Oct 23 2009 4:11pm

Naked Girls Reading

Naked Girls Reading founder Michelle L’Amour reads from Fahrenheit 451—Photograph by Beau Allulli, used with permission

“I probably shouldn’t say this,” Gigi LaFemme said as she approached the mic, “but I’m actually really nervous. So I’m picturing you all naked.” And the crowd erupted with laughter.

Because Gigi, like all of the women on stage upstairs at Madame X on Friday night, was wearing only high heels and body glitter. It was the New York premier of Naked Girls Reading, a salon reading series founded in Chicago earlier this year that has already spread to five cities across the US, and is about to make its international debut.

The concept is perfectly summed up by its title. At the beginning of the evening, seven women, six performers from New York’s Pinchbottom Burlesque troupe and special guest Michelle L’Amour, founder of Naked Girls Reading, walked on stage, promptly dropped their robes, and sat demurely on couches and upholstered chairs. One by one, each rose and read to the vocally appreciative audience from books they chose and personally loved.

Last Friday’s theme was banned books, and there were readings from erotic classics Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Delta of Venus, as well as from books banned for non-sexual controversies like The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird. Host Nasty Canasta kicked off the night by reading from the Comics Code of 1954, which stated the figures of authority were always shown to be virtuous, that divorce should never be shown as desirable, and of course, nudity was “strictly forbidden.”

The effect on the crowd, mostly couples, was intoxicating. During the erotic readings, there were hoots and hollers. When Jo Boobs read a shockingly explicit passage from 1748’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, involving two women holding a third’s legs wide apart for the pleasure of a young man, the catcalls came loud and fast. But during the non-erotic readings, the audience fell into rapt attention. Gal Friday’s staccato, deadpan reading of American Psycho was an electric thrill of watching a broken mind at work.

But the performance of the night belonged to Sapphire Jones, who read the Death of Snowden scene from Catch-22. Standing tall and straight as a lamppost, with light inflection and perfect rhythm, Sapphire evoked the bleak sorrow of Yossarian’s inability to save, or even comfort, the dying Snowden beyond feebly repeating “There, there. There, there.” That she was tall, trim, and not wearing a stitch of clothing meant very little by the end of her reading, compared to the stark beauty of Joseph Heller’s devastating prose.

Rather than end the evening on such a powerful but distinctly down-note, Nasty Canasta returned with a reading from 2009’s most banned book of the year, a sharp reminder that the suppression of literature is a continuing problem. The book, And Tango Makes Three, is a children’s picture book about Roy and Silo, the two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who successfully hatched and raised a chick. Nasty’s enthusiastic, schoolmarm reading brought the house down.

Host Nasty Canasta reads from And Tango Makes Three—Photograph by Beau Allulli, used with permission

Originally founded because Michelle L’Amour enjoyed reading naked and her fiancée enjoyed watching her read naked, and the realization other men and women might feel the same way, Naked Girls Reading has clearly evolved into something more than just titillation. It is titillating, but after the first thrill of the initial disrobing, the pleasure of seeing beautiful women undressed fades besides the sense of intimacy achieved from someone bearing both their body and their soul at the same time. It was a remarkable experience.

Naked Girls Reading has upcoming events in Chicago, Dallas, Key West, and Madison, and is coming soon to Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle, Wisconsin, and Sao Paulo. The next New York event, on December 9th, is A Christmas Carol, from Charles Dicken’s original performance text. It promises to be quite an improvement on the Jim Carrey version.

Steven Padnick enjoys naked girls and reading.

1. Laughingrat
Those women all look well above the age of majority to me.

I understand, though: calling adult women "girls" is a code by which to call them "Available sexbots" as opposed to "Fellow human beings." You should all be super proud. I guess 3/4 of the way through a month featuring steampunk--a sci-fi genre a little friendlier to women than some others--it was finally time to remind us ladypants of our proper place in sci-fi and in general: prone.
Torie Atkinson
2. Torie
@ 1 Laughingrat

The name of the organization is, indeed, Naked Girls Reading. As in, Ms. L'Amour presumably chose that name herself for her own organization.

Let's not insult Steven for proper attribution.
3. jere7my
I'm confused, Laughingrat. The author consistently refers to the participants as women (" all of the women on stage upstairs at Madame X on Friday night..."), except in the tag, which is a reference to the title of the event — which was chosen as a self-label by the women organizing it. If they want to call themselves girls, I'm not going to say they shouldn't.

The existence of sex-positive women who are comfortable with their bodies performing women-run burlesque shows shouldn't remind you of your "proper place" — unless you think, as I do, that everyone's "proper place" is doing whatever they think is nifty and fun and empowering.
4. josie pussycat
Doesn't girl mean (in at least one of its many definitions) "female"? I mean, I guess the connotation is "young" in that you wouldn't call your grandmother "girl"...although my grandfather did until they died in their nineties. Hmmm, not really sure what's offending you, if anything. But it sure sounded strange for you to make such a case about it.

Anyway, I wasn't there, but I sure as hell will be next time.

Yay naked nude female women reading!
Soni Pitts
5. sonipitts
Actually, with most of the groups I hang out with, the term "girls" is used between women as a lighthearted way of expressing solidarity apart from the cultural understanding of "the boys," "the old boys club," and "boys being boys". As in, "Yeah, we're girls. And we can still kick your butt."
6. Wilson F
Gigi, like all of the women on stage upstairs at Madame X on Friday night, was wearing only high heals and body glitter.

I'm sorry to hear that Gigi had high injuries, but I'm glad they 'healed'.
Lena Vogelmann
7. kalafudra
@ josie pussycat and sonipitts

I didn't think the use of the word "girls" offensive in this case. But it is often used in a deragatory way, expressing that women can not be taken seriously, that they're all children and, as Laughingrat mentioned in comment 1, sexually available.

To use the world girls, you gotta be one yourself. Steven Padnick did the right thing by referring to the women as women except for citing the name of the group.

That said, I'm not sure what to think about this event in general as it walks the thin line between "sexual empowerment of women" and "sexualising women once again for the enjoyment of straight guys (mostly)".
John Massey
9. subwoofer
@Torie- I knew I'd find you somewhere- could you respond to my post on Leigh's TGS blog @115? Some of us are lost even using two hands and a flash, did I mention that I think you're awesome?

10. jere7my
@kalafudra, based on my experiences at burlesque events in Boston, audiences are not "mostly" straight men — they're men and women, young and old, gay and straight. Some of the loudest hoots and hollers come from women, though whether they're queer or straight I can't say. (Some of both, if I had to guess.)

That said, I'm not sure what's wrong with women choosing to get nekkid "for the enjoyment of straight guys." Exploitation is bad, sure, but the burlesque troupes I'm familiar with seem pretty egalitarian, with women in positions of power within the troupe (if not outright running it). What's so worrisome about male sexuality that we should be taken aback when women choose to, ah, stroke it? I'm not sure straight men should feel guilty about getting turned on by women dancing around in pasties and glitter, as long as the women are happy about it. Seems natural to me. (The same goes for any other gender combination, of course.)

Incidentally, if anyone's reading this from Boston, I can enthusiastically recommend The Slutcracker, which is re-opening soon in Somerville. It's a very funny, woman-directed, burlesque Nutcracker parody that's packed with fabulous dancing, titillation, sex-positive messages, and girl power.
11. stalking_goat
Is Steampunk really "friendlier" to women than any other other sci-fi subgenre. I can't see what there is integral to the sub-genre that would make it so.
Ursula L
12. Ursula
Girls? And why only women? If the point is to titillate heterosexual couples, then surely naked men ought to be part of the entertainment. For half the audience, that's what's more sexually interesting.

Sex-positive means that women aren't objects of sex, but equal participants. Having only women doing the naked reading just reinforces the whole stupid idea that sex is something that women provide for men.
13. jere7my
Ursula, the burlesque group running the show (Pinchbottom) does feature unclothed men in their regular shows; you would have to ask them why there are no naked men in this one, and why they chose to use the word "girls" instead of "women" in the name.

If I had to venture a guess, burlesque troupes tend to be mostly women because modern burlesque is presented as a way to get in touch with your body and get over body issues, and in our society that's a need felt more keenly by women.
Lena Vogelmann
14. kalafudra
@ jere7my

I'm not saying that titillating straight guys is wrong per se. Hell, I've enjoyed doing it myself. But the thing is that this burlesque show is not happening in a cultural vacuum - and we do have a culture that tends to objectify women and makes women the passive receptacle of an active male sexuality. Therefore any show that works with the sexuality of women has to be extra careful and, as I said before, walks a fine line.

Now, I don't know on which side of the line this particular show falls, I'd have to see it for myself and I'd probably judge it differently than somebody else.

And I'm not saying that the audience is mostly male either, I'm saying that usually these things are focussed on the male gaze. Erotica Cover Watch where they examine (SURPRISE) the covers of erotic novels and wonder why, although most of the readers are straight women, most of the covers feature women too.]
And the argument that women are there and hollering, too, doesn't count in my book because one, women are taught that sexiness is female and two, women are as much participants in the culture I mentioned above as men.

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