Risk Self Study: Emil Jameson

During my teens and early twenties, I was angry with, embarrassed by, and ashamed of my body for not matching the ideal proportions that I saw being flaunted and validated. I was very, very average and never really saw myself as attractive. And while I’ve grown and, for the most part, accepted what I look like, these feelings are never gone. Some days I just wake up with terrible self-esteem. No amount of external validation gets through to me on those days; I just have to do other things I know I’m good at and remind myself that I’m more than something to be looked at and judged. But these days are few and far between, so I call that progress.

On the other hand, I believe that I, as a gay man, I relate very differently to my body than straight men. I knew from a young age, though I may not have had words for it at the time, that I was attracted to men. I think the element of sameness in whom I’m attracted to influenced how I expected others to view my body. If I sexualized bodies that were the same as mine, how do I not sexualize my own? I (and we gays) grew up with this attitude; I’m aware of the sexualization of my body.

Sometimes, and in some ways, I do see myself in a positive light. I’m very aware of my faults and imperfections both physically and otherwise, but I also know my strengths, and I’m quick to use them. It’s been interesting to see my body change in ways I didn’t expect or intend, but also to watch myself come to terms with these things. I started losing my hair when I was 21 or 22. I absolutely dreaded the fact. It was difficult for me to accept, and as a poor college student, I really didn’t have any funds to do anything about it. Over the next several years, however, I realized that there were so many bald men that I found attractive. It was that process of accepting a trait in others that allowed me to accept the same in myself. Shortly after I turned 25, I shaved it all off. All that’s to say that my views on myself are changing for the better.

For me nudity is a state of contentment. An acceptance. A rebellion. A retreat. A meditation. An exercise. A practice. A return to naturalness. A canvas and a medium. An aesthetic. A de-socialization. An act of connection. An expression of self. It can be any and all of these things depending on the situation. Nudity is important to me, especially in being introverted; there really isn’t anything else that makes me feel more recharged from being in society or more connected to myself than being alone and unclothed.

I think that expressing sexuality allows people to feel free. Some people need to see others accept themselves in order to be comfortable with who they are. I want to be the person that I needed around when I was 12.

For me personally it's important because it’s cathartic. My sexuality is the part of me that was oppressed and judged and forced down by people who thought they had control over me. It’s healing and relieving and freeing for me to express sexuality with or without fear of judgment. It’s a rebellious act of self-love.

What is something you love about yourself? Physically and mentally.

It’s not so much a trait as much as a sense that includes both the physical and the mental. In the photos I take, I (usually) try to be as natural as possible. I think this differentiates me from models and fitness gurus who are known for their bodies. My physique is fine, but that’s not (usually) what I want my art to focus on. I’d rather use my body as medium for creating. My body lets me do that. And while it’s possible for anyone else to do the same (and I’ve met a few who are on the same page as me), I feel like I’ve found a bit of a niche at the intersection of my mentality and physicality. I’m aware that sex appeal is a real thing, and I incorporate it, but I’m (usually) really aiming for my photos to be deeper than that. Maybe I have an inflated view of myself in this regard, but I’m proud of it nonetheless.

Have you always been comfortable with nudity? Do you find yourself passive or aggressive with your nudity? 

No. It’s definitely something that I’ve had to practice being comfortable with. Being raised very conservative, nudity was something to be ashamed of. At this point, I think it’s more of a passive exercise for me. I’d love to encourage people to embrace their bodies and their nakedness, but it’s not something that I want to force onto people; like most other things, it takes time to accept.

When I was younger, it nudity immediately lead to a rush of excitement simply because of the forbiddenness of it. Sometimes when I’m taking photos, I have the same rush. But sometimes I’m running around my house trying to set up a background and get my tripod to the right level wearing only glasses and slippers, and that can be a very awkward thing to do, nude or not. Nude beaches? Very casual. Making music? A bit of both. Slowly undressing myself and someone else to see and show what’s beneath? Very sexual.

I wish people would place importance and value on something other than their bodies. As I see it, the body positivity movement is a sham—it still preaches that your body gives you value. By saying that all bodies are valuable still implies that value is determined by appearance. I don’t believe that. Body positivity is on the same spectrum as body shaming, just at the opposite end. Shame on us for making anyone feel as if their only value lies in what they look like. As a lovely personal-trainer-turned-Instagrammer once put it, your life’s purpose isn’t to lose weight. I’d add that no one’s life purpose is to look beautiful. And if you think it is, you’re doing something wrong.

I'm attracted to big arms and big words. Also fighting for dominance.

My father is a pastor. My mother is a pastor’s wife. And, by a turn of events, I recently moved back in with them. I find myself constantly censoring myself. It’s hard not to when your father has said things like “I’m glad you don’t tell me anything about your life.” In most of the communities I’ve been a part of, my family especially, I’ve been encouraged to hide myself. It’s more than censoring just my personality—it’s really a limiting of my personhood.

Even to the minutest of points, the portrayal of “correct” or “desirable” bodies in the media has had a pretty negative effect on me. From the incessant commercials telling you that you ought to want to look better, the absolute physical ideals represented in porn, the Insta-famous gays with their curated accounts and obsessively manicured bodies, even the kids who model for, like, math textbooks—I don’t think anyone, even the most “perfect” person, is free from socially induced insecurities regarding their bodies.

If anything, becoming part of the media itself (not that I have a massive following) at least is a boost to the ego. Strangers tell me I’m sexy in several languages. Some days that gets to my head (and other days my insecurity doesn’t let me believe them). I can’t tell if it’s made me more confident in my appearance or if I’ve just become more comfortable with people seeing me.

But disregarding the way media affects how I view myself, social platforms have allowed me to connect with people around the world, to discuss art with them, to talk about life’s issues, and to see inspiring work. So it’s not all bad.

“Ugliness is forgivable; negligence is not.” If someone is doing well for and taking care of themselves, then I generally find them beautiful. But more specifically, I like the parts that are often passed over. I’m gay, so, sure, abs and huge pecs are great, but the details—the smoothness of his inner arm, his neck and jaw when he turns his head, a strong brow, the small of his back, freckles on his shoulders, the grain of the hair on his thighs—are what set him apart.

Do I have any kinks or sexual fantasies? That's a tough question. But one time there was this couple with an industrial-sized milking machine…

I wouldn't say sex is important to me. And this mostly due to necessity. There have been large parts of my life (coming out later than most, living in Eastern Europe, living with family, being at a Christian college, etc.) where sex couldn’t be a priority for me. So, I learned to value most other aspects of people and relationships above sex. I also grew up in an environment where sex was secretive and taboo and shameful, and as much as I’d like to say I’ve totally overcome the anxiety that was instilled in me around sex, I’ve made progress, but I still have hang-ups over it.

As for my sex life, it’s pretty “uneventful.” I’m fairly sensitive/picky about whom I want to sleep with, and there just aren’t many people around that I want inside me. Plus, I work three jobs and wake up early to go to the gym. Resources are just kind of limited all round.

I love my hands, for various reasons. I think most clearly and deeply when I’m working with them, and fortunately, all of my jobs involve exactly that. I like how expressive they can be, considering I hide my eyes in my photos. I like how they feel and what they do for me. I like the stories in their dirt and scars and callouses.

In A Risk Self Study, Emil Jameson talks about insecurities, sex, social stigma and growing up gay in a highly religious family.

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