BODY OF ART By Ragan Brooks
“Art can never exist without naked beauty displayed” ~ William Blake
Bare with me here, literally. In the past 10 years that I have lived in Los Angeles, as an actress, I have encountered countless auditions that required I state my comfort ability with baring some or all of my bits. “Yes, as long as it is pertains to the story, is done in an tasteful way and supports the art”, is the cliché auto response to that common inquiry. I usually complied, quite sure that the nudity had very little to do with the actual story on most occasions. But I needed and wanted to work, so I played the game. I’ve never succumbed to any “casting couch” practices or engaged in any dishonest ways to obtain work. I am just a passionate thespian who acknowledges that my body just as much a tool as my mind in this job.
I learned this very important lesson at the age of 15. It may sound a bit too early to be learning something like this, but it was put to me very frankly by a photographer at the time. “You will never be a good model or actress because you haven’t had any experiences in your life, no pain, no struggle, no strife.” I was 15! What strife could I have really had in my young, suburban life thus far? He had point. From this so-called “pain and struggle” he spoke about would come a connection to my body and myself. I was fortunate to have had a good home and family. I really didn’t have any pain to draw on yet. But I didn’t like feeling guilty for my lack of struggle. I was and always have been very grateful for my healthy upbringing. I would have to discover this “strife” some other way.
This photographer recommended to me that I rent some French films...STAT. From these, he said, I would be able to see how free the French are with their bodies and emotions. I found myself at Blockbuster the next day, with a VHS tape of “Betty Blue” in my hand. Feeling sheepish, I snuck it home and into my bedroom, as if I was smuggling a naughty magazine. The film wasn’t like
anything I had seen before. Betty was like no one I’d ever known before. She was young and beautiful but also fearless, confident, free, sexy, crazy and emotive. I did not share any these traits with her. She used her sexuality to seduce her lover and they lived the story out with free abandon, indulging in each other throughout the entire film. What struck me was that she was so young yet seemed so experienced. She knew exactly how to lure her lover and what to do with him. She was intoxicating. I then understood I had some work to do. It didn’t mean that I needed to go and experiment or be promiscuous, just simply that I needed to loosen up and get comfortable with the power of my body. I needed to learn how to use it and shape it, how I could effect others and use it to my advantage. I am still working on this today. This was a valuable lesson I received early on. That power and this ability comes from within, it is a personal journey. It is a confidence that some are born with, others have to cultivate it.
I was recently reminded of why this confidence was so important. I began shooting a role that required I be extremely confidant with my body, like never before. On the day of shooting my love scene, I walked into my dressing room to find that my wardrobe consisted of a 2x3” ace bandage and some double stick tape. I would need to channel Betty Blue today for sure. My mind was trying to take over....”What had I gotten myself into?? Had I worked out enough? I should have spray tanned. Again, I embraced it, knowing that it was part of the job and I was a professional.
As soon as we rolled, I found myself having an out of body experience. I focused on my character, her desire to please her fiancé, to keep him satisfied and her desperate need to sustain a connection with him which she fears is waning. Once I could immerse myself in her mindset, I was no longer Ragan, naked on a film set feeling vulnerable and insecure. I had purpose, I had a goal and making hot sexy love was going to keep my fiancé from wandering. That’s all I could think about. From then on, I forgot about being so exposed and truly experienced using my body as a vehicle to portray this woman’s desires and fears. It was liberating. Like learning a new language and suddenly being able to communicate with an entirely new population. I
had an additional way to interpret this character. How much more effective could I be in learning about her and actually using her sexuality in the story?
The experience of being nude on film is two fold. It is at once a personal, inner challenge to find the love for oneself and willingness to share that intimacy with the world and at the same time, a struggle with the worlds view of that very topic, nudity. If you choose to do nudity in a role, you risk the stereotype of being desperate, slutty, over-exposed, “adult entertainer”....you name it. The general television viewing audience is fine with seeing atrocious murders and violence take place in their living rooms, things that they would (hopefully) never be involved in themselves. However, when it comes to love making, nudity and basic human sexuality, most are appalled. After Beatrice Dalle completed Betty Blue, she was hailed as a sex symbol and “respected performer”. There is not enough room on the page to even begin the list of actresses who have bared it all on screen. Truly, just about every big name in Hollywood has been there, done that. Diane Lane was breathtaking (and buff) in Unfaithful, Charlize Theron was heart wrenching (and fully exposed) in Monster and what about Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball? These are top-notch actresses who have been able to bare their “tops” and do so with respect and dignity. This is inspiring to me, but moreover, the audience’s acceptance of them in these roles had a bigger impact. Nudity has become increasingly more present on the small screen lately. Californication, Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire are all shows pushing the limits and forcing the acceptance of flesh on film. Males are not exempt from the movement; in fact, male nudity has become so common that it had been coined “dude-ity” within the industry. I welcome all of it. As an actress, it feels like a door to even more possibilities of a character.
Our bodies are amazing things. Complex works of art in and of themselves. Nudity and sexuality are parts of our daily lives. When your job is to portray someone else’s life, you accept this aspect of them. Herein lies all of one’s deepest vulnerabilities, insecurities, struggles, fears, desires and needs. Now more than ever, I know how important it is to look at how a character lives sexually. I often live very differently from the way my character does in this way.
Knowing this has allowed me to explore my own behaviors and understand myself like never before. Body image and sexual confidence comes from your state of mind. It is constantly evolving and needs to be nurtured by no one other than you. The only thing I can control is my own work and approach to the topic. I am open.
“Being naked approaches revolutionary, going barefoot is mere populism” ~ John Updike
HAWAIIN TIME IN HOLLYWOOD by Brittany Ross
“I’m in a hurry to get things done, I rush and rush until life’s no fun, All I really gotta do is live and die, but I’m in a hurry and don’t know why,” was the national anthem of my family growing up. (Alabama song, what can I say we’re Texans!) Constantly running from one thing to the next, and rarely taking a moment to breath was our way of life. We were black belts in staying busy. We had a lot of fun, and sure got a lot done, but one school of thought that was skipped over in my childhood was the concept of down time.
When I decided to attend Hawaii Pacific University, I figured my toughest lessons would be in Biology, Algebra, and Spanish, but boy was I wrong. As the Hawaiians say, “A`ohe pau ka `ike i ka halau ho`okahi. All knowledge is not taught in one school.”
“What do you mean we’re going to sit at the beach for a whole weekend, don’t we have things we have to do! Are you crazy we can’t wait until next week to do that; we have to do it now! What are we going to do today!?” My 100 mph life was suddenly screeching to a halt, and nobody seemed the slightest bit worried.
Hawaii is the place to go to get away from the responsibilities of everyday life. What was I to do when Hawaii was my everyday life? I felt as if my life was going to be on hold while I was on this four-year vacation. I was exploring the magic of Hawaii; camping, hiking, surfing, and lounging at the beach. I was thrust into an environment that allowed me to slow my racing thoughts and enjoy the moment. I was living it up, but a part of me knew I was not there to be a tourist. I had a desire to carry on with my responsibilities of everyday life. Finding the balance between work and play was my task at hand.
Something surprising started to happen to me, and I learned that playtime was essential. I became much more productive in the hours that I allotted for work because I knew what I had to look forward to. My mind was clear, and I was getting so much more done in less time. Knowing that my work would be over allowed me to enjoy the productivity, and
not look at it as another thing that must get done. The more I gave myself time to relax and enjoy the pleasures of life all around me, the more I enjoyed working. Playing hard allowed me to be more creative and joyful in my work, and working hard allowed me to enjoy the new concept of downtime.
It took me some time to relax into the mindset of the Islands, but it was the most valuable lesson I learned in college and it will stay with me always. Stopping to enjoy your life while it is happening instead of constantly planning for the next moment.
Once I stopped and slowed down a bit I found that I could enjoy everyday. I worked my butt off and finished school in three years, but I also had the time of my life enjoying the tropical paradise that I was blessed to live in. There is a reason that one of Hawaii’s most popular sayings is “I stay on Hawaiian Time.” The locals had it figured out that were you are in that moment is the only place you are supposed to be. “Long ago God drew a circle in the sand exactly where you are standing today.“
I never became a black belt in Hawaiian time, but I did learn to take it easy. My books were covered in tanning oil, a trail of sand fell out of my backpacks, and my professors were held to the most prestigious dress code, Hawaiian shirts! By the time I graduated I had adopted much of the Hawaiian lifestyle, but I was done and it was time to go once again. I loved my life on the islands, but Hawaii was not favorable for furthering my career as an actress.
Next stop on my destination was Los Angeles, California. A city that is conducive to the mindset I held before the islands took hold of me. I was once again back where I started, running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Only this time having a much harder time rushing due to the parking lot of cars on every freeway. Always planning for my next moment, and forgetting about the one I was in. “I don’t have time to enjoy this, I have to make a move!”
Stuck on the 405 freaking, out about being late, and all the things I needed to do I got a call from my sister who was on vacation in Hawaii. A sense of homesickness for the islands swept over me. Hanging up the phone I looked around at where I was and noticed the mountains surrounding me looked exactly like the mountains on the East side of Oahu. I laughed out loud, and thought, “Who says you’ll never use what you learn in school.” Call me crazy, but I was experiencing a sense of gratitude to be stuck on this freeway surrounded by an amazing view.
The mindset of the Islands is to be grateful for exactly where you are in the moment. I don’t want to miss any moment of my journey in life because I rushed by it. Life can get busy and hectic, but we were out here to enjoy it and have pleasure in it.
When I feel myself speeding up to 100 mph, I’ve learned to stop, take a breath, and know that it is my right to enjoy my life every moment. Downtime to reflect on my life has become a priority that is equally important to me as working. I have come to learn downtime is a gift that enhances every area of my life. “I stay on Hawaiian time!” No matter what city I live in.
*Please note that not all experiences, beliefs and ideas are shared by each member of the “The New Hollywood.” We are a group of shepherds, not sheep.
In My Skin
Having completed my official conversion to Judaism, I had emerged from the Upper West Side Mikvah just moments earlier. With a scrutinizing look on my face, I stood in front of my private changing room mirror inspecting every inch of my dripping wet body. How can it be? I've been preparing for this moment for the last year and half and I look exactly the same as I did 10 minutes ago. Had I said the Hebrew prayer wrong? I had practiced the precise pronunciation for weeks. I must have misspoken in my nervousness.
I went through the checklist: giveaway Irish pale skin, blue eyes, a sweep of freckled constellations across my nose, the chicken pox scar on my right cheek from the 2nd grade, birthmark on my hip. It was all still there.
My initial delight in having officially joined the "tribe" was flooded with a rush of panic and fear. I was a fake, an imposter and the entire Jewish community was about to know! How was I supposed to walk outside and face my rabbi?
My story started 2 years prior after meeting the Jewish man of my dreams. Coming from a small, country, predominately Christian town in PA, I didn't even know anyone Jewish, let alone fully understand what that meant. I fell head over heels after only a few dates, only to be ultimately crushed by a conversation that was summed up in the words, "I'm sorry, you're not Jewish." I fought tooth and nail as I was in complete disbelief that the timeless clique of love is enough, wasn't enough.
I lost, and was devastated to the point of giving myself a stomach ulcer and having no shame in sobbing openly on the subway during NYC rush hours. Two agonizing months passed and in the end, love prevailed. It turns out that Mr. Right was doing some agonizing of his own and we reunited, this time falling even harder in love.
It was too soon for happily ever after. "You're not Jewish" cropped up again six months later and I went into battle a second time. I wasn't going to lose the most perfect relationship I'd ever known to something I couldn't understand. What was so compelling about this religion? What could I learn in order to arm myself against it? I studied. I studied harder than I've ever studied for anything in my life. I had an armory of books from the library and my Amazon account was on fire. I wasn't doing it with the intention of converting. I was preparing to go to the trial of the century. Love vs Judaism.
In the end, both parties won.
I'm not sure when it happened, but my compulsion to know more out of confusion and anger began to soften and bring about a sense of peace, love and fulfillment. It started with an intro to Judaism class at the JCC. From there, I found a rabbi, a teacher to study with, a wonderful synagogue and community to call home, a band of engaging Jewish friends and loving supporters. I started a private blog for my family called "Jewish Joanie" to help them understand what I was going through. I
learned to read Hebrew. I attended Shabbat services every Friday evening and learned to bake challah. I became the go-to person for all religious questions from my Jewish friends. Don’t know what holiday is next? Ask Jewish Joanie. Can’t remember what prayer to say over the bread? Ask Jewish Joanie. I completely immersed myself in the culture and loved the new flood of traditions, holidays and customs that accompanied my new beliefs. Even if things hadn't worked out with "Mr. Right", (in case you are wondering, they did.) I found an even greater gift. I had finally found spiritual peace and felt at home after many years of floundering.
It wasn’t an easy transition. It was filled with many hardships and a lifetime’s worth of tears. I had to come to terms with losing holidays like Easter and Christmas, the knowledge that my own family won’t grow up with the traditions and memories that I will always hold true to my heart, the confusion and feelings of abandonment that came from many family and friends. Deep down, I knew I was making the best decision for me and had to remind myself of that daily as I fought ridicule and skepticism from the well intentioned loved ones around me.
Fast forward to year and a half of study later, I’m standing naked, in front of a mirror, searching for my new skin, when suddenly my fear was followed by a deep, warming wave of relief. Absolutely nothing had changed. It didn't matter that I didn't fit the traditional Jewish looking mold. I had managed to stay true to myself throughout a life changing process. Nothing was taken away from the identity of Joanie. A new world of love, comfort, knowledge and experience was only added. I was now Jewish Joanie.
Joanie Johnson, a proud Jew and founder of Motivated Nutrition, is a certified health coach (CHC) through the Institute for Integrated Nutrition. Joanie is board certified through the American Association of Drugless Practioners (AADP), holds a B.A. in dance, is a certified Pilates instructor, TRX trainer, professional modern dancer, trained organizer and an all-around busy, motivated woman in New York City. She believes in everyone’s right to live an active, healthy lifestyle and enjoys sharing her passion of optimal wellness through movement, fun and delicious food!
*Please note that not all experiences, beliefs and ideas are shared by each member of the “The New Hollywood.” We are a group of shepherds, not sheep.