If I won a Nobel Peace Prize for my blog (which I have a strong feeling is in the near future when the Nobel Peace Prize Committee finally makes blogging a category) and I had to walk up to the podium to reject my prize and deliver my I-cannot-accept-this-award-speech-because-this-award-is-just-a-practice-of-elitism-and-I-refuse-to-validate-bouguoise-values-but-thank-you-for-inviting-me-the-dinner-was-spectacular in front of a crowd full of people that I highly admire and look up to, this very important and special and potentially life defining moment would be ruined for me if I wasn’t wearing lipstick, glasses and an outfit that I felt made me feel (for lack of another word) hot. I would not feel the least bit glowing, confident, and self assured standing in that room despite winning the coolest and most prestigious award ever and securing myself in a Wikipedia entry because feeling attractive is tied to my feeling of self worth.
This is the truth. I can be acknowledged as a smart and bright thinker, a funny and honest blogger, a witty and endearing Tweeter, a model human being (mostly because my socks are always sorted and mt Blackberry is always charged), even a sarcastically honest personality but if I don’t feel that I look attractive or “hot” when I am being all of those mentioned things then my self confidence decreases. If I feel that my hair doesn’t look good then I wont feel confident when giving my perspective in a discussion about Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics. Don’t get me wrong readers, I know that I am raising valid points but my points would have more enthusiasm if I my hair wasn’t frizzy.
Now I don’t say this to defend myself but we are all to some degree obsessed with our appearance, how we look in the mirror and more importantly how we look to other people. This is not an indication of vanity, because vanity means that there is excessive pride towards outwardly appearance (and this is judgement largely reserved for the Kardashians who I jealously watch on screen in envy but not because I want to be on television or even share the same last name. I just want their money. I’d be thrilled at having less than 4.8% of their wealth which could afford me the luxury of blogging full time and working only at the bank for kicks) but rather a concern about our appearance which is quite normal and human.
Looking good goes beyond the maintenance of basic hygiene. We all want to look our best because appearance matters and attractive people get distinct advantages in our society that lets face, mediocre-looking-people do not. Good looking people get free stuff (like a muffin with their coffee while ordinary people get the free wifi password with their paid-for-muffin), pretty people get unadvertised discounts at stores, have a return policy bent in their favour even after they’ve used a product or removed a price tag, attractive children are popular with their teachers and their classmates (and people usually have higher expectations of them which often affects their performance usually for the better, no wonder there are a lot of good looking doctors, lawyers, professors and engineers), in court attractive people are found less guilty or receive much lesser sentences, police officers let attractive people off the hook with just a warning, good looking people make more money and they are more likely to be hired for a job because subconsciously we all want to be surrounded by attractive people (and hiring them is good for business, especially in sales because no one rejects even the most ridiculous products from pretty people). The list goes on! Their bank fees are waived with a flash of a perfect pearly white smile, doors are opened for pretty people and pretty pretty are more trusted. The social, political and economical perks of being attractive are endless! Therefore it is not surprising that physical attractiveness and body image is of overwhelming important to us and specifically more important to womyn compared to men.
A number of my female friends are not happy with their body and continue to diet, buy “aspirational sizes” (yes that is a thing, buying a dress that you cannot currently fit into but keep in your closet because you one day think you will. Kind of like buying winter tires when you don’t have a car but aspire to own one day), think at least twice before ordering dessert reminding themselves (and me) that they should not eat what their heart desires because they are “watching their calories” and the absolute kicker: not eating (or finishing) their food in front of male company (this is also a thing whereby a womyn orders her meal but does not finish it despite feeling hungry because she is afraid of male judgement (especially if she is a little chubby). She will go home still hungry and will make her dinner, pb&j sandwich).
In a world obsessed with womyn’s bodies it is unfortunate (but not surprising) that womyn are not satisfied with their shape and size. We are constantly bombarded with pictures of “perfect” bodies that are photo shopped, enhanced, airbrushed and filtered. Bodies that are practically displayed in dehumanized poses that you probably wouldn’t catch an animal in (even in it’s natural habitat). All of this takes a toll on the female psyche. The only body that we are seeing repeatedly is the one created by the male subject to fulfil a sexual fantasy, a body that is not real (this body like I said is to satisfy a male sexual fantasy, he wants big breasts to hold and suck, thighs he can grab, a butt he can gawk at and a tight vagina he can thrust in and out completely forgetting that he’s fucking a womyn and not a hole in the wall. This body is body-object that the male species wants for purely animalistic reasons. To enjoy, to fuck). This female body in advertisements is long, thin, white, toned, large breasted (or perfectly proportional to her body type which is rare in real-life especially since many womyn admit that their breasts are not the same size), long-legged and non-disabled. The female dissatisfaction with their appearance, having poor body-image is an on going struggle that begins at puberty and probably doesn’t end even at menopause. Actually, it probably only gets worse in heaven when womyn are measured for their angel robes. One of the things that differentiates womyn from men is the extent to which a womyn’s self esteem depends on how they look or feel and this causes womyn to (more than men) become alienated from their bodies.
The concept of alienation is employed by the German intellectual thinker Karl Marx. Under the system of capitalism workers are alienated from the product of their labour. The products that workers produce no longer become a mirror for the workers in which they are able to affirm their human capacities which make them creative but instead the products simply enrich the capitalist (the “alien force” that becomes the workers primary interest). The workers production is no longer an artistic extension of herself and her capabilities, under capitalism her work becomes degraded (and lacks the opportunity for intellectual or artistic development because an alien force drives her). The worker becomes estranged with herself and what she has produced, thereby becoming alienated. Alienation has two features and one of which is fragmentation. Fragmentation happens whereby the worker begins to lose control of the products of her labour, this is when she has undergone a fragmentation of her own person which means that parts of herself has fallen under control of another (in this case the Bourgeoisie). The worker becomes a slave to the alien power and loses her full ability to exercise the capacities of herself that are thought to be necessary to human existence.
One could use Marx’s fragmentation of the self to better understand womyn’s struggle with body image. Both men and womyn alike can understand and relate to the fragmentation that Marx discusses because they have both experienced it as workers however womyn experience a fragmentation of the self for another reason that is by simply being womyn. Womyn experience a special kind of fragmentation by which there is a loss of self because they are womyn (not born womyn but have slowly become a “womyn” by a social and cultural process). Womyn undergo a fragmentation whereby she sees herself first as an object, there is a loss of control experienced by womyn over their bodies in terms of how they understand and view their bodies because their bodies are under surveillance and control of an “alien force” (patriarchy which places demands on how they should look which affects the way they feel). Messages from print and advertise media control a womyn’s experience of her body and intrudes upon her self and identity shattering a previous positive body image that a womyn probably once had of herself. Womyn begin to lose features of their human existence such as their creativity and expression (in the way she wants to dress, think, be) that is vital in making her human and become enslaved to this cultural concept and idea of “womyn” to the point where they subconsciously produces and reproduce the standard ideas of the alien force that drives her thinking.
It is important to remember that womyn living in a patriarchal society are economic producers but not not cultural producers, womyn cannot easily influence what it means to be a womyn or feminine. Marx argued that what makes human beings essentially different from other animals is that human beings begin to differentiate themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence. Humans just like animals both make their own homes and physical environments however human beings create with more intent than just physical need, they also create “in accordance with the laws of physical beauty”. Human creativity and creation has a plan, humans create as an object of their will. Human beings begin to express themselves through language and art and these modes of cultural expression are instruments of male supremacy. And as Marx said when humans begin to produce their own modes of expression such as stories, myths, design clothes, sculptures, paintings, make movies and write books they begin to create meaning and value. Here, it is primarily men that control the modes of expression and since the value and meaning in these cultural expressions are created by men it denies womyn the right to define what it means to be human. What it means to be human becomes defined for womyn, what it means to be a man becomes defined for womyn, what it means to be a womyn becomes defined for womyn.
Body image is distinctly a feminine mode of alienation that exist in a patriarchal society. Womyn become alienated from their bodies and begin to suffer an estrangement to it because they identify with their bodies in relation to other bodies, womyn’s bodies in popular culture. I’ll never forget when I began middle school and started to become bombarded with advertisements of young teenage girls wearing jeans, washing their faces with “Neutrogina face wash” on television. They washed their faces and made it look fun (a foreign concept to me because I hate showering let alone washing a part of my body andd trying not to get other parts of me or my clothes wet) because it made them feel “fresh”, it killed “gross” acne and made their skin feel “soft” and “clean”. These girls were tiny, long, lean, pretty, white and able bodied, so I began to see myself in comparison to them. I a 5’1, curvy girl, with brown skin, an ass, thick thighs, glasses, mild acne and began to feel her otherness. My self understanding relied heavily on what I was not, I was not “them”.
Fast forward 10 years later when I was 21 I remember going to Sherway Gardens to purchase my first bra from Calvin Klien underwear. I picked out a pretty black one with white lace. It was perfect! It reminded me of something that a French maid would wear in the bedroom. I picked out frilly matching underwear with a white bow because why not? Might as well complete my transformation from student to a sex bomb (granted I had no boyfriend, had never had a boyfriend). And excitedly went into the change room to try my stuff on. It was going to be great, I was going to be sexy! And sexy was the exact opposite of how I felt when I undressed and put on my matching underwear. I felt disgusted at what I saw in the mirror which I so fiercely tried to blame on the crappy white lighting (it would be a courtesy to at least add warm lighting so that I could feel glowing!). I was fat. My thighs were big and beasty, I saw cellulite near my butt, I had a tummy, my skin was dark, my shoulders were too broad, my thighs touched, my breasts weren’t big enough, I had calves, my hips were too hippy, I was short and my hair wasn’t a perfect tousled mess. I did NOT look like Eva Mendez! Calvin Klein’s underwear was supposed to make me look hot like Eva Mendez! All that ran through my mind in that change room was how my body was not a body that a man would expect to uncover once he slowly began undressing me while kissing me softly and playing with my long brown hair and whispering sweet nothings into my ear. My body is not a body that he would want to adore. My body isn’t the kind of body that a guy will want to see naked, or hold or smother in kisses and protect. I’m fucking bigger than him! I’ll probably be the one protecting him if a tiger ever attacked us. I can be his human shield! I am supposed to be small, fragile and dainty and fit perfectly into his arms and look cute wearing his shirt as I am snuggled up beside him like a baby bear but instead I think I share the same shirt size as him! This is so embarrassing! This is humiliating! OMG what if he offers me his jacket one day as a romantic gesture as we are walking along the water and it doesn’t hang off my shoulders but fits me like a glove? What if we actually share the same glove size? (I think it would be super convenient seeing as how I always lose one of the two but this is unsexy! Incredibly unsexy!). This was going all wrong. All terribly wrong. First I’ll protect him against the tiger attack and then I’ll be the one opening all the jam jars in the relationship! (what relationship? There was no relationship! There was no guy. Oh gosh there still isn’t this essayesque blog post is getting depression).
Now I still bought the underwear because I needed underwear (and after all the underwear was still pretty and too good to pass off especially at 40% off OMG I am part of the probem) but after reflecting on that moment I realized that I had become a slave to the alien power (that was exactly my thought because I was a philosophy major); Eva Mendez’s body was created by the male mind to fulfil a sexual fantasy a fantasy that I wanted to fulfil and it had denied me my own subjective understanding of my body, my view of my body was tainted. Instead of defining my own body it was defined for me by HIM a HIM that I was trying to please. A HIM that I had in my mind every time I looked at myself in the mirror. A HIM for which I was picking out clothes and underwear! I saw my body through HIS eyes and I don’t even have a him in my life. I was humiliated by my body which is rather concerning because there was not a second person in the change room with me. My shame was my consciousness of myself appearing as an object for the other, an object that I thought was not the “perfect body”, the other being the male. I was fragmented in my head, my consciousness was split, I was in my body but my understanding of it was me viewing my body through the male point of view. My understanding of my body was tainted by popular culture representations of what a female body was supposed to look like and what it was supposed to move like, all of these created by men. I could not re-design myself or change the popular culture ideal of beauty to include my coloured body. I was viewing my objectively in relation to the glorified female and male body laden with cultural and romantic expectations. I felt sick. I was going to home and diet but really I went home and ate chocolate and then felt bad about it.
At 28 years old I am comfortable in my body. I have been in love with it and comfortable in it since I was 23 and in my final year of university. I am in love with my body and it feels great to say it! Those years spent body shaming and hating my body were stupid, unhealthy and an incredible waste of time which could have been better spent painting, baking, eating everything I want, playing scrabble, watching Friends, knitting or taking long walks. I want to live in a world where every girl, young girl, womyn feels confident in her skin. A world where men fantasize about intelligent, witty, sarcastic, sharp, clever, artistic womyn who have real curves and colored skin and bodies that they can move the way that they want or can without feeling ashamed of utilizing the space around them. Bodies that are real and perfect because they are healthy and not because they fit an ideal, sexual fantasy, or size or male expectation. My idea of what is sexy has changed over the years. Today I no longer think a body is “sexy” because a body is just a body, it’s just a blob. A womyn who inhabits her body, over-comes her body, is confident in it, has a sharp mind, intelligent things to say, has witty replies, is crafty, has talents, utilizes herself, is generous in her actions and smiles is sexy.