VIA| It’s the middle of the day in London’s Piccadilly Circus, a bustling place full of locals and tourists alike, and just about as public as you can get. That’s why the sight of a young woman shucking off her dress might seem a bit alarming.
Yet over the weekend, that’s just what happened. A woman by the name of Jae West did just this, only she wasn’t trying to titillate anyone. Standing there in her bra and underwear, she was actually trying to get across a powerful message about acceptance.
Sound like a weird way to go about it? Read on.
This is not a very easy action to perform.
After stripping down, West blindfolded herself and rested a handwritten sign against her shins. She held out her arms, and in her hands she held a number of markers. People were beginning to notice. “I could feel a shift of attention and confusion stirring in the air,” West writes of her experience. “My heart was racing while all the worst case scenarios were going through my head.”
In case you’re concerned about her safety, West was accompanied by two teammates, filming the action and ready to step in if anything unsafe happened.
Soon, a crowd had gathered. People stared at West, but they also stared at her sign.
West says that this idea came to her after watching a TED talk with musician Amanda Palmer, who recounted a tale of stripping naked and letting fans draw on her. The idea is that we are often so much harsher on ourselves than others are, and that we judge ourselves for flaws that other people don’t even perceive.
“With the growing prevalence of eating disorders and self-esteem issues around the world, this public act of self-acceptance aims to get people to question the true relationship that they have to themselves and body image,” West explains.
This was one of the first people to draw a heart on West. Soon, others rapidly followed suit.
People were stepping up right and left to doodle a heart on West, as well as to offer their support.
“One of the most moving and inspiring moments for me was listening to a father explain to his children what I was doing,” West says. “He was acknowledging the fact that everyone should love themselves exactly as they are and appreciate the bodies that they are given.”
The police did show up. West’s performance was perfectly legal, but they stuck around until the end to make sure she was safe. After redressing, this happened:
At the end of the day, West went home covered in Sharpie hearts. “Just the thought of looking down at my body and seeing it covered in love hearts from other people brought tears to my eyes,” she recalls. “It was a reality check of how harsh we can be on ourselves. The unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves can cause us to reject the love that others openly give because of a feeling of unworthiness.”
Read the rest of West’s recount of her experience on the Inspiralight blog, where you can also learn more about other social experiments.