I’ve been an actress since age 13. You might be familiar with me from the TV show Neighbours, or from my current role on the CW’s Reign. But after a recent run-in with a crooked magazine editor, you might be familiar with me instead as an attention-seeking, hysterical lady human who endlessly cheapens feminism by having the lunatic opinions that our bodies are beautiful and worth celebrating—and also, simultaneously, believing that my body is my own.
Earlier this year, I launched a website called Herself.com. Herself is a safe space for women of varying backgrounds, body types and belief systems to amplify their concerns, wishes, dreams, complaints and woes—a platform dedicated to expanding the scope of visible female experience and of visible female bodies. The courageous, luminescent women you will find there are nude, shot by female photographers. In showing us their bodies on mutually-agreed-upon terms, they have given all of us an immense gift; as they appear there, they are both impossibly vulnerable and utterly indestructible. Even, I, myself, appear on the website too, completely naked. (Burn her!)
Given these facts, it may or may not surprise you to hear that, when an Australian magazine called The Good Weekend asked me to appear in lingerie to accompany a piece on me, I declined.
It wasn’t the nature of the shoot that bothered me, but the pairing of the shoot with the story I was hoping to tell, which was specifically that women, and only women, are in charge of their bodies, their image and their sexuality. This commodification of my body had nothing to do with me. My input and my consent had never been sought. Simply, my body was going to be used as a prop to sell a magazine. And I, as the human occupying this prop, was not a part of the conversation.
(And, let me stress: sexualized photography is fine with me. But this business teaches you a lot about the nature of consent. You know when you’re being reduced to an object—which happens endlessly—and the valuable instances when you’re not.)
I was aware that The Good Weekend lacked a certain amount of feminist credibility. Before the red flag of the photo shoot, their senior editor Ben Naparstek (or, Ben NaparI-hope-you-get-cataracts-you-absolute-lying-piece-of-shit, as he is known lovingly amongst friends) had become notorious for exhibiting some fairly jaw-dropping conduct. John Van Tiggelen, editor at The Monthly, recently called him out for blatantly refusing to pay female writers as much as their male counterparts. In an open letter, Tiggelen wrote:
Contributors to the Monthly were letting me know you were offering them $1.50 a word. I kept a list; within a month there were eight on it. Interestingly, they were all male. Yet you denied this, both to me and publicly (to the Australian).
You were lying, but you had to, as you were simultaneously insisting to other writers (who, interestingly, were all female) that 80 cents a word was as high as you could go.
Slow clap for this man’s commitment to gender disparity!
But anyway, back to the photo shoot: here’s a rundown of the events.
Herself.com launched in January of this year. The Good Weekend requested a feature. They flew out a journalist to Toronto, where I was living and working at the time, and we spent several hours airing out and exploring all of my deepest and sexiest secrets. They then scheduled a photo shoot for the coming Saturday, and along with the specifics of the location and time, they sent along a mood board representing what they were aiming to shoot: lots of ladies in panties, big hair, big makeup. Panties, panties, panties.
My publicist and I agreed that the direction of the shoot would be in stark contrast to the interview I had just done for them, and pretty contradictory to the message of empowerment and bodily ownership I was advocating. We told them as much. They reacted with surprise; a coordinator of the shoot appeared sure that Ben had run this past us.
Yeah. He hadn’t told us.
It was a rather large error, but we forgave and forgot. We conferred with them over new mood boards. I chose a theme, even made suggestions for hair and makeup. We we were all set to go.
Then, the next day, I received an email where a staff member at The Good Weekend effusively apologized and stated that the shoot was cancelled.
Oh, I see. *clenches teeth till they become dust*
After a lot of back and forth, my publicist was able to get explicit confirmation that Ben had cancelled the photoshoot because we had pushed back on their very complex, interesting “nudity/panties” concept. From that email:
Hold up. You suddenly don’t have the money to dress me for a shoot? I’m literally only worth my weight in wardrobe cash to you if I’m naked? Were you going to cloak me in pasties made of gold and saffron? In panties made of unobtanium, or whatever was in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction? Then, and only then, is it acceptable for you to scrap a feature on someone because they have refused to pose nude.
Following this rather humiliating correspondence, I was told they were looking to buy existing artwork instead. Being the graceless, shrill lady-harpies that we are, my publicist and I sent them existing artwork. Problem solved. All good to go. Right?
Or so I, the dumb just-an-actress, thought. Months went by. They told me vaguely that the piece was still going to run, but at a fraction of the size. They said words like “downsizing” and “timing” and “shrinking margins.” I understand that the newspaper industry is imperiled. But hold on: timing? They had delayed the article, they’d had the audacity to state that they weren’t interested in me fully clothed; they refused to publish the article in a timely fashion.
It was a beautiful reminder of how the world views young women: at their best when they’re naked and not complaining. And I feel so blessed for every one of these sweet life-affirming moments society creates.
But of course, there was more.
I posted the correspondence and made public the details of the insane situation I had found myself in. Then, lo and behold—and it truly was almost magical—Ben Naparliterally-worse-than-warlords decides to chime in with a terribly artificial, factually incorrect, purposefully deceitful response. From People:
“That was always the concept we had in mind,” he said. “As the profile was tied to the launch of Caitlin’s website of nude photography, I thought it would be fitting to do an artful shoot in that vein while offering a change of pace from our usual celebrity portraits. But of course I fully respected and understood Caitlin’s reluctance to participate in that.”
He also provided a separate statement to Pedestrian following the site’s Q&A with Stasey, stating: “We decided not to pursue the shoot when her agent offered us access to existing portraits instead. But with the Herself.com peg no longer as strong, we chose to delay the profile until later in the year so it could be tied to the new seasons of her series Please Like Me and Reign.”
Note the word “artful,” and the not-so-subtle dig at my work at Herself.com not being a good enough, or relevant enough peg for a feature—never mind that the website was the entire reason they’d gotten in contact with me, and my inbox is stuffed with thousands of emails from women who have responded to the site’s affirmations.
Is it exhausting, Ben? Being made of lies, living in your lie-house and feeding your lie-mouth? Is it exhausting being so full of shit? It seems decent for your career, anyway, doesn’t it?
But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Nudity in the abstract is not the issue, and my body is not the issue either. What is the issue is the way that many men like Ben Naparstek-your-head-in-the-oven believe they have an inherent right to both because of my recent projects and my candor. It’s the same logic we apply to a woman’s sexuality. Just because she’s fucked one guy she must be available to all of them, right? Just because she’s wearing a short skirt, just because her shirt is sheer, just because she is a woman, she must be available to me.
Many people have since asked me to discern the difference between posing nude for my website and posing nude for theirs. They’ve asked me what reasoning or excuses I could possibly have to justify my differing answers.
My answer is this: My body, my agency & my sexuality are not invitations; they are vessels which I am entitled to use at my discretion. I don’t need an excuse.
Image courtesy the author