Can I Borrow a Feeling?

“I force myself to find the moments where I feel positively about my form, but for the most part I am havocked by a simmering body dysmorphia.”  


The initial prompt written for Can I Borrow a Feeling? 2022

These are the questions I asked my contributors to answer for Can I Borrow a Feeling?, a project that attempts to learn more about how people feel in their bodies, the nature of confidence, and if/how I can borrow some of their confidence without diminishing it. My hope is that reflecting on their relationships to their bodies will be a positive experience for my co-authors. I asked each participant a few questions, and then I asked them to take a portrait of themself. I asked them to portray the way they feel about themself and their body. After they take the picture, they make a set of instructions for me detailing how I can recreate the portrait. I don’t look at their image before I take my picture, I take my own picture according to their instructions and reflect on what it feels like to embody them and their relationship to their physical form. I do my best to interpret and recreate my own photo according to their instructions. 

I started by giving my participants the example of my own portrait and instructions, and my own answers to some of the questions. I talk about pain and dysphoria, euphoria, and illness, because those are all facets of my own bodily experience. I want my co-authors to know a little about me and also to know that this project can hold the gamut of their feelings. I have gone through the process with a few people in the month or so that I have been working on the project and will continue the process with many more collaborators until it feels complete. The working title is Can I Borrow a Feeling?, which is a phrase itself borrowed from the self-released cassette single by Kirk Vanhouten in the Simpsons. 

A self portrait taken by Caryn Aasness with accompanying instructions. These were sent to potential collaborators as an example and an icebreaker. 2022.

One of my first collaborators on the project was Charlie Brewer and he answered the following questions over email:

Caryn Aasness: How would you describe yourself?

Charlie Brewer: Afraid of being seen, but wanting nothing more. Generally affable.

Caryn: Would you consider yourself to be confident?

Charlie: Yes.

Caryn: Do you like taking pictures of yourself or having your picture taken by others?

Charlie: Yes, greatly. But I really don’t enjoy looking at them after the photo is taken. Every once in a while someone captures me in a way I really enjoy, but for the most part it’s a rarity.

Caryn: How do you feel about having a body/How do you feel about having your body?

Charlie: I am very unaware of my body. I have a hard time recognizing when my body is in pain or needs rest. I do not enjoy my body. I force myself to find the moments where I feel positively about my form, but for the most part I am havocked by a simmering body dysmorphia.  

Caryn: What is something someone else has said about your body that sticks with you?

Charlie: “If you started weightlifting you could get super big. You have the widest shoulders I’ve ever seen on someone who doesn’t weight lift.” My 50 year old coworker—a lifelong weightlifter— told me this.

Caryn: What do you tell yourself about your body?

Charlie: This is my body, there are many like it, but this one is mine. My body is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.

Caryn: Do you ever feel “grounded?” When?

Charlie: Yes, when performing labor or acts of service for others. When not working for extended periods, I tend to lose track of my sense of identity and feel existentially insecure. 

Caryn: Can you tell me about the most confident person you know?

Charlie: My dad. He can talk to anyone about anything. I owe my conversational/social skills solely to him. 

Caryn: Can you describe the best conversation you have ever had about bodies?

Charlie: Once, while under the influence of a drug, I had a conversation with my mom about how almost everyone in our entire family suffers from body dysmorphia in one way or another. It was extremely liberating in a way that’s hard to put to words.

Caryn: Can you describe your favorite photo of yourself?

Charlie: I am small. One or two years old I think. I am naked. My father is holding me. He has a long beard and is in his final stages of balding. He has on a pair of huge coke bottle glasses and a flannel shirt with tighty whitey underwear underneath. We are in the garage, there’s an anti-Vietnam War flag behind us. I am wearing the 1992 Michael Keaton Batman mask. 

Caryn: What are your instructions for me for how to take the portrait?


Become utterly aimless for an extended period of time.

Feel trapped by passive decisions you’ve made in your hometown.

Accept an art job in Dallas, Texas.

Work for people you do not like or enjoy.

Realize the life you had back home was much more fulfilling. 

Begin enjoying the time you spend in this new city with the knowledge that you will go back home with a refreshed perspective. 

Start making friends with people who feel equally trapped and aimless in their hometown.

Tell them that they will have a friend when they eventually visit or move to Portland.

Sleep on the floor of a gallery that’s connected to a burlesque theater for a month.

On the second to last day of the month, get into a heated argument with the owner of the burlesque theater because he talked inappropriately to one of your new friends. 

Get super drunk with your friend after he leaves.

Make fun of him a great deal, enjoy it.

Laugh very hard at your friend calling him an off-brand Mathew McConaughey.

Dance around the theater for a bit and then when your friend leaves, take a photo of yourself on the burlesque theater’s recording security camera.

Come back home and restart the process.

Caryn’s portrait based on Charlie’s Instructions, Self* Portrait with McConaughey, 2022
Charlie’s Original portrait, 2022

*If you or someone you know are interested in being part of the project, please email, I would love to work with you to accommodate your participation.

Caryn Aasness (they/them) is an MFA student in PSU’s Art and Social Practice Program. They are originally from Long Beach California, and are currently living in Portland, Oregon. They make work about the brain, the body, and the illnesses and magic that reside within them. You can see more of their work at

Charlie Brewer (he/they) is a pie baker; born in Beaverton, Oregon and now lives in Portland, Oregon.

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