So I’ve been SO overwhelmed by all of the awesomeness at CLPP’s Reproductive Justice Conference. There are a ton of workshops happening simultaneously that I wish I could go to. So I skipped out early on the Abortion Access in the U.S. workshop (my last post) and headed over to the workshop on Written on the Body: Body Politics and the Media. The panelists talked about being overweight, fat empowerment, personal a-ha moments of sexual grooming and chronicling the history of shaving your pubic area.
A panelist talked about fat acceptance and how diets fail 90% of the time. What is the usefulness of trying to make myself a smaller person who takes up less space? Reminds me of the anthropometry of Barbie, an academic article I read as an Anthropology undergrad. It examines how Barbie has ridiculously unrealistic measurements that no real woman could attain. Yet with her big boobs and wasp waist, she’s the idealized female form. This has a subconscious effect on women and men as to what women’s bodies should look like. Many people can’t get past the health argument when it comes to weight; that fat can’t be fit. “Okay, how are you ever going to get people to change when you’re telling them their body is wrong.” The Health at Every Size Movement argues that people should eat intuitively, listen to their body’s cues and move pleasurably; people shouldn’t punish themselves for eating.
The issue of shaving and vaginal cosmetic surgeries to make vaginas look more pre-pubescent came up. Porn shows this as the norm. Even if you’ve never seen porn, the media perpetuates this as the norm too. The problem is: “We’re taking fake cues and turning them into real life.” An audience member shared how her mom is an OB/GYN and many of her patients apologize if they haven’t shaved. A panelist talked about how she wouldn’t shave her pubic area as she didn’t want her doctor to think she was a porn star on the side. “The mental exercises that we all go through when dealing with that area, that we don’t with other areas of our body.” An audience member talked about the double standards of shaving. She asked her boyfriend to shave his pubic area but if he had asked her to shave she would’ve been pissed. Then the issue of 70s bush came up and how some men find that incredibly sexy.
One of the audience members (woo hoo Feminist Winter Termer Carly!) asserted that you can take shaving further to wearing make-up and high heels and how it’s patriarchal. I so don’t like wearing high heels and mostly refuse to wear them (my comfort trumps appearance peeps!) But what if you like wearing make-up? I don’t think that makes me a bad feminist if I care about my appearance as to me it’s part of asserting my identity. But it’s important to examine your motivations, to make sure you don’t do something because society tells you it’s the proper behavior. I’m reminded of conversations I’ve had with my African-American co-worker about hair, which compounds issues of race and colonialism.
One of the panelists talked about the media’s potent influence:
“People assume that the media has no influence on them…If it was this obvious in your face thing, it wouldn’t work, that’s why it’s so fucked up.”
People internalize toxic media messages. Women must shave their underarms, legs, pussies. They must wax their upper lips. They must have long, flowing hair but not hair that’s too curly or unruly. Women must have small bodies, but not too small. As with the virgin/whore divide, they’re not allowed to be extreme; they must straddle the median. Society tells women to feel shame if they don’t control their bodies. We need to change the discourse and the negative self-talk. It’s time to accept our bodies, exactly the way they are.
Read my other posts on CLPP’s 2011 Reproductive Justice Conference.