Friday, 10 June 2011

Squirtle Used Storm of Links! The Female Body Edition

Today, I want to link to articles and other media about how women from feel about their bodies, and their worlds.  I've tried to include links to other cultures, but please forgive the western bias here.

This image was taken from the Any Body blog, specifically their post about the Endangered Species campaign, whose objective is to save future generations of women from hating their bodies. You can read more about the Endangered Species campaign here.

There are several interesting posts on that blog (which I highly recommend checking out, if you have an interest in the subject), but one that stands out to me discusses the way that the media focuses on one single female ideal.  For years, if not centuries, the media has focused on one example of female "perfection" at a time, leaving the many, many of us who do not fulfil it (and, often, those who do) feeling inadequate.  At the moment, the fashion is for very tall and very slim women.  A few years ago, height was less of an issue.  Now, larger breasts are fashionable, while, previously, smaller breasts were.  This isn't getting into the more constant ideas, things like women removing all hair from their bodies.

This document discusses the history of the fashion of female body hair removal, particularly over the last hundred years.  Although there had been fashions of hair removal before this, such as in Ancient Egypt, where men and women would both remove all body hair, the hair removal culture we are familiar with today began to take shape in the 1920s.  Nowadays, women will resist engaging in basic parts of their daily lives, such as dating or exercising, if they have not "adequately" removed their body hair.  Personally, I would find it extremely difficult to wear anything which showed hair upon my legs or underarms, purely due to how condemned the practice of not-shaving is in our society.

Not here to be accepted by you.

Here's a secret; I don't always shave my legs or underarms before a krav lesson.  Instead, I wear longer t-shirts, and long socks under my sweats, so no-one can tell.  The idea that my natural body hair is disgusting and unfeminine is so deeply imbued in me that I feel deeply ashamed at the mere thought of anyone noticing this.  Which is ridiculous, especially since I don't want any of the men I train with to find me attractive, or even pay attention to the fact that I'm female, if I can help it.  To paraphrase a quote from Good Hair, why would it be so controversial for me to simply keep my hair exactly as it grows out of my skin?

That paper also includes a brief explanation of why men began shaving.  The writer found that it was for combat situations, rather than vanity, in which a beard would give the enemy something to grab.

To quickly return to the issue of female perfection;

From the Daily Mail, linked below.

This lady, lingerie model Daisy Lowe, feels that she is not thin enough.  I hope that, rather than make the rest of us feel even more inadequate, this serves to show how ridiculously high the standards for "female perfection" are.  Daisy Lowe has earned a great deal of professional success, in a business where her major assets are her looks, and she still feels inadequate.  This is insane.  Love your body, take care of it, try not to hurt it.  That's enough.

The Century Project is a wonderful expression of different female bodies.  Created by photographer Frank Cordelle, the images are of women from birth to nearly one-hundred-years-old.   When asked "Why women?", Cordelle responds;

Women’s bodies undergo more radical changes over the course of the biological continuum than men’s. Women go through immense changes at puberty, can get pregnant, bear children, nurse them, and go through menopause. All of these changes are accompanied by hormonal shifts that may radically change a woman’s body. Men can’t come anywhere near that; we change as we age, to be sure, but that pales in comparison to the changes that a woman’s body can go through. Yet on the whole we fail to appreciate these immense and profound shifts in women’s biology and rather scrutinze her every body part in pursuit of an impossible ideal based purely on aesthetics.

 The project shows a huge variety of body types.  The examples shown on the site include women who are recovering from eating disorders, a woman who has had one of her breasts removed, a m-to-f transsexual woman, and another woman with muscular dystrophy.  The collection has also been released as a book.

Another collection of photographs of women's bodies is the My Beautiful Cervix collection.  I believe the site was originally started by a student midwife, who felt that clear pictures of a cervix throughout its natural cycle would help her to understand women's bodies.  There are also photographs donated by other women.

This page, entitled When I Was a Girl in China... contains a number of personal experiences of foot-binding, the practice of binding one's feet to prevent them from growing, and to give them a particular shape.  This practice seems extreme to us now, but for many years it was simply what women did in China.  It was painful and often inconvenient, but necessary for that concept of beauty. From the site;

My mother told me that the smaller one's feet, the better, and that I had to bind so that when I reached marriage age it would be easy to find a husband. People felt that only women with small feet were attractive. But now I think the big feet girls have today are pretty, too.

This post on Racialicious focuses less on body image.  It's a letter from a Nigerian woman living in Brooklyn, discussing how she is treated by some men of her race.  The lady in question finds that many men treat her as if they have a right to her attention and time, purely because of their shared colour and presumed culture, and the fact that she is female and desirable.  This hinders her daily life to the point where she avoids interactions where, in her experience, this attitude is likely to occur.

Moving on; I liked the sarcastic Annie Lennox cover of the following song, but the original is far more problematic.

(I would hope it was obvious that this video is racist and sexist, but the youtube comments appear confused on the issue.  It is racist because the blackface is a caricature of how black men were presumed to look (and calls to mind other offensive portrayals), and yet it was accepted as real until it began to wash off.  Black people do not look like that, and it is offensive to portray the disguise as adequate.  It is sexist because it consists of a man telling women that they need to "keep young and beautiful" in order to be loved, and that it is their "duty".  This judgement is internalised by the women in the video, to the point where they repeat these lines themselves.)

A post on Feministing discusses female eating disorders, and other mental disorders within the United States military, and the scant help available for these problems.  On a similar note, Love My Rifle More Than You is a fascinating account of a female linguist and former intelligence officer in the United States Army, Kayla Williams.

What sticks with me are the themes that, I think, occur for most women in male-dominated groups.  I've seen it on gaming forums, which tend to be heavily male-dominated.  Women take on shades of stereotypes, generally the Slut, the Mother-figure, or the Bitch.  There is movement between these roles, particularly over time, but not so much outside of them.  Women may object to this, but also feel possessive of it, feeling threatened by the entrance of new women to the group.  As a vegetarian, Williams also discusses how difficult it sometimes was to find food she could eat, but that's a topic for another time.

For those interested in reading more from US Army veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, you may wish to check out Vet Voices, which Williams is involved with.

Finally, something from SlutWalk Manchester's wall, which, has, unfortunately, received several nasty comments over the past few days.

Incidentally, this jakass studies Contemporary Art at Leeds Metropolitan.  That advice is clearly displayed on his profile.  I did not think Leeds Met went in for threats of sexual violence.  Of course, perhaps they're simply unaware of his behaviour.  His head of department's email address is  Have at it.

SlutWalk Manchester took place this evening, and was covered by Northwest Tonight.  For those in the Midlands, a member of the Birmingham Femms will be appearing on BBC WM tomorrow morning at 10am, discussing the ridiculous question of whether or not men can help committing adultery (it's ridiculous because, firstly, it presupposes a major difference between the likelihood of men and women committing adultery, and, secondly, it implies that men have no self control).

If you still don't like your body, listen to this guy.  He says it so much better than I ever could.

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