Flourishing masculinity

Two artists from Lithuania invited twelve men of diverse ages, social classes and sexual orientations to be photographed nude with beautiful floral arrangements to celebrate International Woman’s Day.  The aim of the project is to highlight the vulnerability of men and stereotypes associated with masculinity that are harmful not just to men but women too.

 

“On March 8, it is often said that women are like flowers – beautiful, gentle and delicate. We hope that this year men can also bloom – open up and reveal their vulnerabilities, showing that they are not afraid to be fragile and sensual. Men suffer disproportionately from psychological problems because society teaches them to be emotionless, solve everything by themselves, not ask for help and just keep silent. We chose this ‘feminine’ day for the project because we wanted to go deeper and talk about something that is important for the wellbeing of men and society as a whole. After all, it’s very important to have good and healthy men in our lives,” says one of the project’s authors Neringa Rekašiūtė.

 

“In our society, men are commonly told they must be the provider of the family, exhibit strong, stoic qualities. While these are not bad qualities on their own, the pressure to always be perfect and never falter is harmful to the male psyche. ‘Manly’ professions are more dangerous and high-risk not just physically, but psychologically as well. Men are also more likely to be victims of violent crime. That is why it’s so important to create a safe space for open dialog and allow men to show their vulnerability – that they themselves are searching and don’t always know everything,” says co-author Edita Mažutavičiūtė.

 

Twelve bright and vivid photos show both everyday heroes as well as celebrities like four-time “World’s Strongest Man” Žydrūnas Savickas and Paralympic rower Augustas Navickas. Each photo is accompanied by answers to three questions that help us see a side of them that is often invisible. Men describe their relationships with their fathers and their attitudes towards their own bodies, recount the last time they cried and why.

 

“These twelve interviews strengthened my belief in the transformational power of open discussions and listening. These men were very grateful for the conversations that inspired them to consider some important questions about themselves that their daily routines often prevented them from considering. Even a few wives expressed their support and gratitude because they felt their husbands changed. They became more open and their family relationships improved. That is why I already feel in my heart that this project has made a big difference,” notes artist Neringa Rekašiūtė.

 

“In this age of women, it is important not to leave men behind. Our whole society must grow – not just parts of it. In countries where gender equality is more prominent, male suicide rates are lower, everybody benefits. From whatever angle you look at it, our similarities are greater than our differences. I could see men’s eyes light up during the shoot and I can tell you that we all just want to be seen,” adds Edita Mažutavičiūtė.

Margiris, journalist, 27
Margiris, journalist, 27

When was the last time you cried?

I was watching a movie about my sister, Rūta Meilutytė, and I teared up because it reminded me of her victory in the London Olympics. At that time, I was watching the competition in the city, and when she won, I started crying my heart out. I was walking through city streets and weeping.

Whats your relationship with your dad?

A bit complicated, to be honest. But today I’m much less angry and much more trustful. To be less angry was a conscious decision of mine, since anger only brought more pain to those around me. I decided to keep my dad’s good qualities and reject the bad traits, which I notice in myself as well. I see my own reflection in my dad. I don’t blame him today for not being there when I was growing up – I understand that times were difficult for him, and he had to work so much to support his kids and parents as well. My dad taught me how to read, how to notice injustice and oppose it, and how to be truthful.

Whats your relationship with your body?

I know my body. Perhaps I’m not entirely happy with it, but we’re in synergy. In teenage years, it was awkward for guys to appear nude in front of a girl, to show her your dick, since you’re not yet sure how it works too. But then one time my friends and I went skinny-dipping in the sea; no one said anything, and it became so much easier to undress.

Gerardas, waiter, 22
Gerardas, waiter, 22

When was the last time you cried?

A few weeks ago, actually. I came back from work and cried, because I was totally lost, I was alone, and my mom’s an alcoholic… It all just burst out of me. I have problems expressing my emotions, especially the sadness inside. I should cry more often.

Whats your relationship with your dad?

I don’t have a dad. He met my mom in Palanga and they had a summer affair. Mom got pregnant, and dad got back to his family. He even offered mom some money for an abortion. I’ve never met him. Some time ago, I found a tiny picture of him online, I zoomed in and noticed that he has the same hair. So that’s one good thing I got from him – nice hair. If I ever have my own family, I’ll do everything I can to be a good father. But I need to learn everything, I need to learn how to be a man.

Whats your relationship with your body?

I was actually glad to hear that we’re gonna be naked for this. I can’t understand why a man has to be gay if he moves well? Why can’t men just enjoy their bodies and express them? I appreciate nudity. As a teenager, I used to run to the barbershop every time I noticed a curly hair on my head – I wanted to shave it all off and look like a proper geezer. Today, I’m a whole different person.

Kasparas, business development officer, 36
Kasparas, business development officer, 36

When was the last time you cried?

I went to Kino Deli alone with a bottle of gin punch to see Almodóvar’s film. I was crying of laughter, but also because it hurt inside. I didn’t sob after the breakup with my girlfriend, which was fairly brutal, but I always tear up when watching videos about nature and Africa, especially when I’m hungover.

Whats your relationship with your dad?

My parents split up when I was six. Dad had schizophrenia, and he wasn’t going to treat it. Mom took two sons, built a house with her own hands, and raised us. My grandad was a person I admired when I was little – he got up early in the morning to boil water for his long shave. One has to have inner peace to shave like that. I liked his “gentleman’s code of conduct”. In our family, the men don’t pee standing up due to the respect for their women. My grandad and uncles used to wash their own socks and underpants. I’ve never seen any toxic masculinity shit, only respect. When I was a kid and felt ill, I remember my grandad carrying me around in his hands and singing. After he died, I asked my grandma to give me his razor.

Whats your relationship with your body?

I had a few complexes here and there before, but now I just don’t give a shit. I’m equipped with a dad bod, and I’ve raised a kid on my own! However, I took part in carrying fridges when I was helping someone recently – I realised I do need to get in better shape. Just for myself, to be stronger. Apart from that, I see all cons as pros, all insufficiencies as advantages. I like that people in my circle are unique: they work in car repair shops, shoot guns, go to tanning salons, pierce their ears with crystal earrings, and go to dance classes. So what? You can be anyone you like to be! That’s self-expression!

Mindaugas, businessman, 41
Mindaugas, businessman, 41

When was the last time you cried?

I’m not made of wood, so I’m sensitive to a lot of stuff. I cry and I’m not ashamed of it. However, I don’t weep publically, and I try not to do it in front of children. My daughter has certainly seen me crying, and that’s not a tragedy at all, but I still want to protect my kids from it. I cried a month ago – a few of my businesses went under, my health was terrible, so I was in a bad place. I’m coming back to life now.

Whats your relationship with your dad?

My dad’s 86. He’s very old-fashioned, yet he’s surely a wonderful person – he knows how not to care about the little things, and takes a light-hearted approach to life. Perhaps that’s exactly why he’s full of energy and vitality. Our life was never easy, there was a lot of physical labour in the countryside. My brother keeps in touch with dad much more than I do, but my brother has a stronger connection to his ancestors and roots. He recently bought an apartment, and then found a picture of our grandad standing in front of that very house. During the interwar period, it used to be a military school, and our grandad was a student there, hiding it from everybody – he had to in those days. Later we understood why grandad always used to sing the Lithuanian anthem in privacy.

Whats your relationship with your body?

I was a short, fat kid, always eating too many cutlets that my mom used to make. Then I kind of stretched out, turned into a lanky teenager, and started doing sports. My mom didn’t let me work out a lot due to my asthma. When I started my first family, I weighted 120 kilos, and I used to drink so much alcohol back in those days. I decided to stay dry for two years. Yet my weight kept changing rapidly because of my emotional state. Now, I’m doing tai-chi. I do believe that our exterior reflects what’s happening inside. You don’t need to have a six pack, that’s an extreme, but you simply must keep moving.

Martynas, tattoo artist. 29.
Martynas, tattoo artist. 29.

When was the last time you cried?

During my wedding at the Burning Man festival. I didn’t cry when saying my vows since I had rehearsed them many times, but when Aistė, my wife, said hers, I broke down. I used to sob a lot more, especially when I was studying at a university in London. It was a dark and depressing time – I had a job I hated just so I could survive, and I was freshly divorced. I felt completely alone, and so I cried because of that. It taught me to be on my own, yet I also realised that human connection is of utmost importance to me. The emptiness goes away when you’re with someone. But on a regular basis, I do tear up when I see movies or ads about dogs. I never keep it inside.

Whats your relationship with your dad?

Much like many folks, I have a superficial relationship with my father. When I was a kid, my dad chose his career over parenthood – I was financially secure, which I’m thankful for. But I never kicked a ball with him or shot some hoops. I can’t remember us spending any quality time together, ever. I don’t want this to be the case when I’m a father myself.

Today I feel like the amount of time he spent with me then is exactly how much I want to communicate with him now. We only talk about cars and material stuff – it’s not like we have a strong bond.

I’ve noticed that people of my generation get on with their grandparents much better. Maybe it’s due to the grandparents being born in the interwar years, in a free Lithuania, so their values align with the ones of their grandchildren. I’m always eager to see my grandma – we have a more sincere relationship, and I realise that this won’t last forever, so I appreciate it more.

Whats your relationship with your body?

I hated my body before – I used to feel like I was too skinny in some places and too fat in others. But when the tattoos came, my body turned beautiful for me. I’m in a constant process of creating it, much like how people who do sports look at it. It wasn’t hard to pose nude at all.

Audrius, border guard, 47
Audrius, border guard, 47

When was the last time you cried?

My daughters say they have a very sensitive dad. I don’t know why – perhaps I used to read a lot, and life in the countryside did its thing. My friends were dogs, cats, and nature in general. I saw animals being born all the time, and I felt it all inside.

I was chopping wood at my parents’ property recently. All the fields and meadows around it – all the land my dad and me worked on… Our house that used to be there, the garden… I saw a hill that used to look so huge when I was little – my dad made me skis, and put the ends of those skis into a tub so those ends would curl up. He gave me a push and I skied down from that hill, hearing him cheering, “go, go, go!” I cried remembering that, because when you’re standing on your land, oh boy can you feel it all going right through your soul…

Whats your relationship with your dad?

He was a big storyteller, and a great fisherman. It wasn’t appropriate to hug that much back in those days. But I remember him buying a scooter, we called it “the pig”. He said he’d drive to school with it (he was a teacher), but we knew he bought it to go fishing. So I was around six years old, and we were coming back home from fishing. It got dark and cold, and a rainstorm started. I felt safe hugging my dad – it felt like I was protected by a wall. I miss this feeling, and I want to make my family feel safe like I was. I want to be that wall to my daughters and wife.

Whats your relationship with your body?

I was a tall kid, a typical basketball player. My friends and I used to make our own weights during teenage years to get bulkier. Arnold Schwarzenegger was our idol. I always loved sports, even though I didn’t have a place to exercise.

I remember jumping into small ponds as a kid in the spring, just after the ice melted. We didn’t want to get our clothes wet, so we were all nude.

Sometimes we talk about growing old with my wife, but we’re definitely not afraid that our bodies will age.

Augustas, Paralympian, 29
Augustas, Paralympian, 29

When was the last time you cried?

I was training in Italy a few years back – I was rowing in open sea, with the seatbelt holding me attached to the boat. The waves turned the boat over, and I ended up under it. I couldn’t rise up, I panicked terribly. Finally, I realised that I needed to unfasten my seatbelt and swim out. That moment when I got the first breath of air… I can’t describe it. This was the most terrifying incident of my life, even more so than my spine injury. This year, before the world championship, my Belorussian friend flipped over and drowned. His wife was left alone with the kids. It was a difficult period, especially fully understanding what he went through since I experienced it myself. Then, in November, in Hong Kong, we swam into open sea. At first, it was calm – we were rowing alongside the harbour. Then we made a turn and two-metre waves started crashing at us. I was in unknown territory, a new boat, and I was constantly asking myself – “what am I doing here?” It was horrifying, and the previous experience of drowning kind of magnified the fear. My eyes were full of tears when we finished the distance. Now, whenever there are waves, my fear is back. I have to face it every single time.

Whats your relationship with your dad?

We’re close. We got closer after my injury – at that time, I was spending a lot of time in rehab in Palanga, and he lives in Klaipėda, so we used to meet all the time. He helped me so much. He’s still very supportive – he comes to cheer for us whenever he can make it. My values changed after the spine injury – I used to be very irresponsible, making a lot of money and spending it all. I’ll be 30 soon, but sometimes I feel older than my 50-year-old dad.

Whats your relationship with your body?

It felt easy to undress for a nude photoshoot. And when I got the invitation, I thought that it’s a great and important topic. My body changed so much after the injury – I needed a lot of time to get used to see myself in a wheelchair. When I started dating my wife Ema, people used to stare at us holding hands in public places. But we don’t care anymore. My wife was a huge help. She always tells me that she sees me, not the wheelchair.

Zigmas, writer, 28
Zigmas, writer, 28

When was the last time you cried?

I appreciate my solitude. Yet I can only imagine living and creating when communicating with the people around me. It’s the communication that brings out the truth and provides a reality check about whoever you think you actually are. It’s easy to be good and good-looking for your own self, but it’s a whole other thing to meet people and have life “happen” to you. Life is worth the tears, not death. Death only finishes sentences and tells us what it was. “Now it’s this”, death says. It doesn’t say no. That’s why we cry – because of interactions with others, through pain, hopelessness, disappointment, epiphanies, or moments of clarity. Hope can make us mistaken, and we’re bound to lie to ourselves or others when it eventually happens.

The last time I wept was around a week before writing these very words. I remembered that love can’t make people happy. It can inspire, give energy, make the days colourful; however, it just can’t make us happy. I can’t expect my love to change other people, to make them act in a way that I’d like them to.

My grandpa is now 95. During difficult moments, he used to tell us “don’t cry, there’s no one to wipe your tears”. And it’s not like he thought it was indecent or inappropriate to sob, he just believed that crying requires a certain understanding and a touch of other people. Men cried often in his stories, I don’t even know when they stopped to. Perhaps 50 years back.

It’s hard to face a man crying. It seems so terrifying and painful to the ones around. Inconsolable. Even insulting at times. Life-shattering. That’s probably why it’s so unneeded and undesired by many.

And most men would prefer not to cry – they’d like to remain heroes, unmovable rocks. They’d like to be the ones to console others, to protect everyone, to spread joy, and accept responsibility. And that’s great, that’s beautiful. But that’s not a given.

Whats your relationship with your dad?

My father was an alcoholic. And he almost took my life, too. He killed himself when I was a kid. I blamed myself for it for some time, and I was a bit happy as well when he was gone. Finally, I realised that I can’t justify all of my hardships and decisions using childhood traumas – I have to be responsible for who I am today and where I’m going. I can only be thankful for what happened in the past. Sometimes, when I feel misunderstood, when I’m unlucky and the only solution seems to be to run away from everything and everyone, when I’m disappointed in myself and the world, I do feel my father breathing over me. His northern, wolf-like breath reminds me that there’s still a lot of his anxiety, sadness, destruction, blood in me.

However, I don’t have to be a victim because of this. I’m not sure that we’re meant to learn from such mistakes and bad examples, or that a bad childhood is a useful experience. It wasn’t. But it taught me that growing up without a dad means doing everything yourself: fixing your first bike or car, painting walls, taking care of the roof, unclogging the chimney, or building a greenhouse. You also have to create relationships yourself, as well as rituals, habits, and your own perception of others.

Overall, I think Lithuania lost its traditions of masculinity during the Soviet era. Before that, people used to respect their fathers so much more, it was almost a sacred relationship, but we looked at our dads during the Soviet years and saw nothing we could respect. That regime turned every man into a small bolt in a big machine, in a world where everything was given and decided, where no one could say a more powerful word, and where your spine and responsibility weren’t needed. Masculinity was suffocating, it mutated into a lukewarm bowl of nothing. Sure, there were exceptions, but this tendency forced us to reinvent the thing we used to call fatherhood, to show our kids what’s beautiful and admirable about it. This process is full of marvel and possibilities, but the biggest challenge is not to fall into hibernation, not to “go with the flow” of emotions and impulses, ignoring misunderstandings and everything else. We need to bring out the honesty and pride in this, gentleness and power, and build ourselves responsibly.

Whats your relationship with your body?

My body is like an instrument to me – it gets its value and beauty in accordance with how it’s used, what melodies I play with it. And yes, my body is an equal part of my personality, changing with the ways I live my life and with my thoughts. It expresses the things hidden within me through the wrinkles in my smile, the curvature of my back, through burns and calluses and whatever else you might think of. It allows me to feel closeness and warmth, taste, smell, exhaustion, and many other things. Yet it’s great to keep reminding myself every day that I’m more than just a body. In general, male nudity looks so simple and direct to me, no mysteries at all, no excitement or secrets. It seems more insolent than tempting. Material, routine, clear. I don’t believe that being nude is an expression of freedom or a source of inspiration, since most of the time everything is still deep inside.

Reinaldas, food stylist, 31
Reinaldas, food stylist, 31

When was the last time your cried?

I cry very rarely, and not because it’s deemed “unmanly”. I like to cry, because then your hormones balance out. But I used to cry from stress and pressure pretty recently, when I was working too much. It used to happen on my way to work. I had to be at a movie set at 6 am, start making food at 9 am, and shoot at 1 pm… and then repeat it all again for many times over. I used to say to myself: “God, will I make it? What am I doing here…”

The last time I cried was in summer, when I split up with my boyfriend. I felt sad for our home, dog, seven years together – which is so long in gay years! I wept for a bit, felt bad for myself, and it was over. It was pretty conventional crying for an unconventional man.

Whats your relationship with your dad?

It used to be terrible. My dad was a typical guy, he showed zero emotions, however when he felt the pressure and burst out, we all felt it… I’m 30 today, and my dad has already softened up, he even cried about the bad things he had done before. We have a good relationship now – he comes to visit me and gets to know my boyfriends. He had to change a lot for us to be here today. The big break came when I came out to him. It was Easter, and we were watching a TV show with homophobic jokes about hanging gay people. I felt irritated and went out for a smoke. My dad saw that something was wrong, so he followed me outside. I asked him whether he really wanted to know what the matter was, because he might need to hang me. He cried, but didn’t try to “talk me out of it”.

However, the news that I was seeing a psychotherapist was a bigger shock to him. He was probably afraid that this might change our relationship, that I might start blaming him for stuff. But the situation changed for the better when he started dating a psychologist. Now, we all go out for dinner – my boyfriend, my dad, his girlfriend, and me. I think my father is afraid to be alone, so he simply had to change his outlook.

Whats your relationship with your body?

I’m now as heavy as I’ve ever been – I’m also as happy as I’ve ever been. I’m basically a housewife since I work much less at the moment. And I also have a superpower – I can make absolutely any food I think of. We sit at home binging some series, and suddenly I feel the urge to have cinnamon buns. And so I just make them! And god, do I love dried ham… But I feel good about my body. I do like handsome people, but I prefer people that are truly alive.

I was once very skinny – I felt pretty, but weak. Now I’m overweight. Someone sent me a photo from a movie set – my gut was hanging out, and my dewlap… Yuck. But then I get to rest, sleep a bit more, and I feel better about myself again.

Benediktas (name changed), soldier, 24
Benediktas (name changed), soldier, 24

When was the last time you cried?

During my uncle’s funeral. Family is the most important thing for people in my circle, and everyone supports everyone. I could never understand how brothers or other relatives don’t talk to each other. I can be mad at my relatives, sure, argue with them passionately, but we’re all like a single, united fist.

At that funeral, my aunt asked me to invite everyone for a mourning meal. But when I saw my uncle being buried, I couldn’t speak – my eyes were full of tears, and my voice broke down. I’m not sure that anyone understood what I said. There’s no shame in crying, but I wouldn’t do it in front of strangers – I wouldn’t like them to see me during this sensitive, weak moment. When I’m alone or surrounded by loved ones – sure, that’s why we have tear glands.

Whats your relationship with your dad?

My father is an honest, upstanding man. He didn’t achieve anything great since he always had a simple job and had no big ambitions, but in some aspects he was always a hero of mine. I learned from him, especially how to be a man, and a decent person in general. If he engages in something, he fully commits to it, he does a perfect job, and looks to fulfil the needs of others as well. He’s respected by everyone, from local homeless people to professionals in high positions. He showed me how to love a woman. My mother is like a match sometimes, but dad listens to her in silence patiently, and then does whatever is needed to be done. Today, my dad is my friend.

Whats your relationship with your body?

Overall, I love my body. It gives me no troubles at all. I always did what I wanted to do, never going to them gym and always eating what I desire. My guy friends were telling me that I look good, while they were working out all the time and weren’t happy with the results. I do see some flaws in how I look, sure, but I believe it’s all part of psychology – we need to change the way we think, not the way we look.

Žydrūnas, four-time world’s strongest man, 44
Žydrūnas, four-time world’s strongest man, 44

When was the last time you cried?

Everyone cries – kids, grownups, men, and women. I allow myself to do it, but I don’t cry that often. When I’m unlucky or someone hurts me, it kind of motivates me to move forward, focuses me. I treat things like that as valuable and necessary lessons. Around 10 years ago, I had more negative emotions in me, more anger towards others and myself. I learned how to understand others and not to hope that everyone will behave in a way I’d like them to. I don’t know what I’d do in another person’s place, do I? So I shouldn’t judge.

Whats your relationship with your dad?

Today marks three years since he passed away. I remember flying in from the USA for his funeral. His death wasn’t an expected one, because he had an operation – I was visiting him almost every day for two months, and then he got better. I flew away without saying goodbye to him… My dad was my idol. He was a strong person with a great sense of humour. And his dad, my grandfather, shaped my values – he was extremely hardworking, and was constantly showing everyone that anything can be achieved if you try hard enough. Grandpa was a very healthy man, and he was upset with people who drank or smoked. He could build anything he liked – a boat, tractor, he even had parts to build a plane. But he ran out of time. Perhaps examples like these showed me that nothing is impossible. When I was 10, I wrote in my diary that I’d become the champion of football, ice hockey, and bodybuilding. I was always a dreamer.

Whats your relationship with your body?

My body is very important to me, it’s what I work with. I do everything with my body, but the main things always start in my head – visions, aims, and motivation. I love and cherish my body so that it could serve me longer. I want to make it a better home for my soul. Nudity is nothing special to me, I don’t think about it. You don’t shower dressed, so you want to swim in a lake nude, too. My take on this was shaped by life in the countryside, in nature. I spent my childhood in forests, rivers, snow, and parks. I was a part of nature, and my clothes, just like asphalt or other man-made objects, were something that separated people.

Matthew, dancer, 23
Matthew, dancer, 23

When was the last time you cried?

The last time I cried was a couple of days ago. I had broken up with my partner/best friend and it was hard, because I had to fully let go of someone who I loved even more than myself. We needed to have time to heal and think before coming back to each other, but we’ll see each other soon.

Whats your relationship with your dad?

My relationship with my father is very neutral. I don’t hate him and I don’t completely love him. He’s not a man of many words and most times neither am I. I admire his resilience and his drive. He’s a smart man who’s lived a colourful life. I’d like to think that I take after him in more ways than one! I resent him for being absent for a great deal of my life. It left me wondering if he cared for his only son or not.

Whats your relationship with your body?

It took a long, long, long, long time for me to become a fan of my body. I used to hate taking my shirt off, so much that I would be in a full tracksuit when going to the beach. Now, I’m so aware of how beautiful I am that I want to be able to show it in any way I choose. I love nudity, in fact almost all the shoots I’ve done recently have been nude! I think it’s such an important part of being one with yourself; being able to accept all parts of your body, large, small, wide, narrow, tall, short, EVERYTHING!

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