Interview with Jess, Founder of I C Me (Part Two)
In part two of our conversation with Jess, a body confidence enthusiast and the founder of I C Me, we’re discussing the differences between body positivity and body confidence, the reasons why Jess didn't find Sophie Tea’s nude catwalk event to be empowering or life-changing, the ways in which her nudity could one day incite a riot, and a great deal more!
As documented in part one of our interview with Jess last week, we kick-started our conversation over croissants and coffee in her spacious and airy kitchen and living room area - and in addition to breakfast, we got stuck into a great number of important issues including rape culture, slut-shaming, censorship and societal boundaries, and Jess also offered her thoughts on many of the nude catwalk events and photoshoots she has participated in over the past couple of years.
After taking a short pause from body confidence matters to explore Jess’s extensive vinyl collection – which gets airplay on a daily basis and isn’t just there for aesthetic or ironic reasons – we continued our conversation in Jess’s room shortly before midday, with many of the covers of these famous LPs lingering on the walls in the distance!
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 the images presented alongside our conversation here were captured candidly while the conversation was in full flow.
Britain Uncovered: Having taken part in multiple events and photoshoots involving nudity and seemingly enjoying these types of projects, do you think you would consider yourself a nudist at this point?
Jess: I wouldn’t say I am, no. It sounds weird, obviously, because I do get naked and I’ve done nude catwalks and photoshoots. But a lot of it is about changing perspectives so that the female form and the female body are acknowledged as something as human and natural, instead of just sexual. That’s a big reason why I do it, because that also stops those boundaries being put up, because it becomes just a body. It stops being, “Oh my god, she’s so fit, I want to fuck her”. Instead, it’s an actual person.
But I’d also say no because I wouldn’t love to be sat around with all my friends naked, especially if they were all naked themselves. I’d be like, “No. Fuck off, no”! There’s no shame to people who do.
Britain Uncovered: It’s an interesting concept, because to some extent you’re happy to be naked and willing to promote that in the name of body positivity…
Jess: Not body positivity, body confidence.
Britain Uncovered: …but do you think you’d ever have the desire to extend these types of experiences beyond catwalk appearances and the odd photoshoot – perhaps by visiting a nude beach, for instance?
Jess: I would, but my intent would be so that I have an even tan, not because I’m like, “God, let’s all be naked.”
It’s weird, I acknowledge, but when I take part in nude catwalks and photoshoots or have conversations on podcasts (such as my appearance on The Body Confidence Issue podcast with Verity at the start of the year), it’s all within the constraints of a job, and the intent there is to facilitate discussions on the female form as human, along with the human vulnerability element, and to help desexualise it.
And that’s one of the nice things about doing an interview and photoshoot like this, in my home, very calmly. It’s normal. There’s not this, “Pose like this, do this, do this..” like there would be in a studio. It’s very calm and informal, because this is just me existing. Also, it would be silly if I didn’t wear clothes around the house because I’m always bumping into something! Or if I’m cooking, I could get hot oil on me, so there’s safety reasons.
Away from the constraints of my ‘job’ [the specific photoshoots and catwalks], then no, I wouldn’t want to be naked, because it would affect the times I do choose to share my body with somebody else under different constraints. My flatmate has seen me naked so many times – often because I need her to put sunscreen on my back – and I’ll do likewise for her. The nudity here is within this friendship and this realm, and any part of yourself you choose to share with somebody is also within the boundary of that relationship. And I think the term ‘nudist’ sometimes takes that for granted.
I wouldn’t want to be sat around with a bunch of naked people. Not because I’ve got anything against that, but just logistically. Sat on a beach, naked? Okay, there’s actually quite a lot of sand that will get in places, that is then hard to get out. You’re more likely to burn, because that part of you never sees sun, so the logistics of being a nudist… and then if you’re a nudist in a cold climate, why the fuck are you a nudist? You’re going to freeze! So logistically, nudism doesn’t work. Also, occasionally I’m topless in my room where I wear like pants and a massive shirt, because as somebody with a vagina, sometimes you need to wear underwear. Because shit happens. So then being a nudist is just not helpful or beneficial – it’s actually quite hindering.
But when I choose to share my body with somebody, it can be for different reasons. Like I’m choosing to share it with you like this today because it’s in a work setting where I’m promoting something I’m very passionate about and think is important; if I ever share my body with a friend, it’s because it’s for mutual helping or for safety; and if I was to share it with somebody romantically, or sexually, that’s very different as well. And in each of those situations, the body is viewed in a very different way.
One of the nice things about photography is the intent and the perception from the viewer – which can be quite different. All of the shoots I’ve done are for body confidence, and they’re in the realm of removing the sexualisation of the female body. But because people have this internalised sexist narrative, it means that when they see it, initially they wouldn’t think that because they go, “Oh my god, it’s a naked woman”. But then they actually take in the photo and they acknowledge it and then it forces them to have that conversation with themselves – whether explicitly and consciously in their minds, or sub-consciously.
I think nudity is a really interesting concept, because it’s just so different in different places and different times, depending on who you are. If you’re a woman and you’re naked, it’s different than if you’re a man and you’re naked. A man being naked is ‘indecent exposure’, but a woman being naked or topless, in law, falls under the ‘potential to incite a riot’. That’s under the bracket in which it’s illegal, because the concept of a nude woman could incite a riot. On a bad day, that’s actually kind of nice – I could incite a riot! That’s nice, I feel positive about this.
But no, I wouldn’t say I’m a nudist. For logistical reasons, being a nudist is not practical to my life. Also, I like being able to have clothes – it feels like a hug all the time.
Britain Uncovered: You mentioned earlier that you’re seeking to promote body confidence, rather than body positivity; could you explain to us what you perceive to be the main differences between the two, along with the reasons why you fall on the side of the body confidence mindset?
Jess: I think body positivity stops a lot of conservations and isn’t actually very helpful. What you hear with a lot of body positivity is, “Oh you’re not fat, you’re beautiful.” Which then means that being ‘fat’ is this negative word, and it also placates it. It actually stops conversations, because it’s just giving compliments. Body positivity says, “Oh, all bodies are amazing”.
I used to have really bad acne – I was on Roaccutane – so yes, I can be beautiful, but this is still something I have to deal with. I can’t look and feel positive all the time I’m on drugs that are actually a depressant, and I’m on a lot of stuff that simply isn’t positive.
Body confidence, on the other hand, is more along the lines of, “You’re you, you’re confident in you.” It gives back individual autonomy to the person and encourages them to be confident in themselves. When you say ‘body confidence’, it allows the person to develop a sense of self and autonomy; it gives you some individualistic agency and rank in which you’re allowed to exist.
I mean, body positivity has its place – you needed that to be able to get to body confidence, 100%. And body positivity is credited with diversifying and decolonising fashion and aspects, and that’s awesome too. But on an individual basis, I think the most important thing is body confidence, because your body is going to change, and as a woman I obviously experience that quite a lot. Even just on your period, you can completely change body types just because of bloating and water retention, because the uterus swells. Your body does change, and I think that when you give yourself body confidence, it allows you to be confident in your body and it stops your body being the most important thing, because you’re happy with that – so you actually get to focus on yourself.
I think body positivity puts the onus on the body, not the person; whereas body confidence puts the onus on the person, not the body. Body confidence goes, “Hey, this is you, and you have a body, and you can be proud of that body and confident with that body.” Anything’s going to happen with that body. You can get into an accident, you can put on weight, you can lose weight, you can get muscle, you can lose muscle… shit’s going to happen, because that’s just life! But you’re you, and your body can mirror that (or not). And that’s okay. Body positivity goes, “This body is amazing and you have it”! And that focus is needed sometimes, particularly if you’re having a bad day and you just need to be given lots of compliments. But I’d always says that body confidence is more important, and more beneficial long-term to people’s mental health.
It’s about individualism, and what works for you. So although I don’t think body positivity is the best thing long-term for people’s mental health, someone could have a completely different experience with that and a different relationship. I don’t know how everybody else feels about themselves, and I’m never going to know that. I don’t know how you feel, I don’t know how my friend Verity feels, I don’t know how anybody feels about that, except for me. I can talk from my personal experience and from what I know, and yes, I do read up on it a bit, because it did effect me quite a lot; and it’s the world I exist in. But that’s not to say that’s the best one. It's what I think is best, but that doesn’t mean it has to be best for everybody else.
Britain Uncovered: Shifting gears back to some of your previous catwalk experiences, how exactly did you first find out about Sophie Tea’s event towards the end of 2019 – were you following her on Instagram before it all came about, or did you just hear about the naked catwalk and think, ‘Yeah, let’s do that’.
Jess: I had followed her because I quite liked her abstracts. I thought that they were really cool, and I liked having something nice to look at on my Instagram feed. And then the naked catwalk came up, and having just done the nude catwalk for Fabrik, I was like, “Oh, that sounds cool. Nice way to spend a day.” It wasn’t so much that it was completely outside my comfort zone, but it was more like, “This is something I haven’t done before, and this is something that not a lot of people are ever going to do… let’s give it a shot! Let’s do it, let’s experience that.”
Britain Uncovered: When you participated in your first ever catwalk for Fabrik, what were you expecting going into it ahead of time – and what did you think you might learn about yourself by taking part?
Jess: To be honest, it didn’t really register on my radar. It sounds weird, but it was more like, “Okay, well we’re going to do this.” And nobody in that room cared that somebody was naked, which was really nice, because that’s just really, really lovely. Nobody cared. So I didn’t learn too much about myself. I was already aware and I am quite self-aware of how I felt about my body and how my body looked, so I was fine with that.
With the Sophie Tea catwalk, it’s weird because you hear some of the participants talking about it as being “life-changing”, but it wasn’t life-changing for me at all. It was an amazing experience and everybody there was lovely, and it was great to do; but it wasn’t remotely life-changing. It was cool because it opened doors, and that’s why I liked it. For example, without it I wouldn’t know you, and this wouldn’t be a thing today. I wouldn’t have got to experience this as much, and it’s also facilitated other shoots I do. I wouldn’t have done these if I hadn’t done Sophie Tea’s event.
I always find it interesting talking to people about body and body image, because aspects – and this is an issue I personally have with body positivity – I think glamorise reality. It was also something Sophie Tea did, and it was something that the environment kind of facilitated. And it did feel like a façade in a way, because in talking to people there, it was like, “So I know you have an ED, I know you hate and hurt yourself because of the way you look. I know that actually, right now you’re laughing and smiling, much like me, but it’s not fucking real.”
And I loved the event. It was amazing, it was great to go to. But the reasons I think it was great to go was because of connections, and also the free wine and pizza. That’s why I liked it. I don’t think it was some amazing, incredible thing. I think Sophie’s an amazing artist, like cool – but I didn’t find my experience life-changing. The experience with Sophie Tea was really cool, but I just used it to continue. It was something that happened, and I don’t really look at it as this incredible life-changing thing. It was more, “This happened, this was cool, I did this one day, and then we move on.”
Britain Uncovered: Are you like that in general do you think, constantly looking forward and moving onto the next thing?
Jess: Not about stuff I care about. And that’s not to say I didn’t care about Sophie Tea, but that doesn’t hold a special place in my heart. I work on my university paper, The Badger, where I’m now Print Production Editor. I was Arts Editor this year, and before that I was Theatre Editor – and I got into that paper before I even got into uni because I had to call up and argue my way into uni, and already being on the paper was something I used to bolster my argument. I care so much more about The Badger, because that’s in a field I love and care about, because I care about writing. I want to be a writer, I want to do journalism – that’s what I like.
Britain Uncovered: There’s more long-term prospects and longer-lasting implications with the paper.
Jess: I love it. I love creating it, and there is so much joy and love and sweat and tears that goes into that paper. To me, that means so much more to me than Sophie Tea ever will. Because with Sophie Tea, I thought, “Oh, that’s a nice way to kill the day”. It wasn’t this amazing passion project.
Britain Uncovered: Did it make you feel any differently about yourself at all? Did you come away from Sophie Tea’s event feeling empowered, inspired or more body confident, at least?
Jess: No, and I think it’s utter bullshit to think that one day is going to change your perception of yourself.
I think it was one day of perceived empowerment that was fake. I don’t think that changed me a lot. I think it can facilitate conversations you can have with yourself if you weren’t self-aware; but my degree is contingent on me being self-aware. My parents raised me to be incredibly self-aware. It’s why I can label certain activities I do as ‘an eating disorder’, whereas other people wouldn’t, because they’re not self-aware. Which isn’t me going, “Haha, I’m so impressive”, it’s just because I was raised in a way that makes me very, very self-aware – and also quite self-critical.
I wasn’t looking for empowerment, that’s not what I was looking to get out of Sophie Tea. I was already very confident – what I was looking to get out of Sophie Tea was a fun day and free pizza. Honestly, I was filling in the form and thinking, “This is very boring”, and then it said, “Do you have any dietary requirements”, and I thought, “Ah, so there will be food. Sweet, I’ll go.” I’m not joking, that was a genuine thing.
Not everything has to have this crazy, intense impact. I get way more joy, long-term satisfaction and happiness from sharing tea with my best friend, on that sofa, talking about absolutely nothing. You can just have fun and enjoy life, and I know that’s easy for me to say because I’m only 20 years old, but I think that’s an alright place to start. I think people can put pressure on certain events, and think, “Well this is going to empower me”. The only thing that will ever empower you is yourself.
Britain Uncovered: You can’t place expectations on an external event to change your views about yourself long-term going forwards.
Jess: If your empowerment comes from somebody else, then your empowerment is contingent on that somebody else giving you empowerment. We live in a society that places a lot of female worth on external validation based on looks.
Britain Uncovered: We talk in a lot of our interviews about the link between nudity and self-acceptance, and I admire the fact that, for you, being naked around others isn’t the major event that it might be for some people; and it feels normal and natural in the most positive way imaginable.
Jess: Well in school you have changing rooms and people comment on each other. Some days I would get in the car with my Dad on the drive home and I’d be like, “Oh Dad, people said this and that.” And he would say, “Okay, how did that make you feel”?
It was a 30-minute drive home, so I’d get the support, but then he would also say, “Okay, but why the fuck do you give a shit? You want to be a writer, do you think people aren’t going to critique you? You want to do anything, you think people aren’t going to say anything? It sounds like the moment you face some criticism…”, and I was like, “But Dad, it was everybody in the room”, and he was like, “So? Do you like any of them? Do you care about other people’s opinions? Is that how we’re defining ourselves now”?
With my parents, those conversations don’t get dropped. My parents would say, “Why is your self-worth contingent on other people? You can choose to let this affect you, and it’s going to effect you for the rest of your life; or, you can not.” Everyone experiences bullying at school. I experienced name-calling, rumours, lies – but I always looked it as, “This will be a funny story to tell in five years time, it will be fine.” And that doesn’t mean that when something bad happens I don’t get upset and I don’t cry, of course I do. I can spend 10 minutes crying when I’m sad, and then I think, “We can be sad about this, but is this actually helping? No.” I’d think, “Can I change this? No. Right, what can I do in this situation? I can control my emotions and how I react. And what can I learn from this?” There is no point being upset or sad about it. I think being able to let go of that point – while still learning from it and still experiencing it – is really important.
And maybe that’s why nudity wasn’t such a big deal to me. Me getting naked at either catwalk and having naked photoshoots isn’t a big thing. I don’t treat it like, “Oh my god, I’m addicted to this affirmation of being nude,” where I just shoot up and get my next hit of nudity. That’s not how I view it.
Britain Uncovered: What would you say does appeal to you about these kind of nude events?
Jess: It’s just a fun way to spend a few hours. I think body confidence is a really important thing, and I think there are many forms to go about achieving it – it’s not just through having shoots like this. And then honestly, I like spending time with you and Verity. Photoshoots are a fun way to do that, it’s a good time. That’s a pretty big part of it.
With me, it’s ingrained. For my Instagram page and me as a person, these ideals and concepts are ingrained and natural. Being naked is not this big event, it’s a very natural thing. Of course I’m going to do something about body confidence, because it’s important; and of course I’m going to be open about nudity, because I think it’s important to facilitate these conversations. But it’s not, “Oh my god, this is an empowering experience”, or, “Oh my god, I’m a martyr to the cause.”
I feel confident, I really like body confidence and I think it’s important that we continue to promote it.
On a personal note, I would like to extend a warm thanks to Jess for welcoming us into her home and for providing such an insightful, honest interview. This was the sixth time we've collaborated with Jess since we first met at Sophie Tea's event in 2019, and her ongoing efforts to promote body confidence and to desexualise the human body continue to be hugely refreshing and inspiring.
- 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.