond- an archetype which sensationalists have had an unhealthy obsession with dating through the years from William Shakespeare to Hardy Jude to Dickens, even now type “modern Ophelia” into a google image search and see all of the sensationalized images of Ophelia laying among flowers in a modern bathtub. The second, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Stetson, wherein the main character goes crazy, allegedly disappearing into the confines of the wallpaper of her bedroom entirely.

I started this project by taking photos of my shower, then photo’s of things in and around my shower, then I dappled with photos of parts of myself in the shower- a leg, an arm.

I realized for this project I wanted to make it really personal, and go all in. Which is what I did. I took a video of myself showering, honestly, really, with the shower curtain open (one of the messiest showers I have ever taken).

This was not just about showers and women and mental illness. It became about the objectification and sexualization of women’s bodies in the media. In commercials and shows when we see women shower it is attractive and sexy. This is not what showers are like. When we shower we make scrunched up faces and we hurry to wash our hair and get out the door on time without getting shampoo in our eyes. We scrub our armpits and our privates and our feet. I never realized how red and blotchy my skin gets while I shower until I watched that video.

I took stills from this video to use as my reference material.

The final piece consists of an abstraction of a woman showering, broken up as if looking through a plexiglass shower door. Yet, this image of a woman has sunken into the shower wall, broken apart by the grout between the tiles. This is where the piece hearkens back not only to the Ophelia character type in it’s nuances throughout history, but to the yellow wallpaper.

Then, the realness of the piece- the component which combats objectification of the person. I collected hair from my shower wall for weeks, then mixing it in a bowl full of watered down medium gel, applied it to the surface of the finished piece, the sloppy, curvy mess of hair and gel juxtaposing the crisp, clean, angular dynamics of the rest of the piece. I recreated what is so common in women bathrooms but somehow considered so gross: their hair.

I take the women’s body and force the viewer to look at it in context, with hair which it has shed, in it’s raw authentic state. This reality is humanizing. I do not believe the way to combat sexualization and objectification is by hiding bodies and pretending they don’t exist, I believe it is by humanizing it in real love and truth. This woman cannot be seen without a confrontation with per personhood, the hair on the shower wall a very human moment in her life.

[see: Porn and Nude Art: What’s the Difference? ]

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