Future Prairie Radio Season Three Episode Six: Body Confidence with Alex Schmidt
I’m Alex Schmidt, aka Body Confidence. My pronouns are she, they, or thine. I also like thine. I am an artist and an athlete. I run Dyke Soccer, I also do a lot of community organizing, Dyke Soccer, but also Queer Speed Cruising. I co-organized Dyke TV screenings with Ainara Tiefenthäler. I am pursuing my MFA at Hunter for art. I say combined media, which for me, is mostly social practice, but also quilting and videos, and I make a lot of merch. I make these Gay Gap shirts that have been really fun to see spreading around on new friends and strangers all over the world. And especially during quarantine, I’ve been doing a lot more figure modeling than ever before. So, before quarantine, I was figuring modeling for a consistent group every month, which is how I met Joni, and then I’ve been hosting weekly figure modeling sessions on Zoom, bringing out like a lot more of my characters, so finding ways to blend it with my performance work and my social and community organizing work. I’m busy. It’s how I manage my anxiety.
I am half Barbara Corcoran, half like, this dyke community organizer, service-oriented person, definitely an entrepreneur and financially savvy, and like to run businesses. And I also feel like extremely committed in terms of what I’m going to leave the world with like, to changing things. And most of all, helping people find connection, not just dating though, that’s great, but finding community, finding support, finding mental health care, finding a doctor, finding places to live.
Dyke Soccer is a network right now of about 1000 people that spans between New York, LA, and DC. So we have three chapters, and it’s a financially accessible, queer-inclusive soccer team that’s more of a pickup league than a pay to play situation, where you sign up for an entire season. We are free for anyone who needs it and are non-competitive, and definitely are about like owning sort of dyke power in soccer, and taking over the fields with that. For most of us in our lives, that was something that was really missing, like, this queer inclusive sports culture. I had stopped, like, I played soccer my whole life and had stopped playing because there just wasn’t a place for me, or for most of my now teammates. And now through quarantine, we’ve been doing mental health check-ins every week and like, growing a lot closer emotionally, but I think that’s built on creating this community space, kind of out of thin air a little bit.
And that kind of blends with Queer Speed Cruising as a pretty similar community, or like a big community overlap. Queer Speed Cruising is an event I run with my friend, Lily Marotta. And it’s a speed cruising dating event. We call it cruising, because dating feels like going on an interview or like, yeah, looking at someone’s LinkedIn profile and deciding if you’re going to get married. And we find that queer modes of flirting and finding each other could be like, sitting down with someone for three minutes, talking to them, learning you have a lot in common with their roommate, who then connects you to like an open studio, which is where you end up meeting your partner. So cruising as like a form of loose flirting and meeting and connection building, and it’s built on a lot of comedy. We have referees, which is like the role for our Dyke Soccer players and a goofy like, slideshow that plays. We haven’t done it in the past few months because of quarantine.
I’ve been figure modeling basically since I moved to New York about eight years ago. It would be like you’re paid $50 and it’s like, five people watching you and I definitely, you know, was trying something new, but also definitely found that it was like a really perfect balance for me between performance and body movement. But I don’t really know what to call it because it is just like posing, holding a pose. It feels so meditative for me, and I love seeing everybody’s way of seeing me, or perception of me in all their drawings.
So I’ve always been saying like, “God, I wish I could do this more.” And I ended up meeting a group that’s run by my friend Colleen called Sunday Salons.” And that is how I started doing it like, somewhat more consistently, so like once a month, and it felt like a much safer group, because it’s a vast majority of womxn in this group. But also, it’s mostly Colleen’s friends, or like Colleen’s community that I was posing for. And so I didn’t necessarily know a lot of the people before I started posing for that group.
And then with this pandemic, Colleen and I were talking about it as like, a possibility, like to try it virtually. We posted about it, shared it with this group. And that’s sort of the group that was like the foundation for now over the last couple of months, figuring out an even broader community that I think - because I’m organizing it - is like very queer, very explicitly financially inclusive, which is super central to all the projects I do, especially Dyke Soccer and Queer Speed Cruising. There’s always the option of coming, even if you can’t afford to pay. And that’s kind of, to me, like one way that a community can function as just like on an honor code system.
It’s been really interesting navigating my boundaries and sense of safety and security of doing this thing that’s always felt like super freeing. I love being naked. I love naked beaches. I love walking around the house naked. I don’t have any shame getting naked in front of people, as long as they’re respectful and for the most part, womxn and/or queer. But doing it on the internet has been - you know - like a total new experience, so many possibilities like, I can show so much more. I have so much more control over what the set looks like, what I’m dressed as, what the angle is that people are seeing me from. And also, there are ways that I have so much less control, because there’s a big difference between being in a room of 10 people IRL, where you can see everyone and what they’re doing, and having like 100 people and kind of wanting to find a balance between being able to spread my legs and be shameless, but also just protect myself, and be able to continue that kind of vulnerability and presence without getting hurt.
And I don’t totally know what that means. I can imagine a couple scenarios, but mainly it’s about just not having to worry, like, wanting to not worry about it, because I truly feel like this is something I’ve realized I can do that makes me feel really, really, really in my body, which is something that feels impossible to do with people right now. So to be able to do that while being with the energy of like, 100 plus people, just feels like an insane gift to have during this time when I feel super isolated, and I know a lot of other people are, too.
Because they’re growing every week too, or changing, or I’m figuring out new things that are working. I’m always kind of nervous and trying to make sure it all goes right. So I never know sometimes whether it was an profesh session or was really messy, because I’m really working, so there’s so many things going on. But this person said that going to the session woke up a part of them that had been sleeping, and that really, really resonated with me. I mean, it just feels insane to be doing something that would have that effect on somebody. And I also feel the same, like, I feel that this has completely reset or shifted my way of seeing myself. I’d just like gotten truly hundreds of messages from—in part, because when people register, they can leave a little note. But like, hundreds of messages of people saying like, this is, like, it’s a consistent thing that a lot of people are returning to, which I think is helpful for me also. Some people have started bringing their moms into it, and I often pin my video on a mom, it’s soothing to know that that’s more the demographic I’m excited about than like, someone I don’t trust. I’m like, “I’ll just focus on the moms and not worry about the one or two people I don’t know.”
Like, yeah, I feel a lot of people are running into friends in these rooms, or drawing from all over the world, from places I’ve never been. So that’s also just like a wild feeling to be connecting across the world like that. I have like a gut feeling that I know what body confidence means, but I also don’t. I think a lot of times people think body confidence just means like, what it kind of means culturally now, which is sort of just like, yes, your body, like, woohoo, or something. And I do feel that, but I’m also kind of like, part of it… Like, my story is that I have lived with a lot of eating disorders and body dysmorphia, and depression. And it’s not like I was born confident in my body, or that I feel comforted every day or that the risks that I take don’t keep me up at night for like, a week straight.
It’s just kind of, I think for me, trying to always remind myself that I want to feel in my body, and I want to make decisions that come from a kind of presence inside of in my body. And it sounds really vague, but I guess it’s just when I moved, or right when I moved to New York, I had a really bad job, I had a whole mental break and became yoga certified, and just got really into that simple idea of being in your body. And that doesn’t really mean much more than it sounds like. But in terms of figure modeling, I think a lot of times the assumption of figure modeling is like, the model is an object and it’s usually, especially, the female body is going to be passive and in repose, and not particularly powerful.
I am very blessed with like a super jacked muscular body. And in my figure modeling, I try to heighten that or heighten creases, make angles come from below so that I’m not just serving angles and poses that are about flattering myself to fulfill some kind of gaze, but also anything like, consistent. I like shape shifting my gender and my character. And I believe that I’m an artist as the model - versus a model in this context is usually referred to as “the model.” And I mean, maybe I’m saying I’m a muse or something, but I really like, I’m an artist. These are choices I’m making. These are angles I’m taking like, this isn’t just a passive body that you’re looking at, and then it’s like a given. It’s like these are, I’m trying to, like heighten the lens and choose the lens.
And I think, I don’t know always what that means in relationship, the name body confidence. It’s sort of like a nickname that’s stuck because of my handle. But it also does mean being a really buff dyke. That’s like, getting naked and trying to like move from laughter, and humor and failure and empathy, and shamelessness. And all those things like are pretty rare to see, I think. Even if sometimes it feels completely natural to me. It’s been really interesting. I don’t know - there have been so many different things I have dealt with in my personal life and figuring out what feels good and trying to understand why I’m doing this, and not other things that I was doing before. I’ve gone through all kinds of like waves of guilt and fear with it. But when I’m actually doing the thing, I don’t feel that way. It’s more of like, anticipation or post social anxiety, or those kinds of feelings that are a lot about criticizing myself or trying to distract myself from peace by finding things to pick at or something.
But I think the big thing has been really figuring out what my boundaries are and making them super clear and not apologizing for it. And some of that really just took like, for example, I asked the people don’t take photos or video or people are not allowed to take photos or videos unless they’ve asked for consent ahead of time. And that is just because I realized a few times a couple people posted a video or told me that they’d made a drawing from the photo they’d taken. And I realized I wasn’t comfortable with that. And it wasn’t anyone’s fault for taking photos. I’d even kind of encouraged that before. I just realized like as the thing grew, I didn’t really want this free-wheeling house mouth policy around my body. I want there to be limitations like - you are attending this live performance, and that’s what it is. That’s what you’re paying for. That’s what you signed up for. And that’s what I’m giving you, and I’m not giving consent to more than that. Because that’s where it starts to snowball out of control.
Of course, people might still take photos. They might still go outside of that, but they are at this point, so many things in the way that everybody before I send them a link, meaning that I just confirm that they are who they say they are, cismen need to be vetted by someone in the group or at least, write me a really good sob story or something, a really good application.
And that’s kind of like enough, because at the end of the day, I am someone that like loves to be naked at the beach and someone could take a photo of me there too, and I don’t have any shame around what I’m doing. I’m literally a preschool teacher, like the families there could find out about what I’m doing. So it’s like, the stakes could be considered kind of high for me, but I just don’t think I’m doing anything wrong. I think it’s my body and I don’t consent to being related to as a thing that’s bad to be seen naked on the internet. I don’t think a photo of me from this ends up in someone’s email box and my life is over. I just don’t even know who that would be.
So I mean, maybe I’m having... I like to think that I just don’t have enough forethought or something like what if I want to be a politician or something? But I’m like, well, that’s the kind of politician I would be. I would be a politician that has naked photos of her all over, out of her control. Because that’s a piece of me that I’m comfortable with, and I’m proud of.
I definitely am like a future thinker all the time, thinking about, like, scheming about next steps and plans. I have so many fantasies for the future of Dyke Soccer, the future of my figure modeling, the future of different work I want to make, or events I want to host. I think that’s where we’re at right now, as much as I don’t want COVID to be happening, I think what the mutual aid organizing that’s going on looks like is a lot of what our future could start to look like and hopefully, start to show people the importance of living proactively and doing things, even though they’re not going to be perfect the first several times, you do it and it definitely will never be perfect ever.
But I do think there’s a lot of passivity and it comes from totally a lot of understandable fear, like, fear of cancel culture, fear of like just doing, like, getting in trouble, or doing the wrong thing. And it is at the expense of our power. And so I’m just like really about building our own systems and maybe through those systems and building power, like soccer, for example. It means that I now have like 1000 voices together. And that’s a group that can come together to demand change in a lot of other ways, but it does start with finding your community, and investing in it and like putting yourself out there. You know, like, going on a limb and inviting somebody you’ve never talked to before to do something with you because you really believe in like what you want to see in the world. And that could be different for everybody, for sure. It’s definitely a lot of work. But the payoff ultimately would be all of our power and our rights not being in the hands of people that don’t understand like, don’t buy into our philosophy, which I guess I’m assuming for listeners, but my philosophy is definitely don’t hurt people, support your community, take what you need, leave the world more beautiful than you found it, laugh and check in on your elders. These kinds of like, just almost small town Midwestern values, but applied to a clear world.
Cancel culture is to me a super big bummer. And it definitely like, I’ve had comments, trolly comments on like things I’ve done, or people like trying to come for me or telling me to stop or whatever. Like, all the time, it happens all the time when you’re especially trying to create things for the queer community, because the queer community is really sensitive, really aware, really wants to make sure everything’s being done ethically and correctly. Unfortunately, a lot of times that stuff does happen in a public sphere, versus happening directly, where they would sort of call in, which is what I would advocate for. And I think one thing you can do to like, absolve yourself of at least like a small percentage of cancel culture fear is to practice calling in yourself and start building that culture yourself, and within your own community. And just like really, that means that initiating tough conversations from a place of like, genuinely wanting to resolve them and understand each other and not just judging people and coming for people without considering their point of view or perspective. And then obviously, they won’t always agree [and that is when you might choose to “call out”].
You can’t always control how people are going to see you, and you do have to sometimes just stand your ground. And I think my advice for people that are sitting on ideas, I definitely sit on ideas, because I’m worried because I want it to be done perfectly when I do it or I don’t want someone to steal my idea. So I don’t even want to put it out there, because I don’t want it to be taken. I do think most of our ideas are probably bad, and so we should probably just try all of them and get them out of our system so that we can move on to the next one.
And the ones that are good, people will always get inspired from good things, but it’s so worth trying. And the first time you try anything, you learned a billion things you would do differently the next time and that’s why you have to start because you actually don’t know until you do it and it’s not perfect and you get to do it again. So I think that that’s part of it. It’s like, stop tricking yourself into thinking that you have this perfect little crystallized idea. You just need to drop it, because it’s, you’re going to do it and then be like, “Oh, this actually... I never thought of that until I did it and a few people mentioned this thing.” Or, “it was harder to make than I expected,” or whatever. People will have things to say. And have a good friend who loves laughing at that stuff with you, because it will happen.
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