The manuscript for my next book is complete and delivered to the publisher!
The manuscript for my next book is complete and delivered to the publisher!
The Bare Reality play was performed for the first time on 25th June 2016. The theatre was full, the audience was appreciative, and there wasn’t a single hitch. A massive thank you to Sally McCormack, Susy Payne Puckett and all the actresses for a great production and performance. Also a huge thank you to MGS04 for giving us the opportunity to premier the play at their inaugural event.
Thank you to everyone who came and watched. It was a little bit incredible for me to see people watching, laughing and crying.
The Bare Reality Play may do a little tour, and it will be exciting to see what we can do for a repeat performance. Starting off at an arts festival was thrilling, but we only got on to the stage two hours before the show, and it would be great to be a bit more creative with the stage and lighting. Watch this space…
“Thought provoking and very enjoyable play with humour and serious points made. Brilliant cast. Loved all the stories, told with feeling and warmth. Very well done.”
“I loved this for so many different reasons, humour with a thought provoking twist, the cast were fab, script was amazing – I’d definitely see it again. Is there a list of the cast anywhere?”
“That was wonderful, I laughed, I cried, well done to all involved”.
“Brilliant and captivating!”
“Bare Reality the play was a COMPLETE SUCCESS”
“Laura Dodsworth, your work is so deep and meaningful, kind and compassionate “
“OH, WOW! It was just GREAT!
Bare Reality – The Play. What a wonderful performance. Feeling privileged to have witnessed this adaptation of your book!”
“Huge WELL DONE for Bare Reality on Sat night. I LOVED it!!!!!!!!!”
“I was completely and utterly floored. Women talking intimately and with passion, humour and fragility about the intimacy of their bodies. I have so much still to learn. Thank you all of you. You have created something very, very special and your group are enacting it with their hearts on their sleeves.”
Paulina Peters – Actress
Susanna Klemm – Actress
Thanyia Moore – Actress
Suzanna Walters – Actress
Manal El-Feitury – Actress
Becky Owen – Actress
Emma Smith – Actress
Giga Phillips – Actress
Gilda Waugh – actress
Susy Payne Puckett – Actress / Assistant Director / Co-producer
Sally McCormack – Director / Script Writer / Actress / Co-producer
Shelly Clement – Technical
I always felt, from the very beginning, that the stories in Bare Reality would work perfectly on stage – they are moving, surprising, funny and, above all, human. It’s completely in keeping with the spirit of Bare Reality that I am collaborating with two brilliant women, Sally McCormack and Susy Puckett to adapt the book for stage. I’m so pleased we are bringing this vision to life and can’t wait to share it. The first performance will be at Bourne Hall, in Ewell, Surrey on 25th June.
I’m very touched to have inspired a new book of breast cancer stories in aid of breast cancer charity, BUST Bristol, containing an important and moving collection of stories from people who have had breast cancer. You can buy the book directly through the charity.
Ooh, look, here’s a lovely write up for Bare Reality in Marie Claire Spain. Well, I assume it’s lovely, I can’t read it. Looks good though!
Frankly, I wish I had been to my workshop when I was a teenager. It might have saved me decades of body image niggles and connected me with the warmth and power of female experience a little earlier. I’m not the finished article, I’m no paragon of perfect body acceptance, but I have been transformed by the process of creating Bare Reality. I don’t think teenagers have ever been under such pressure socially and through the media to ‘look good’, and the human body has never been as manipulated as it is now, through airbrushing. Teenagers today are comparing themselves to literally unobtainable ideals. I would love to share what I have learnt and help young people counteract the stresses they are under and feel happy in their own skin.
The images in Bare Reality are surprising, so very different to ‘perfect media boobs’. Most people, let alone teenagers, have never been exposed to this array of ‘normal’. Just on that level the workshop has huge impact. But as with the book, the stories are at the heart of the experience – they are personal, funny, sad, moving, and create empathy and understanding. When you connect to other peoples’ experience you understand your own experience better. Understanding your experience creates acceptance. Make friends with yourself and you make friends with your body.
Breasts are just body parts, they don’t define us. But we live in a culture which considers them important emblems of femininity and sexuality. What they mean to us can provide insights into very personal aspects of being a woman. The Bare Reality workshop is not all about breasts, but uses breasts as a catalyst for a thought-provoking and empowering workshop for teenagers. Please contact me for more information and to discuss holding a Bare Reality workshop in your school.
“Thank you for giving us the Bare Reality workshop. A positive, powerful experience, which I think the girls really gained from and hopefully made them realise that there is no such thing as the perfect body. The media’s version of it changes every century, if not every decade. The girls were buzzing about it – and I am going to have a fight on my hands as to who gets to read the book first! Their views are overwhelmingly positive. I think some of them found it really empowering – incredibly several said they had never seen ‘real boobs like that’ before! We’re keen to hold more Bare Reality workshop for other year groups.”
Mrs Kirsty Tod, Senior Housemistress, Epsom College
“An eye-opening experience that really helped me to understand and appreciate my body.”
“A pro-woman workshop which was funny, yet moving and passionate”
“Laura engaged well with us all, being extremely friendly and managed to make us all laugh more than once.”
“An intriguing insight into the history and reality of boobs”
“It was fab! It was so enjoyable and interesting. It made us all think about our body images and that we should be proud of who we are!”
“Laura understood us and our worries about our bodies well.”
“It was a memorable experience and I will take it into consideration every time I feel insecure in future”
“An amazing presentation that teaches me that we shouldn’t think there is a ‘perfect’ body and how we should look like. Everyone is different and there is no problem with this.”
“It was interactive, she was charismatic and it was eye-opening to discover how there are no perfect boobs”
There are few parts of human anatomy as provocative as a woman’s breasts, which frequently exist, culturally, not as part of women’s bodies, but as ideas defining an eternally shifting border between private and public.
The moment a girl’s budding breasts make an appearance is the moment that her relationship to the world and the people in it begins to be redefined, even in her own imagination. As girls and women, we often learn to think about our changing breasts from the perspective of how they make other people feel – in particular, men and babies. In other words, beneath thoughts of bras and bathing suits, we think of ourselves in terms of sex or sacrifice, naked and exposed or comforting and nurturing. As the stories here attest, these lessons are filtered through class, race, sexuality, religion, illness, geography, politics and, too frequently, violence and war.
Images of bared female breasts have evolved as a primary symbol not just of what makes women valuable and important, but of what cultures think of themselves. In her book, A History of the Breast, Marilyn Yalom delightfully explores the manifold ways in which this part of our bodies has come to represent, visually, central ideas about women and what constitutes ‘progress’. How the female breast is portrayed, and displayed, has illustrated gender relationships, changing political thought and dominant religious ideas. In addition, the regulation of these images, which varies tremendously across the globe, is related to the regulation of female freedom, sexuality and rights.
Breasts have been central to iconic depictions of women as sexually available fertility goddesses, as mothers who sacrifice their bodies for their children and as freedom-fighting avatars of national independence. If you are reading this, the chances are fairly high that you live in a place where naked breasts were, in the relatively recent historical past, associated with racialised and religiously-inspired ideas about the ‘primitive’ nature of women versus the ‘superior’ nature of others. Ideas about women’s breasts were employed in colonialist mythologies about gender, sex and race. Among other things, ‘good Christian women’, light-skinned, had to be clothed – a signifier of a superior, ‘civilised’ culture. While we may not always be aware of these ideas, we live with their legacy nonetheless.
Rarely have women, like those in this volume, defined cultural ideas about our own bodies. It is an historical fact that, regardless of the particular symbolic meaning at any given time in history and art, images of and ideas about women’s breasts have primarily been created by men. How women see themselves and public explorations of how we experience our female human bodies have been, until very recently, few and far between.
Idealised images of women’s breasts have been, for the most part, created by men, from men’s perspectives, for male purposes. To describe breasts, as writer Natalie Angier has, as ‘modified sweat glands’, is both an acknowledgement of some women’s utterly unimpressed relationship with their breasts, and an almost hilarious affront to the Western male fixation on eroticising breasts to the point that the women they’re part of can seem like nothing more than irritating appendages.
What a society chooses to allow of female toplessness, as with art, speaks volumes. It is entirely possible to see how a society’s rules governing access to women’s bodies continue, ultimately, to be rules governing what is considered a male property right. There are constant contestations over breastfeeding in public, toplessness on beaches, bare-breasted political protesting and what constitutes obscenity and pornography. In mainstream views and in social media, for example, female toplessness is largely prohibited, while barely camouflaged sexually objectifying pornography, that prioritises male sexual pleasure, is not.
This cultural norm goes a long way to explain why a common response to seeing ‘real’ women’s breasts – messy, aged, damaged, asymmetrical, large, small, excised – is mystification. This mystification largely stems from two assumptions: one, that the male, breast-less body is the human standard and two, that breasts have to be ‘doing something’. If women insist on being ‘deviant’, if their breasts must be exposed, they should, at the very least, serve a function: feeding, titillating, nurturing, providing solace. It’s as though women’s lives are mediated by our breasts’ social value. What, after all, is the purpose of breasts if they are not idealised, perfect, feeding or entertaining someone? You might as well ask the same of women in general.It’s an unsettling idea to fold into one’s sense of self, the objectification of portions of your body. In point of fact, even though it’s pervasive, it’s absurd.
There are places in the world where the sight of the bare female chest is unfreighted by culture, where naked breasts evoke no sexual feelings in men, no neo-Victorian outrage in polite society, and no automatic,almost fetishistic, association with maternal sacrifice. As for restrictions on seeing women’s naked breasts in public, which are rife, it’s important to ask, what is it that is obscene in the end? Is it that female bodies are made visible, or, more fundamentally, that we dare to have them and insist they are not deviant, dangerous or subhuman? Why is it so threatening and taboo for us not only to have these bodies, but also to share them, publicly and with grace, as Laura Dodsworth has done here?
The stories collected here are both a striking counter-narrative to objectification and a loud renunciation of its effects. Each woman’s story is its own quiet and brave rejection of the idea that her body is a public resource, a private tool, a thing divisible from her self. Each decided for herself, for her own reasons, to be here, to bare her self without shame, and share her story.
I, for one, am grateful to Laura for this refreshing, radical and revealing subjectification. Women who insist that we see their imperfect humanity and acknowledge their female human dignity, cause ripples in the universe.
This is, hands down, one of my favourite stories from Bare Reality: 100 women, their breasts, their stories, from an utterly inspiring woman. Her courage and resourcefulness saved her husband from Dachau, they moved to the UK, brought up their child and enjoyed ’52 happy years’.
Happy Valentine’s Day xxx
I’m afraid my daughter was born a week before Hitler marched in, and my milk went. It was the shock. We were Jewish. I intended to breastfeed her, but in the end she grew very well without.
My husband was taken on Kristallnacht, the day everybody was taken. He had gone out, against my advice. The authorities wanted me out of my flat. I went to the SS headquarters and told them in no uncertain terms what I thought of them, ‘I’m not going to leave my flat and you can kiss my arse!’. (laughs) Maybe it was foolish, but attack is the best defence. My husband was in Dachau and somehow I had to get him out.
My husband’s boss was an ex-Nazi, but he was a very nice man, and he was fond of us. I asked him what to do, and he said, ‘Go to the Gestapo’. I thought that was a good idea. My parents said I couldn’t, but I said, ‘I’m not afraid of the Devil! And if it helps, I will do it’. I rang up and made an appointment.
I saw a middle-aged man and we got talking, about this and that, like us now. After half an hour he said he had to go, but he said, ‘I tell you something, I promise I will get your husband out, in three weeks, but I want something from you’. I knew what he wanted, but I said, ‘Oh, what can I do for you?’ ‘I want you to visit me twice a week, I love talking to you.’ ‘What days do you want?’ ‘Tuesday and Friday.’ I was quite prepared for anything. What’s my little thing, if it means getting him out? It’s unimportant. Getting him out, that’s the important thing. But the man really only wanted to talk. I entertained him, I had prepared some topics – like Sheherazade! (laughs) And after three weeks, to the day, my husband came home.
We came here as refugees with no money at all, so we had to start right from the bottom, with a one-year-old child. The English were very lucky not to get me as a domestic, because I had never done anything, I had a maid at home. I started as a secretary and worked in the rag trade in a showroom in the West End.
My boss wanted me to get into the stores, but that was not an easy task, especially when you look like me. The representatives from other firms were elegant, tall, chic, and there was me, a little nothing. I knew I didn’t have a chance, and my boss was very dissatisfied; he said it was my dress. I said, ‘For what you pay me I cannot dress any better’. That was it, I left.
When I was 52 I went to the doctor, and said, ‘There’s a lump in my breast’. I’d had a hysterectomy four years earlier, but there was nothing there, it was benign. This time I thought it would be cancer. In those days they did not take a biopsy, if there was a lump it was taken out, that was standard, and the whole breast was removed. It was benign and I didn’t need the radio treatment I’d been about to start.
In a way I felt relief that it wasn’t cancer. I could have sought legal proceedings, because I was disfigured, but in those days you didn’t think about those things. My husband didn’t mind. I said to him, ‘How do you mind having a wife with only one breast?’ He said, ‘How would you mind if I lost a leg?’ I said, ‘Of course not!’ ‘So there you go’. We had a very happy marriage, and there was no ill effect at all. That was our marriage, everything was talked about and that is why we had 52 happy years.
My breasts were important, they were erogenous. My husband and I had a very good sexual relationship, as well as the friendship. Nothing changed after the mastectomy, our sex life didn’t change until my husband had an operation for his prostate. I consider I was blessed. 52 years, how many people are blessed with that? Not many.
After my husband died, I got my independence which was very important to me, and I could do what I liked. There is always something positive. It’s the way you look at life.
I fell over last week, that’s why I have a bruise on my breast. (laughs) It hurts. But again, it’ll go. I always manage my falls by relaxing myself. I never hurt myself, except bruising. I don’t fall over much, the last time was over a year ago. I don’t use a stick yet.
When my nipple inverted suddenly about 10 years ago, I immediately went to the clinic to have it examined. I know it is a sign of cancer, but it can also be a sign of old age. It doesn’t bother me.
I was conscious of the mastectomy and wouldn’t have exposed my chest. I would never have gone topless anyway, never, even in my younger days. Don’t forget, I was born in 1912, things weren’t quite as… (pauses) We had nudist clubs, but that wasn’t for me.
My breasts were never of any importance to me. I was always small, I didn’t have a good figure, I didn’t consider myself very good-looking, I was average. But I was vivacious and always had lots of friends and boyfriends. My body didn’t bother me because it wasn’t important. My figure has hardly changed. My mother-in-law said, ‘She’s a very nice girl, but where does she keep her organs?’
I’m very careful with my appearance. I wear a prosthesis. I forgot it once on holiday. I had to use loads and loads of plastic bags! (laughs) If I go swimming I have a costume with an insert. I used to swim every day until three years ago. When I was 97 I would swim 20 lengths in one go, but my physiotherapist said it was too much.
I am still interested, and still learning. I’ve had quite an interesting life. I still go to the opera, bridge. When I heard about this project I thought it was a good thing.
I’m so pleased that Hollie thinks there is place for Bare Reality in schools. I agree 100% and am holding school workshops, for the first time, in March. Frankly, I wish I had seen this book and head me speak when I was a teenager! It would have been astonishingly enlightening and saved me two decades of body image anxieties. Creating Bare Reality has transformed me: I like myself better as a woman, I have seen over 100 pairs of breasts and I know that there is no such thing as ‘perfect’ and I have more respect and tenderness for female experience. A few teachers spoke to me at events and suggested a workshop would be welcomed, so that’s what I’m doing. If you know a school that would like me to visit and hold a workshop or give a talk, please contact me.
…might I suggest a really lovely book?
I don’t want to jinx it, but ‘Bare Reality: 100 women, their breasts, their stories’ is the proud owner of 5 star reviews everywhere.
WHERE TO BUY BARE REALITY
Direct from the publisher:
Book Depository (free international shipping):
£1 is donated to Breast Cancer UK for every book and ebook sold.
“Bare Reality is brilliant, so, so clever and inspiring!” – Stella McCartney
“Bare Reality is an extraordinary book – Dodsworth describes it as ‘100 photographs, 100 stories, 100 acts of feminism’ – unflinching in its portrayal of the female form.” – The Telegraph
“But where the book really shines lies in the words of the women themselves. For Bare Reality presents such a raw, unashamed and intimate slice of what it means to be female that this book becomes a celebration of life itself – of self-acceptance, of courage, of triumph over adversity…Truthfully it’s hard to do justice to what is contained within these pages, but the results are breathtaking…Unprecedented and unforgettable pictorial record of one hundred women’s lives. Beautifully written and sensitively produced, it belongs on your bookshelf.” – Let’s Talk Breasts
“It’s not often these days that I read about something that inspires me about the basic humanity that we all share. In the US, with its current culture of consumerism, attitudes towards women are decidedly more misogynistic and objectifying than they were 25-30 years ago. You are lighting a candle which I hope will cast an enduring light in the current darkness. Thank you.” – anonymous reader
Merry Christmas xxxxx