Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Women Only Festival –clothes optional.

August 31, 2009 by  
Filed under Activism



This guest post is from Elaine Maly, Executive Director of the Women’s Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to social change through women and girls.


August always makes me think of the Michigan Women’s Music Festival

It’s an annual gathering of thousands of women, in a “women only” space. I attended for four years in the late 90s, and it was one of the most nurturing things I’ve ever done for myself. The event is about the music and the incredible cooperation, but mostly it’s about women loving and accepting one another.

The culture at the festival is clothes optional and it’s one of the things that first timers like I was can’t help but spend the first few hours nervously giggling about.

Let me preface the rest of my comments by letting you know that I am not a lesbian, or a nudist (and never will be) and only about half of the festival audience ends up taking off some or all of their clothing (depending on the weather).

It was hot that first day. After I stopped tittering like a kindergartner, I observed every body size and shape, every color and pattern of body hair, and scars that ranged from delicate to brutal, I started to get it.

I will never forget the site of the brave survivor of breast cancer who bared her chest and walked unapologetically through the crowd. I was struck with the insight that we cover up and we are embarrassed about our bodies as though we did something wrong. As though that mole or that high butt was some how caused by a deficiency in character or lack of discipline. That breast cancer survivor didn’t do anything wrong, so why should she be ashamed.

So, how can I justify being obsessed with my paunchy belly and surgery scar? I didn’t do anything wrong either.

By the end of the six day festival, I was standing in line to get my chest painted, along with several hundred other women and I felt proud of my body. It’s an interesting piece of equipment, full of hereditary nuances and battle scars acquired along the way. It takes me where I need to go and it gives me pleasure. It’s a good body and I’m glad to have it. Appreciating my body is part of loving myself.

And women’s bodies, in all their variations, are no doubt beautiful.


Read more about the Elaine Maly




No Responses to “Women Only Festival –clothes optional.”
  1. KM says:

    “Let me preface the rest of my comments by letting you know that I am not a lesbian”

    Is there something wrong with being a lesbian? Do you think that people will not attend if there are lesbians in attendance? Why is this necessary to say?

    • greenbunny78 says:

      maybe because some people are not comfortable admitting looking at the naked form of the same sex, or admitting they do it, for fear they will be judged as gay, or as though something is wrong with them. I don’t think she meant it in the aspect that there is something wrong with being a lesbian. To some people, they feel the need to explain themselves- whether or not its necessary- it is to them. There is truly an awful lot of judgment on this blog. It makes me sad.

      • lissa10279 says:

        I loved this post, and am (sadly) not surprised that the only thing called out from so far was the lesbian comment, which I am sure was just for context — it wasn’t meant as anything except to note/distinguish that Elaine typically isn’t looking at women with the same eye a homosexual woman might look at another woman; and through this experience, she was mesmerized by the looks/shapes of all these women’s bodies and it gave her an appreciation of her own. Personally, I found this post awesome. I’d welcome Elaine’s comments.

      • KM says:

        I agree that she had good intentions, and the event sounds like a good one. However, I disagree with the idea that as readers, we are supposed to let statements like this slide.

        I hear people make statements similar to this – “but I’m not GAY or anything!” – and I find them deeply problematic. It implies there is something wrong with being gay, and that people are afraid of being hit on by a gay person (as though it were any different than being hit on by a straight man that you aren’t attracted to).

        Instead of saying this, she could have said, “this is an event that welcomes all women, straight, gay, bi, trans, etc.” and not sent the message to any gay readers that they are less than.

        You may be sad by the comments that you see, but I find it sad that the people on this blog aren’t as interested in being inclusive of ALL readers as they proclaim.

      • Clare says:

        No she probably didn’t mean to come across as someone who believes there is something wrong with being a lesbian. However this post is being read in the context of a society that generally doesn’t go that easy on lesbians.

        When one person denies being a lesbian they aren’t just saying I’m straight. They are saying lesbianism is other, strange, and undesirable. Something to distance yourself from. No, they didn’t mean too, and it’s unfortunate but that is the context that society gives it.

        It does sound very inspiring. And it is nice to hear about empowering experiences. But still, the implication of those three words remain.

      • Puffalo says:

        KM, I’m pretty sure that unless something has changed and I didn’t hear about it, the Michigan Womyn’s festival doesn’t welcome trans women.
        Also, I understand the I’m not a lesbian comment. Both nudity and women’s bodies tend to be de facto sexualized, even in non-sexual situations. There’s not really a model for looking at other women’s unclothed bodies without desire or jealousy or judgment. And straight women especially mostly see other women’s bodies when they’re meant to sell something, like in magazines, where those bodies are airbrushed and perfect. For someone who hasn’t really seen other women’s bodies as they really are, doing that for the first time could be a novel, affirming experience.

    • mamaV says:

      Hi KM: I understand your frustration, however Elaine’s experience and accolades speak volumes…and you can be rest assured the “I am not a lesbian” comment was not meant to be derogatory in anyway whatsoever.

      A bit of background- Elaine was recognized for her efforts in advancing diversity by Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, and Women’s Fund itself, of which she is Executive Director has developed a Lesbian Fund which you can read more about here:

      If we can stick to the topic of this post it it would be greatly appreciated,
      Thank you!

  2. kate says:

    also, the festival does not allow trans women. so much for being “women-centered.”

    and so much for this: “And women’s bodies, in all their variations, are no doubt beautiful.”

    because apparently the womyn’s music festival does NOT think all women’s bodies are beautiful, only cis women.

    but congrats on not being a lesbian, seriously. i don’t know why i even look at this blog anymore.

  3. Sparkle says:

    Thats really out there.

  4. lissa10279 says:

    I just meant it saddens me that, as GreenBunny noted, that was all KM pulled from the post; our bloggers and guest bloggers are judged pretty harshly and one comment seems to be extracted even when it’s not the intent of the post; it comes with the territory I suppose but that wasn’t the point of the post, and it became the focus. I do see what you’re saying, Clare … it’s just a shame it has to be an issue at all.

    Thanks for sharing that info about Elaine, Heather!

  5. MizFit says:

    As a harriedbusycrazymamawoman who doesn’t seem to have the time for female companionship she used to I read this post and thought, the whole time, HEAVEN.

    Being with women. Being ourselves w/out facades pretense or clothing.

    Simply BEING and being accepted where we are right now.

    In this moment.


  6. greenbunny78 says:

    I am trying really hard to understand the hate towards the posters, and I keep coming up blank.

    The accusations tossed around in the comments here about lack of inclusivity (not sure this is a word…), is somewhat puzzling to me, because this is NOT journalism. This is a BLOG. A collective blog, but a blog nonetheless. A blog by its nature is a collection of thoughts and experiences- the world through the eyes of the blogger. You read someone else’s blog because you can relate, or because you are interested in what they have to say. Constantly attacking the contributors of this blog is just so pointless- they are relating their experiences and thoughts with regards to body image here. Issues with body image is something that most women, regardless of color, race, religion, physical abilities or sexual orientation is something that, in my opinion, is something that all women can relate to. Admittedly there are varying degrees of that experience based on the above conditions- but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss someone because their experience isn’t yours. Or take issue with their choice of words because its not inclusive enough. Either you can relate to their point or you can’t. If what you experience is more extreme than what someone posted, because of race, ect.- it doesn’t mean that the point the poster made is invalid- its just their experience, or their thoughts. You can’t force someone to experience the world through your eyes and say how they see things with your words. That is for you to do. The way I see it, if you don’t think what people here say is relevent to you, that your group is not represented, you have 2 options. 1) decide maybe WATRD is not for you, or 2) apply to be a contributor and make your voice heard.

    I find it puzzling that people often run around shouting and pointing out how different they are from “the norm”- and then get angry when they are treated differently. And that doesn’t mean conforming to the base idea of “normal” (I use quotes because I hate that word- WTF is normal anyway, and who decided it?)

    It just makes me so sad- I think this blog is a great idea. Maybe the point of view is a bit skewed to a certain demographic. I know that they are trying to change that. Its hard though, when people would rather make negative contributions than positive ones. Body image is something that we ALL could make better, if we stood together, white, black, latino, lesbian, disabled, and made a stand that says “no! I am not going to let ANYONE make me feel that I am worth less because of ANYTHING having to do with my body, skin color, size, shape, religion” The best way to make change is to change ourselves- if you don’t give someone a weapon with which to hurt you- they will have a harder time doing it. I am NOT saying that its easy- that you can shed your color, or race, or anything. I am saying that it would be nice if we started on a small scale to accept our differences and stand together, and say “yes, I am different, and maybe I don’t fit someone else’s ideal, and I don’t care, because its not about them”- but how can you expect others to expand their view of the world if you can’t accept that others see things differently, and listen with the respect you would hope someone would give your point of view, your problems, and your experiences.

    So can someone please tell me why my own view on my self worth is worth less then theirs? Or why the contributors of this blog’s experiences and views of things are not important because they are not yours?

    • lissa10279 says:

      Thanks for sharing your feelings, Greenbunny … they are greatly appreciated from this poster 🙂

    • marinasf says:

      Body image is something that we ALL could make better, if we stood together, white, black, latino, lesbian, disabled, and made a stand that says “no! I am not going to let ANYONE make me feel that I am worth less because of ANYTHING having to do with my body, skin color, size, shape, religion”

      That is what many commenters are doing — saying “No! I am not going to let the posters on this blog make me feel that I am worth less because of ANYTHING having to do with my body, skin color, size, shape, religion (or, in this case, sexual orientation).”

      What people don’t seem to be getting is that the posters on this blog are making judgmental comments about women and children (“I am not a lesbian,” “I can’t help cringe for [this little boy] when I envision people mistaking him for a girl,” MizFit’s latest post where she insults anyone outside the “normal” BMI range), all the while claiming to be blogging in an effort to help women feel better about themselves.

      How on EARTH is anyone living up to that mission statement?

      This is not just a personal blog. It’s a blog that is supposed to be living up to a certain set of principles.

      It is failing, miserably.

      We are united on a single cause.

      Cultivating self esteem and positive body image for girls and women.

      Someone telling me I’m fat and lazy is not cultivating self-esteem or positive body image for me.

      Someone dissociating themselves from gay women for no discernible reason (and yes, I get that homophobia exists, that doesn’t mean we have to perpetuate it in our writing) is not cultivating self-esteem or positive body image for me.

      Someone telling me that children who deviate from traditional gender norms makes them “cringe” is not cultivating self-esteem or positive body image for me.

      We speak our personal truth, and we want to listen to you.

      ….except, apparently, when we try to tell you that we feel insulted, belittled, and dismissed by your writing.


      At this point, this place is such a fucking trainwreck that I’m certainly not going to continue bugging you by trying to help you fix the problems that you claim you want to fix, or strive toward the goals you claim you want to achieve, because you’ve proven over and over again that no one gives a shit. I do hope that something clicks for at least some of you one day, and you figure out that being inclusive and supporting *all* women has a lot less to do with the racial diversity of your posters and a lot more to do with your *own* actions, words, and beliefs.

      • KM says:

        Well said. I have tried to create dialogue around these topics, admittedly in a more combative way than was productive (patience is not a virtue of mine), and it looks as though most readers/blog authors are simply not willing to have this discussion at all.

        Strange how putting these ideas out there is viewed as “attacking” or being “negative.” I find it similar to how people who criticize the government’s actions are called out as “unpatriotic.”

        This blog will not grow, because its authors are not willing to listen to ideas from perspectives other than their own. It bothers me that people will run across this blog and think that THIS is the solution to America’s body image woes.

        I would encourage readers to visit Kate Hardings’ Shapely Prose and others within the fat-o-sphere. It’s not just for “fat” women, and I find that these blogs are inclusive of women of all sizes as long as they are an ally to the cause of body acceptance.

      • greenbunny78 says:

        see, but its that combative part that means that people are not going to listen to you. Its not that I have not read some valid points in the comments- but have we never heard of creative criticism? You know, where you first point out something positive before the negative? I guess you can’t do that if you cannot find any valid points made by any of the posters, and if that’s the case, maybe your point should be that as a whole, rather than picking one item to focus on?

        There is a book that I got for my husband- he loved it and thinks I should read it, he thinks the author makes a lot of good points. And maybe he did. Unfortunately, when I went to read the book, it starts out by calling everyone who doesn’t think the way the author thinks a moron. And I didn’t happen to agree with him- so I was put off, and frankly could care less whether or not he had some good points. If you want people to truly listen to you, be more constructive in your criticism. You might get farther.

  7. Juniper says:

    Neat post sounds like an interesting experience.

    To the commenter(s) concerned about the post:
    If you recognize she didn’t mean anything wrong by the comment then tactfully bringing up that it concerned you is as far as you need to go. I’m sure she appreciates hearing your concerns and will take them into consideration in any future posts. Littering the board with negativity doesn’t help anyone including yourself. She, or any of the other posters and commenters, may make comments that you don’t agree with or find judgemental but show me someone who has never done so. Are you perfect? Don’t expect them to be just because they have a self image blog.

  8. jolene says:

    Of course, it’s really freaky to see one of your college professors naked for the first time. 🙂

    Haven’t been to MWMF in 10 years…but it has always been an amazing experience for me.

  9. WeighofLife says:

    I guess nudists (if any are reading), didn’t get offended by the comment made by the author? Oh well, I think the festival sounds like an opportunity to love your body, no matter what it looks like. Sounds like my type of place.

  10. Elaine Maly says:

    Wow! What a healthy dialogue. Thank you. My intention in stating that I am not a lesbian was as lissa10279 says on September 1. However, the critics make a good point and I agree. Why did I feel it was necessary to state? Do I think that lesbians only look at each other with a sexuality lens? Of course not. That would be stupid. So, I live and learn.

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