My friend Miriam Hall recently wrote about her experience seeing herself in a mirror when she wasn’t expecting to. She didn’t like what she saw:
The mirror showed me my body—stout, short and plump. But what the mirror really showed me is something far deeper. It showed me how much I try and pretend that I don’t look like I do. The mirror showed me I am not who I think I am.
The whole article she’s written for Elephant – a guide to mindful life, as it calls itself – is, to my mind, more about seeing than feeling, seeing what is and not with a critical eye, just with a seeing one.
It made me think even more about my boobs post the other day and the ways we contextualize our own naked selves in ways that make us not right, less attractive, less whole.
There is a problem here, but it’s greater than the commodification of women’s bodies, or bodies in general. It’s more than seeing skinniness as health (when it often isn’t, at all, & is so often the opposite). It’s more than equating fatness to unhealthiness.
It’s more about the way we want to see bodies as objects, as things outside ourselves, not at the vessels we carry our souls in. I saw a few naked photos of myself, taken recently, and like Miriam, actually saw something I was pretending wasn’t there – all of the sadness of the past few years, the losses you all know about, & some you don’t, reflected in my posture and my body – in my everything, in my gestalt, for lack of a better word. And like a woman who might see her post pregnancy belly and post nursing breasts as what they are – vastly perfect because of what they’ve been and done and not because of how they look – I saw a body that had eaten so much emotion I couldn’t otherwise express.
So look at yourself, at your body. Not in the mirror, to see what needs fixing. Just glance at yourself in a mirror, in a shop window’s reflection, to see what’s there that you’re pretending isn’t. We only ever distract ourselves with weight loss and gain, muscle tone and beauty. There is so much more a body is and says than the stupidly limited vocabulary we choose for it.
The other day I was poking around the internet for the answer to a particular question: whether or not wearing a bra at night keeps boobs safe from the forces of gravity. I started doing that very thing a few years ago with my older bras that are a little stretched out & so pretty comfy to sleep in.
The answer: the jury is out. There are very strong opinions on both sides. Some say bras in general are bad for boobs & actually cause them to sag. Others that bras are vital. Breastfeeding has been viewed as a culprit. It’s not. It’s actually the thickening and then thinning of milk ducts that causes women who have been pregnant and/or nursed to have less “bouncy” breasts. Weight loss and gain isn’t good for them either, if you needed yet another reason not to yo-yo diet.
So it’s pretty much surgery if you want higher boobs post pregnancy or weight loss/gain or just because you do. Of course you can and should work out your pecs, stand up straight, get fitted for the right bra (if you don’t believe the pervy French researcher) and – get this – squeeze your own breasts to potentially prevent both sagging and breast cancer.
But in the meantime, look at these breasts of regular people. I have to say that I looked at these photos more than once while I kept thinking about the breasts I am used to seeing – say the absurdly perfect rack of the brunette in the Robin Thicke video, for instance – and wondered about how often ANY of us see regular breasts.
Nudists do. Kinky folks in play spaces. Doctors. But most of us don’t really see the breasts of regular women on a day to day basis ,& that fact blew me away. Theoretically, it’s entirely possible for young women never to see anything but (1) their own breasts and (2) “famous” breasts (of movie stars, porn stars, etc.) That’s kinda fucked up.
Moreso, read what the women themselves say about their breasts: one woman with a really lovely pair wants them to face forward more. Another wishes she didn’t have stretch marks. Women with small breasts want bigger ones; women with larger breasts worry about sag. Asymmetry seems pretty routine. I kind of love that this one young woman lists everything that is “wrong” with them but still loves her own:
“I’m eighteen and have never been pregnant, but I come fully equipped with real flesh-and-blood breasts – my right is larger than my left, I have one inverted nipple, visible veins, stretchmarks from rapid adolescent development, even light downy fuzz covering the entire breasts. Whatever. I love them. They don’t belong to men, they don’t belong to society: they belong to me.” (bold added by me)
So the next time you think yours are imperfect, go look at some real women’s breasts – these are ones of women who have been pregnant – and remind yourself once again that we are, in fact, an uptight prudish culture – which means we don’t see other people naked casually – and that commodifies women’s bodies in ways that suck – which means we only see breasts that are selling products or entertainment.
It’s embarrassing to hear that my fellow feminists are shaming trans women for their bodies. It breaks my heart, really. I’ve probably seen more trans women naked than the average person, and there’s nothing scary about their bodies.
They’re beautiful bodies, like all women’s bodies are.
Specifically speaking to the issue of sexual assault survivors: Especially in a queer/lesbian space, I find it incredibly dangerous to equate penises with sexual violence. This erases MUCH of the assault/abuse/violence that happens within lesbian communities. It also erases the women who experience that violence. As I mentioned in my initial reply, I am a sexual assault survivor myself. I feel completely ignored/unseen when trans women and sexual assault survivors are spoken of as though they’re mutually exclusive. I am the cross section of those identities. So, so, SO many trans women are. Do we not deserve healing?
How much more violence can we really do to trans women’s bodies at this point? Recognizing the deep ways we shame and blame trans women does not erase or eliminate anyone’s concern for women’s bodies.
No, really: you can get surgery – called “The Barbie” – to remove your labia minora so you can have a ‘tidy’ seam of a vagina instead of – well, a regular one. For those of you who don’t know, pussies are like snowflakes: no two are the same, with variations in color, size, texture, hairiness, size of clitoris, position of the vagina (the actual opening) and shape of the minor and major labia.
I’d like to propose that any man who does these surgeries considering getting “the Ken” – where a man’s penis and testicles are melted down and smoothed into a tidy lump.
Nate Jones has done a nice photo essay on “what if all Olympic sports were photographed like women’s beach volleyball?” which makes the point very, very clear. (& Some of you out there will be all for this turn of affairs. Honestly, that swimmer is – wow. It explains why they’ve gone through more than 100k condoms in the Olympic Village. If everyone looks like that, well, DAMN.)
My friend Lena pointed out this short article on Think Progress by Alyssa Rosenberg about the return of D’Angelo to me, which talks about how D’Angelo was undone by the pressure to strip – and maintain an exacting and desired physique for his fans – and Rosenberg talks about how he was, effectively, treated like a woman.
Which, well of course: women have to be beautiful to be considered talented, but if beautiful have to work against type to be considered smart, or artistic.
Yet there is this long, long history of treating young black men as a stereotype too, of the young black buck: known for their bodies, and brawn; assumed to be hung, sexually provocative and yet also sexually and physically objectified. In a culture where well hung or athletic or both is often also assumed to mean small brained, or non/anti-intellectual, young black men are up against a lot of stereotypes women are up against as well. Both too are demonized for their apparent sexuality: women for having any, and black men for having their assumed and expected expertise “threaten” white men’s power and self-image.
So in a sense he wasn’t treated like a woman at all; he was treated as many young black men are treated, and have been: expected to be nothing more than their physical, sexualized, and objectified bodies.
Oh, I love the gender deconstructing that’s going on in the wake of Andrej Pejic’s career. Now, he’s in ads for a “super push up” bra.
The most common plastic surgery for men is for gynecomastia – that is, to remove breast tissue. That said, if most guys with gynecomastia looked like Pejic, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t bother.
Wow is he the Hotness.
To a lot of people, transgender identities are new, some emerging idea that’s only happened in the modern era, & to some degree, that’s true: without the discovery of hormones (turn of the last century) and the development of surgeries (middle of the last century), it is much more difficult for people to live in a body that’s wrongly gendered.
But that, however, is only for the people who require medical intervention. There have always been bodies that bridge male and female, that express secondary sex characteristics of both. Evidence:
How fantastic is she? At the very least, when some moralizing pundit talks about trans or intersex as some kind of new perversity, and a sign that the world is coming to an end, we can at least point out that it’s a very old perversity indeed. Most perversions are. We don’t invent much, but instead mostly forget, or otherwise bury some histories and identities and pretend they never did exist. (For the record, for those of you who aren’t careful readers: I do not think trans or intersex is a perversion.I am employing rhetoric in order to make my point clear. Civil and cultural recognition of trans and intersex identities and bodies is a sign of civilization, to me.)
But they did exist. This piece is not on display, but owned by the Louvre, yet this other one is on display, and in my opinion, far more sensual. Museum stats below the break.
I miss mine, to be honest. Glad to hear not all women with smaller busts are constantly trying to make it all bigger, or to make it appear bigger, even.
With all the hormones in our food, it’s going to be the rare (& so more valued thing) for women to have small breasts soon, anyway.
Which puts my “yay, the future!” optimism on hold. Because it’s always been okay for skinny white guys to do whatever they want, while women, and actual gay men, will continue to deal with this bullshit.
Okay, someone send me a story that cheers me up again.
Lea, Born Again.
New top model alert: in this fall’s Givenchy campaign, Lea is standing, in feathers, close to Mariacarla, Malgosia and Joan Smalls. With hollow cheeks and faded eyebrows, she exudes a beauty that is regal, detached, retro, and androgynous, something between Greta Garbo and Candy Darling. Lea T., the sensation of fall 2010, is the new star of the agency Women. A woman to be [or possibly “a woman in the process of becoming”], born Leo, she decided to tame life in high heels. Originally from Belo Horizonte, she grew up a well-educated boy in both Brazil and Italy, in a respected Catholic family. With two sisters and a brother, Leo was destined for a career in veterinary medicine, up to the day when Lea appeared: “I met Riccardo Tisci, who had just come out of Central Saint Martins (College of Art and Design). Little by little, we became friends. And, one night, he encouraged me to wear high heels to a party. We went to buy drag queen shoes and also bleached my eyebrows. It was a revelation.” Lea followed her pygmalion/mentor to Givenchy in Paris and worked there as his assistant, confidante, and fitting model for two seasons. Back in Milan, she decided to start her physical metamorphosis, a treatment that was met with public prejudice and immense familial unease. “It was like a war inside my head,” she says. From Paris, Riccardo followed the ups and downs of the change. He offered help and “one day, he called to ask me to pose for a Mert & Marcus ad.” Lea accepted in the name of all her transsexual friends, a standard bearer for their cause, and “especially proud of her friendship with Riccardo.” Since that ad campaign, casting and interview offers rain on Piero Piazzi, Lea’s agent at Women, “another of my guardian angels.” Lea, with disarming simplicity, explains that she is waiting for the definitive intervention that will liberate her femininity, “as soon as the papers are finalized.” She is open to her future, be it on the runway, or perhaps in the fashion studio/workshop, or back home, her true birthplace, Brazil.
I think it’s cool, & I’m glad she did it, though I know some of you are burnt out on people using trans bodies as this week’s shock factor. I don’t think this one is doing that, even though it’s confrontational because she’s looking right at you, the viewer. It’s impossible not to see her as a person (unless you’re the kind of person who dehumanizes any naked woman). Thoughts?
Saturday is a good day to talk about vaginas, no? AlterNet seems to think so, with this lovely article about all the stuff the health & beauty industry thinks is wrong with yours, & how they can fix it: with surgery, bleach, dye, douches, deodorant, & mints. Yes, mints. They did forget one recent beauty aid, however:
Problem: Your vagina is plain.
That’s pretty much 7 quick paths to a yeast infection. None of these procedures is ever encouraged by anyone with a legitimate medical degree, and most of them can cause serious harm. Regular bathing & cotton panties may seem so old-fashioned, but it’s still what the best-kept vaginas are wearing.
(h/t to Diane for the vajazzling)
Who knew? But watch for the guys with regular bodies during the Superbowl (where it might be otherwise unclear that we are not engineering masculinity these days).
There’s a great video about how women’s bodies are represented in media that was just brought to my attention. It’s in Italian with English subtitles and worth watching. That said, some of the images are really upsetting (and all were broadcast on Italian television).