Not many people would stand half-naked in the middle of Boise’s Capital City Public Market and let strangers write all over them. But when performance artist and blogger Amy Pence-Brown decided to make a statement about body image issues by doing just that, she was surprised by the reaction she received.
The video of her experience has gone viral in the last week, with more than 50,000 views. It shows Pence-Brown blindfolded as she stands in the middle of 8th Street in a bikini as the farmers market is in full swing. There's people walking all around her, looking down at a hand-written sign at her feet. The sign reads: "I'm standing for anyone who struggled with a self-esteem issue like me, because all bodies are valuable. To support self-acceptance, draw a [heart] on my body."
Pence-Brown, who calls herself a fat activist and a member of the body positive movement, says she was inspired by an international group that filmed a similar performance piece in London. The video got Pence-Brown wondering, as she notes in her blog, "How would [a performance like this] be received if the woman had been less socially acceptable in appearance, like, fat? And, say, a mom who's nearly 40-years-old? And in a place that was more conservative and less progressive than London like, say, Boise, Idaho?"
Pence-Brown says she was nervous when she stripped down to her bathing suit and slipped on her blindfold that Saturday morning. Her friend and fellow artist Melanie Folwell set up a camera in the crowd and stepped back. Within seconds, the first woman came up to her and took a marker from her hand.
"I was sweating from nerves and you know, 90 degree heat being outside," says the artist. "And feeling that first marker slip from my hand, the sort of relief that came over me – and then hearing the woman’s voice in my ear and she was crying and I started crying and I was so thankful that the blindfold would catch all of the tears that continued to flow over the next hour.”
By the end of that hour Pence-Brown was covered in messages and hearts, some of which read, "Love," "thank you," "you are beautiful" and "stand strong."
Pence-Brown says she was not expecting people to participate so quickly, or to do more than just draw a heart on her.
“It was really overwhelming and it was interesting being blindfolded. I couldn’t see them coming up to me, so I was really focused on being inside my body and the physical feeling of it."
She says one of the most profound moments was when a father knelt down close to her with his two sons.
"[H]e told them to look at me and said, ‘This, this is what a beautiful woman looks like.’”
Pence-Brown says the support she's received from people since the blog post and video went viral has been overwhelmingly positive. She says she doesn't plan on doing this exact performance again, but will continue writing and creating work for the body positive moment.
“This performance art piece was so simple. It cost nothing, other than some bravery and a couple people with a camera and some great minds and some great hearts," she says. "The love that has surrounded this is amazing. And that’s something I can really take away: Sometimes being rebellious and being radical is what people need to sort of open their eyes.”
Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill
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