Four years ago, I went down to Washington DC to participate in the Women’s March. While there, I had another adventure I have only shared – until recently – with just one other person. This adventure took courage. I dared myself, pushing the limits of my comfort zone. What has kept me from sharing my participation in The Nest Project with you or others for so long? Looking at the image of me curled up in the nest makes me feel…vulnerable.
What is The Nest Project?
When I signed up to be photographed that night, I didn’t know much about Debbie Baxter’s project beyond the fact that she had started it as an art installation at Burning Man. Here is how Debbie describes her project:
The NEST Project began as an inspiration in the artist’s backyard June 2016 as a way for her to make sense of and express her own personal childhood experiences. After gathering sticks and building the very first nest with her son, the artist removed her clothes and entered. Finding the experience transformational, the artist began a journey to help others face their own personal stories. To date over 400 people have gotten into The NEST and had their own experiences of healing, acceptance and growth.
It is an interactive healing modality that invites people to strip down to their truest selves and get into human sized nests to be photographed at their most vulnerable and powerful. Following in the footsteps of the birds, the womblike nests are built by the artist out of natural found materials. Each nest is built with the intention of providing a safe space for the participants to return to a state of innocence and peace as a way to transform their trauma and find acceptance.
Guide & Witness
The artist acts as a guide and witness for each journey, holding a safe space to allow people to tell their story free of judgment and expectation. The NEST experience allows each participant a chance to revisit themselves in their most natural human state and reconnect with a way of being that is often forgotten as we grow and age and as the complications of adulthood and society change us along the way.
Each participant is invited to shed not only their clothes but their emotional burdens through deep self-reflection and honesty. With her lens the artist captures the complex nature of the human experience while simultaneously exposing them to their truest selves.
That night in DC
After all the excitement of feeling empowered marching for a cause I believe in, it was wonderful to meet up with other like-minded people. I had met a group from Washington, DC at the prior year’s Burning Man Leader Conference. Connecting with them, we met up at a local beer garden with great outdoor space.
Inside the bar, a photographer had set up a mini-studio behind a sectioned-off space. There was a table with a sign-up sheet and a calendar with Debbie’s work featured. Several of my new friends knew about the project and participated in a photo shoot. They encouraged me. As I said before – it still took courage and daring myself to do something way out of my comfort zone. Hesitating, I ended up being the last person on the shoot list.
Here’s the challenging part for me. The project required to take off your clothes, climb into the nest and be photographed. As much as I have done on self-love, I still have body issues. The screens surrounding the nest were a layer of protection – and yet it was a thin cloth separating naked me from a room full of strangers. In a sense, taking off the jackets, shirts, pants and all was like exposing my inner self for all to see.
The nest itself was much more comfortable than I expected. It is made of twigs and branches. Debbie has made many of these nests out of different (and available) materials. Reading comments from other participants showed me that part of the experience was the safe comfort (some even compared to a womb) of laying inside the nest.
Debbie has a wonderful way of making her subjects feel safe. Part of the project is to allow people the space to heal trauma in this unusual method. She gave me privacy until I was tucked into the nest. Related to being in America’s Capital, the only other prop was a version of the American flag. That flag covered me well. Debbie even shifted it more to make sure nothing “private” was exposed, even though many other subjects show more.
My true self
Why have I not shared the photo of me participating in The Nest Project with anyone else but my adventure partner? Because it feels deeply personal. I don’t show much skin – I mean, I’ve shown more in a tutu or bathing suits. So it’s not a racy boudoir image. Participating in this event felt like a reconnection to an inner freedom.
Have you ever taken photos of your child (if you have one) sleeping? That peaceful look, if you know what I mean. Do you have photos of you, peaceful? Where the stress of the day is gone. No masks of who you may pretend to be – whether the “ideal child,” “perfect mom,” or “good employee,” or whatever you do that isn’t your true self.
The Nest Project’s goal is to showcase a person’s individual vulnerabilities. While you may see a woman lying in a big nest, I see my authentic self. And that is why it has taken me four years (and many adventures exploring who I truly am) to share with you. The lesson for you? Push your limits to learn to be vulnerable and trust your authentic self.
Support the Artist
Want to see and learn more? Check out #TheNestProject on social media. Debbie is also in the process of publishing her book:
“NEST: before the story” is a hardcover coffee table book that guides the reader through a healing experience with the use of powerful images, moving stories, and an inside look at Nest Artist Debbie Baxter’s journey to heal from childhood trauma and her passion to share it with others. Signed by the artist.”