Body Positivity

Eliza Lawrence chats to us about the role of bodies in the messy world of sex


What inspired you to set up Was It Good For You?

I grew up in a liberal society with a liberal family and was lucky to be able to think what I wanted. Sex was something that was still very much hidden, I think it's hard being a parent and a friend. Yes, I would confide in parents and sisters but there is a reason for friendship. Those are the people you kiss on sleepovers and play with the same boy’s hair whilst your holding each others hands.

I found my friend's were a confession box, as I grew up my confessions went speeding through the box. Then going to university meeting people from all corners of the world I saw that confessions were wildly different.

I also saw a dramatic struggle to voice feelings and experiences surrounding sex.  Being naked made people feel naked, whilst others just left their lacy lingerie on; telling the stories that sounded good. A sexual bravado if you like. I wanted seconds. These people who I was falling in love (both friends, foe and lovers) were all talented, intelligent and so I saw an opportunity where people could discuss sex openly but through the guise, the tunnel, the microscope of their own weapons, creativity.

Art, poetry, film and photography often are best when they hold a magnifying glass to a depth of society. Sex IS, unfortunately a depth as we still often remain anonymous and hide when we talk about it. Wasitgoodforyou is here to display the chaos in the rubble so we can build a society that doesn’t hide and instead explores sex.

What do you think about the relationship between sex and bodies?

Sex involves a dance between two bodies, or more if that’s what your into. You are using your body and the others to glide along a ballroom bed. I think if one is confident in their body and is loving of the other, the sex is majestic. Imagine if you didn’t trust your own dance moves. Often you would look rigid and maybe even worse, you wouldn’t dance. The relationship is integral. I used to really dislike my body. Looking in the mirror I would find the worst bits. I think it takes strong self love or a passionate partner to know that you are worth every blood cell and wrinkle of the skin. I hope everyone finds that.

You talk about the messy world of sex. Why? 

The mess is that no sex is the same. Sex changes from gender, race, tradition, religion, situation, age. The list goes on. I could never know how a woman feels having sex for the first time in a tube carriage, or an anarchist lesbian does in Russia. It is so individual, so different and continually becoming so whilst we seek to become even more individual and break from tradition. I guess without making a long spiel, I seek to hear all these different stories, in order to fit the mess into a titillating puzzle.

Food and sex are often seen as metaphors of each other. What do you think about this?

Being horny is like being hungry, although I definitely have more food than sex. I think I prefer food too. The media sells food as it does sex. The British Marks and Spencer’s adverts are much like the Dior adverts. The formula is, get a sexy voice, maybe even a sexy women and make the product look good so we buy it. The food industry, especially with our savage meat production is much like one of the modelling agencies I first went into when I was young. Young, fresh women sold off because of what they look like. Just as you would get a lamb shank that was tender, lean and within its sell by date. Although I think we are doing better, the internet is a double edged sword really. There is a Utopia out there and I see glimmers with this issue and others like it promoting healthy real bodies and talent over beauty but there are still also remnants of the ‘meat market’ Margaret Atwood once wrote about.

Why do you think people are so afraid of the mess of sex/bodies?

Sex is a competitive business. It all comes from affection, and that is often hard. One often has to win over a lover out of many others and often you feel like that younger child who never gets picked for the football team. The beauty industry shows what’s appealing and if you aren’t getting any, they show ways to get it, a formula of white teeth, gym sessions and so on. So if your lonely why wouldn’t you? Self love,  knowing you're good enough and people will pick you, want you or love you. They will desire you and one-day fight with you over what neighbourhood you want to live in. …WILL HAPPEN.

What impact do you think sex/ physical contact has on our relationship to bodies?

All I can say is that when I was touched as if I was the most appealing, the most desirable, and the most wanted women in the world every hair stood on end and my body glowed. But then it can also just be from a stare and it is like wrapping a huge warm blanket around your body.

How can sex contribute to a change in our understanding and emotional experience of the body?

I think sexuality can be found before sex and it is the biggest contributor in changing understanding and emotional experiences and especially when you talk about and share these.I masturbated from a very young age. Kept it in my room. Under the covers. I felt safe there and every orgasm was a thank you to my body for keeping me standing, sleeping, eating, being. Not until I opened up about it did I know the force of my sexuality. I felt special and when others told me they did it too It was a community I was exhilarated being a part of. My body became stronger knowing others were aware pleasure could be found on your own, and a pleasure that is literally other worldly.

Visit to explore sex stories of mess, chaos, love, pain and first time experiences

Helen Benigson: The artist using her own body as her site of research


What do you think about bodies, diet culture and our relationship to fat?

I am interested in using my body as a point of research: a space, a site, a performing mechanism. Clean living references a contemporary idea of care and nourishment, within a very specific community of privilege. Dieting is a broader concern and has to do with a performed control of the body.  I am constantly defining and redefining what fat is. Is fat only the extra thick coating of sugared layers on the body just before the layer of skin? Or is it something more? Fat adds heaviness to bodies and creates anxiety.

What do you think about exercise and working out?

I love working out and getting strong, even if it is just to listen to good music with no interruptions. I am interested in the sweat, the smell, the work out paraphernalia, the gym, the territory associated with this.

Why do you use these words "fat" "stressful" and "anxious" in your work? 

I enjoy fatness and ideas around fat, but at the same time, explore flatness in my work. Fatness and flatness is something I employ in my practice, like anxiety, as a material substance. I add more to my work and try and fatten it, but at the same time flatten it out, printing and thinning. During my PhD I became pregnant as a way of researching a transformation of my own body through a biological thickening. After I gave birth, I flattened out again. Fat can be a dirty word but it can also be rich and expressive. With weight, comes heaviness, knowingness, knowledge and time.   

Could you explain what your work aims to explore?

I am researching the performance and structuring of embodiment, intimacy and the maternal within online and virtual spaces. The Internet frames, resituates and tries to claim notions and rituals around the body, the maternal, the family, sex, exchange and I am deeply fascinated by this.

Your exhibition "Anxious, Stressful, Insomnia Fat" explores weight, the online and emotional experiences. What inspired you to use the medium of the body and weight to explore such anxieties?

My exhibition A S I F (!) (such good initials I didn’t realise before!!)  was Inspired by a recent health app purchase called “Glow” that monitors women’s bodies. The exhibition set out to interrogate the flatness prescribed by the Internet onto the body, confronting the strange continuum existing between our dematerialised, virtual lives and our ‘real-life’ selves. The exhibition at Carroll / Fletcher followed on from my exhibition and residency Weightloss Utopias at Site Gallery, Sheffield which centred on issues of weightlessness and the perception of physical mass within online space. During the residency, I staged a series of real and scripted weight-loss support groups that took place within a multi-screen video installation. These weight-loss support group members then became avatars – digitalized versions of themselves within my videos, questioning the dematerialisation of the body through coding and information. 

Your work deals intimately with the body and you feature in your work. But, how do you feel about your body since having a child for example?

Its really weird - my body did completely transform after birth and obviously during pregnancy and its hard not to put a value judgement on it. I had mastitis after having a baby which was traumatic. I have been working with this trauma in my most recent video “Blockage”. 

What interests you about how the online/ digital world affects our relationships to bodies? 

The Internet has become so normal and our technology has bled into our bodies at a rapid and frightening rate. For example, looking at your phone more than at your partner or speaking to your phone more than listening to your child. By deciphering my own body, a corporeal holding of brain, flesh, organs; secreting, smelling, beating, bleating, uploading, bleeding, as distinct to a political, cultured or technologised embodiment, I can begin to decipher what happens to my body when it is simulated on screen through coding and information presented as text, images and sound. The commercialised space it inhabits online necessitates exchange and transaction, without the visceral jelly-like smell of real life. 

See more of Helen's work on her website here