Interview with Jess, Founder of I C Me (Part One)
Last month, we had the pleasure of meeting up with body confidence enthusiast and founder of I C Me, Jess, for croissants, coffee and an in-depth conversation at her home in Brighton. In the first part of our exclusive interview, Jess – who was naked throughout our discussion – talks to us about why she first decided to take part in body confidence-related projects, what she's aiming to achieve, the mixed reactions she’s received, the reasons she refuses to allow society to dictate her boundaries, and lots more!
Our very first encounter with Jess took place all the way back in December 2019 on the night she participated in Sophie Tea’s inaugural nude catwalk event in Shoreditch – and as part of the evening’s festivities, Jess confidently strode down the red carpet in front of dozens of spectators wearing nothing but body paint that had been meticulously applied by the artist earlier in the day (you can read our full review of the event here).
In the 18 months that have followed, we have had the pleasure of working together with Jess on a variety of different body confidence-related projects, and to tie everything together, we recently decided to have a long-form discussion covering not only these past events and photoshoot experiences, but also Jess’s thoughts on a wide range of important topics, including slut-shaming, rape culture, toxic masculinity, censorship, and a great deal more.
An entirely different approach to what we have conjured up in the past, we had a really fantastic conversation that covered so many of the issues and themes Britain Uncovered has touched on previously – and a relaxed atmosphere that was free from time constraints really gave us the freedom to go into unparalleled depth, and the end result is undoubtedly one of our most compelling interviews to date.
In the two-part interview we’ve pieced together (stay tuned for the second half next week), we’ve documented many of the key points from our discussion, along with a series of photos that were captured candidly while the conversation was in full flow. To help raise awareness of human vulnerability and to further her quest to desexualise the female form, Jess was naked for the duration of our three-hour interview, and we pick up the conversation just moments after she disrobed in the middle of her living room, shortly after 10am on a warm weekday morning down on the East Sussex coast.
Britain Uncovered: So Jess! How does it feel suddenly being naked now? Do you notice a change in yourself straight away, or do you feel just as natural and relaxed as you did two minutes ago?
Jess: Well because we’ve shot together quite a few times now, it is a little bit more natural – but for the first 10 minutes there’s always going to be that weird moment because, obviously, you suddenly become very, very conscious of your body. You don’t have to worry about your body when you’re wearing clothes, and then suddenly you take off your clothes and you go, “Oh, now I have to look nice.”
Britain Uncovered: Do you still feel that pressure then to a certain extent; even with a strong sense of body confidence, you still feel there’s an expectation to look a certain way?
Jess: Well that’s one of the really nice things about shoots done in this style. Because when it goes over such a long period of time and it’s so informal, you can’t hold in your stomach and you can’t pose for several hours, because it’s just normal life and you’re just casually talking, so you do get this more natural, organic perception of yourself to come through; which goes against the stuff that we would usually do in the studio, where you see people holding in their stomachs and posing and doing this and that.
Britain Uncovered: Having taken part in a number of body confidence-related shoots for a variety of different projects, would you say that you feel more confident with each and every shoot? Or is it still as strange or unusual as it was the first time you took part in one?
Jess: It’s definitely not as strange or as foreign, because I’ve done it before so I have a little bit more experience. When I took part in the Sophie Tea catwalk event in 2019, I wasn’t struggling, but I was experiencing eating disorders quite badly, and that’s something that still obviously pertains because that doesn’t just go like that. But when you force yourself into that environment of doing a nude shoot, especially in this style, it forces you to just kind of accept your body and what you look like – which is probably quite healthy, and also quite nice to be honest!
Britain Uncovered: Was participation in Sophie Tea’s ‘Send Nudes’ event one of your first naked modelling experiences in terms of a large-scale gathering, or had you taken part in other events prior to that?
Jess: Before that I had actually done a naked catwalk at university for a fashion magazine called Fabrik, where I had markings all over my body to represent plastic surgery.
Britain Uncovered: What led you to want to take part in that event?
Jess: Probably because I heard about it and thought, “That’s cool” and then I went, “God, imagine doing that”. And I felt like there was maybe a little barrier there, and that I wouldn’t want to walk around naked in front of people, so I went, “Well, let’s break that barrier, let’s do something about that”!
Britain Uncovered: So it’s kind of forcing yourself out of your comfort zone?
Jess: Yeah, constantly.
Britain Uncovered: And is that one of the reasons you continue to take part in other events involving nudity? Do you find there are still other ways that you want to push yourself out of your comfort zone further, and is there an ongoing desire to push yourself further and further?
Jess: It’s not a constant desire to push myself out of my comfort zone, because this is now in my comfort zone. You’re in my home having a shoot and I’m naked, but this is in my comfort zone because that barrier’s been broken and this is something that has happened before.
But the reason I still do it, is because a) it’s quite interesting – it’s kind of a cool thing to do and a nice way to spend a day or a few hours, and b) it’s always nice people you meet, and you do form a friendship and bond, because you’ve just spent three hours with me while I’m naked. It’s always interesting to see the kind of friendships you get out of that.
But the resistance I’m met with about it, both online and publicly, is definitely one of things that keeps it going. In response to my participation in these types of events I often hear things like, “You’re a slut, you’re horrible, you’re disgusting, you’re a shit woman…”. People actually say these things to me. My family supports it like crazy, but people I know and people who I meet often react this way.
But the reason that people think like that is because of the certain society we live in, which is quite sexist, so there are these certain ideas of what a woman can be and what a woman can’t be. It reinforces this gender binary (because there are more than two genders) and I exist outside of that; that perception of what women can be and do. And it does get tough sometimes when you constantly get told, “You’re a little slut, you’re not worth anything, no man will ever love you because you’re easy and disgusting.” These are the kind of things that normally get said.
Britain Uncovered: And it’s ever since you started taking part in photoshoots and modelling events that you’ve been getting these types of comments?
Jess: Yes, but the tone of slut-shaming has always been present, being a woman especially.
It was particularly intense at the end of secondary school, when I was 17 and 18, and not because I had even done anything wrong. The word ‘whore’ was initially used to define any woman who rebelled against the status quo and threatened a man’s social status, and it wasn’t actually to do with sex at all. But if we keep that idea in mind, then at school I fit that description of ‘whore’ because I would go against the status quo. I would say, “Oh guys, why are we doing this, I don’t understand this. I think this is wrong.”
I was quite lucky – I grew up in Saudi Arabia and America until I was 11 years old, and then I came back to Lincoln. So obviously I had different cultural references, and a different way of growing up, which meant that I did think maybe a little bit differently to other people, which was interesting. So that concept of ‘whore’ as somebody who was different, and existed outside of that remit, has always kind of existed ever since I hit puberty. And then that comes through now, through doing nude shoots.
Also, I don’t think that’s a thing that should stand in the way, because in reality the only thing that you ever see of me online is actually something you’d only ever see of me on a normal beach. No one’s ever seen my nipples online. Men can post pictures of themselves topless and no-one bats an eyelid. Men with bigger breasts than me post pictures of themselves topless online and that’s fine, but I don’t, because not only does it go against Instagram guidelines (which is inherently sexist, because it means that a female nipple can’t be seen but a male nipple can, which reinforces the gender binary etc.); but obviously I also don’t do it because the level of shit I would get would be so much worse.
And I fundamentally don’t want my little sister to have to exist in a world where… I want the only kind of boundaries to be the ones she imposes on herself. Those comfort zones that we were talking about earlier, I want her to determine that; I don’t want them to be determined for her. And also that for me as well. My comfort zones are because of me, not because somebody said I can’t do something. If there’s this societal perception of what I can and can’t do, then I’m not okay with that. I should be able to choose what I can and can’t do in that remit, if that makes sense. That’s not me saying I want to go on a killing spree, just for the record! It’s the concept that I can wear what I want, I can do what I want, and it’s not my gender which is the limiting factor. So it’s not this double standard, because that’s something I have a problem with.
Britain Uncovered: You mentioned the hypocrisy and double-standards that exist surrounding the freedom for men to be topless in public but not women – along with Instagram’s ongoing censorship of female breasts – and you posted a story to your Instagram feed a few days back about the upcoming ‘Free the Nipple’ protest event that’s due to take place in Brighton later this summer. What do you make of this initiative, and is it something you’d support by attending?
Jess: I think I’m actually away, annoyingly, but I would have gone otherwise; because it’s quite fun just to go and do that, and it’s silly that that’s even a thing. And that’s not me saying, “I always want people to see my nipples”, no. But I should decide whether that’s okay or not. It shouldn’t be a society thing. Because it’s not like we never see people’s nipples, we do. And it’s the idea that men can do it and women can’t, which again reinforces a gender binary and other not very nice things, which isn’t good.
Britain Uncovered: The promotional material says that men can join the protest as well if they want to, but what do you make of that? Do you think they’d be fully welcomed, or might this seem unusual or out-of-place in some way?
Jess: It’s such a weird thing with anything to do with sexism, especially rape culture. The society we live in and the liberal international order we engage with (all our media, economics and politics etc.) is heavily patriarchal, and because of that, it means that men – particularly CIS heterosexual white men – do have more power in society, and that’s consistently been the case.
With any gender-based issue involving all genders, and for any changes to happen, men have to be on-board. You have to have men who go, “Okay, well I’m not going to do this or I am going to do this”, because they have the power to make the change. If we take the issue of rape culture, for instance: everyone in this house is a woman, so it doesn’t matter how good we are at having those conversations, because rape culture is an issue about male violence. Over 98.7% of rapes that occur to women are committed by men. It’s an issue of male violence, so it doesn’t matter what we [as women] do – men have to make the decision not to go out and rape someone or let any of their friends do that.
A North Western university study showed that one in three men would rape given the chance if they knew they would face no consequences. ‘Only’ 30% said they would rape, but one in three said they would have sex with somebody without their consent, if they knew they wouldn’t be caught or face consequences – which is rape. So then we can see that this is actually a really big fucking problem.
Some 97% of 16-24 year olds experience sexual harassment, at least 50% of all my female friends have experienced assault, and a quarter of them have been raped – like, it’s a problem. The thing is, I don’t know how many of my male friends go around raping people, and I don’t know how many of them do that, but statistically, I know a third of them would, which is scary. And there were a lot of people I was friends with that I would see at parties and I’d go, “Hey, dude, like what are you doing”? And that’s always really scary.
Britain Uncovered: What kind of things are you referring to?
Jess: You’ll see them groping women.
Britain Uncovered: Really? And they would do it casually, right in front of other people including their female friends? That’s really, really shocking.
Jess: It is. But also with groping… if I ever go to [a certain discount supermarket store close to my home], I’ll get groped at least once. I get cat-called, I get a lot… and that’s not because I go around naked, and it’s not as if they know I take part in photoshoots naked – it’s because I’m a woman, and I look like this.
And it’s because it’s so engrained and there’s such small micro-aggressions and things that get done. It is so scary. When the whole Sarah Everard case came about in March, honestly, this entire house was a week of ‘not okay’. I was constantly either angry or upset. For one of my flatmates here, I think it was her first time really realising how bad it is, and she was just so angry, all the time. Our other flatmate didn’t really leave her room and the other one just stayed in her room and she couldn’t see her boyfriend for a week. She was like, “I can’t look at men. I can’t, I’m so angry and it’s so horrible.” And when you see your friends who you’ve welcomed into your home who you’ve been friendly with and had that emotional intimacy.. you’ve let them in, they know you. And then you see them do that? That’s scary. Because then you have to go, “Fuck, they’re not men, they’re not a man, they’re a boy first” – and that’s really weird.
Britain Uncovered: Because then you have to re-evaluate your relationships with every other male, because if someone you think you can trust is capable of doing something like that, I guess anyone else could be as well.
Jess: It’s a real problem. I was literally on the phone to my very good friend last night and she had tweeted all of her friends, “What’s the thing that ruined your last relationship”, and all of them said it was because their partner was a misogynist, because it’s so indoctrinated. And I do feel bad for the boy to an extent, because when he was born, he didn’t have any of those thoughts – and what’s made those thoughts is media, culture, and particularly education.
In my sex ed class at school, for instance, the pictures of men showed them with pubic hair, but the women had a Brazilian. That constant visual reinforcing of how women are and how they’re meant to look – you don’t see that variation. So you do need men to get involved with protests for things to change, because they’re the people that uphold the current issues. That’s the problem with a lot of it, and I think that’s difficult for a lot of guys to realise they have consistently been upholding these ideals and that they have them.
For example, to grow up in the UK and not be racist – to watch a UK film, to watch UK TV, to experience UK education and not be racist – would be a miracle. Because everything is tinged with a colonial narrative, and everything is tinged with racism. So then you have to be aware of that and you have to be actively anti-racist and get rid of it. But much like how you can’t grow up in the UK and not be racist, you can’t grow up in the UK and not be sexist, because nearly every TV show, every film and even your education is tinged with this sexist narrative – a rape culture narrative. We’re lucky in that it’s getting better. I think there’s more women in parliament now, so that is gradually changing because the conversations that happen change.
As you get more women into parliament, conversations happen around, ‘Oh, this is woman stuff, this is stuff we have to do’. As you get more people who are black and Asian into parliament, they will explain their experiences and the ways we have to change those also. And I always says that classism is going to be an issue in the UK, but the more people from different classes who are from different classes who can get in to parliament, the better that is. And you can then have those conversations. But you have to get the people in the position of power first to agree to let those people in. So that’s why you need men in the Free the Nipple protest. That’s a very long-winded answer!
In part two of our conversation, Jess clarifies whether or not she considers herself a nudist, provides her thoughts on body positivity versus body confidence, explains the reasons why Sophie Tea’s catwalk wasn’t empowering or life-changing, details the ways her nudity could one day incite a riot, and lots more!
- Jess Hake is the founder of I C Me, an online platform that demonstrates that when it comes to body image, you are not alone. A loving community that serves to make people feel less anxious about their body hang-ups, the project features a series of honest selfies and testimonies from everyday people who candidly share details of their self-image concerns and insecurities. Head to www.icme.online/seemies to see the fantastic archive of submissions to date.