Tag Archives: body shaming

Shaving Your Legs Is Not Feminist (But You Can Still Be A Feminist And Shave)

14 May

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I posted this picture (by Natalya Lobanova) on my Facebook page yesterday and received a bunch of varying responses to it. Some people loved it. A bunch of people shared it. But some also found it insulting and judgmental, and took it as a criticism of women who shave their body hair. A few took exception to the word “mutilating,” which, though modified by “slightly,” they thought was going too far. As with anything that sparks a discussion, I was interested in how people were reacting and why. The truth is that I really liked this image, and was surprised that people took offence to it. I think that talking about the fucked up things we do in order to be beautiful is super important, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable.

Full disclosure, you guys: I shave my legs. I also shave my underarms, my bikini line, and this weird trail of dark had that goes from my belly button all the way down to my pubic hair. I had my ears pierced when I was eight years old because I was dying to wear for-real earrings. I wear makeup pretty much whenever I leave the house. And you know what? I like doing all of these things, because they make me feel pretty and more comfortable in my skin. But I also acknowledge that I grew up in a culture that taught me from day one to associate all of these arbitrary little changes that I make to myself with the concept of prettiness.

I’ve heard a few people say that the point of feminism is choice, and that the whole idea is that women should be able to make choices about their lives. For the record, I totally agree with that sentiment. But I also think it’s important to talk about the fact that choices don’t happen in a vacuum, and also that some choices aren’t feminist. Shaving your legs, for example, is not a particularly feminist choice. And I’m not saying that you can’t shave your legs and still be a feminist, but I do think we need to talk about stuff like this without immediately jumping to, “well, feminism is about choice and I made my choice and that’s that.”

For one thing, I’m not sure that a lot of women do actually feel like they have a choice about removing body hair. I mean, yes, technically, they do get to choose what happens to their body, but it’s pretty hard to feel like you’re actually making a fair, unbiased “choice” when your options are a) removing your body hair and enjoying the approval of our society or b) not removing your body hair and being on the receiving end of stupid jokes, insults and even harassment because of this. It’s pretty hard to frame it as a “choice” when society overwhelmingly approves of one option and punishes the other. So let’s not pretend that we’re not playing with loaded dice here.

The truth is that I play into patriarchal beauty standards every day. I wear cute dresses and I smear goop on my face to highlight my “features” and make my skin tone look more “even.” I wear shoes with heels on them because they make me taller and make my legs look longer. I push thin metal rods through holes that have been punched in my earlobes because I think that decorating my ears looks good. I carefully remove any body hair that might be visible when I’m wearing a bra and panties. And all of that is fine and none of it makes me not a feminist, but also those are all objectively anti-feminist choices. Because those choices don’t happen in a vacuum. They don’t happen because I woke up one day and thought, “hmmm, I’d really like to take a razor and remove the hair from some of the most sensitive skin on my body and endure painful, itchy razor burn for the next few days because that sounds like fun.” They don’t happen because just happened to be experimenting with painting interesting colours on my lips and decided that red and pink were my favourites. They happen because I grew up in a toxic culture that taught me that in order to be beautiful I had to alter my body, and every time I play into those ideas of beauty, I am reinforcing and validating that toxic culture. Every time I wear a cute skirt and heels, I am making it harder for women who want to break out of this fucked up ideal we’re forced into. And as much as I don’t want to, I need to own that fact.

It is fucked up that women are expected to change their natural appearance in order to be considered beautiful, or even just acceptable. We have body hair – growing it is a thing that naturally happens during puberty. Literally everyone has it. So why is it considered to be disgusting? Why are mannequins in underwear or bathing suits just fine, but these American Apparel models are thought to be hilariously obscene?

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Like, that is literally what I look like when I don’t shave. Possibly I am even hairier than that. This is what my body looks like. Why is that so gross to so many people?

We all make choices about our appearance, and none of those choices are going to make the feminist police come take our feminist cards away. But sometimes those choices reinforce the status quo and therefore contribute to the difficulty other women experience when their appearance varies from the strict norms that society dictates. And that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ever wear dresses or makeup or jewellery, but rather that we need to talk about why we do these things. And we need to stop pretending that such-and-such is a feminist choice because feminism is about choice and if I’m a feminist then everything I do is automatically feminist. No. That’s not how it works.

Wear dresses if you want to. Wear cute shoes and earrings and bright red lipstick. Shave off every hair on your body if that’s what feels right. But please recognize that you don’t do any of those things because you just happen to like doing them. Please acknowledge that you made a choice that was heavily informed by the fucked up misogynistic culture we live in. Accept that sometimes your choices are anti-feminist, not because you’re a bad feminist but because that’s the world we live in right now. And once you’ve done all that, let’s try to figure out a way to change things so that girls no longer have to feel like their bodies aren’t good enough just the way they are.

 

 

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Zits

26 Aug

It started the summer that I turned twelve. It started on my face, just a few red bumps across the bridge of my nose. I poked at them and they sort of hurt. At first I wondered if the bumps were a sort of rash or allergic reaction, but after a week or so I realized what they were. Zits.

I wasn’t too bothered by them in the beginning, really. In fact, I was sort of excited, because they were yet another sign that I was almost a teenager. On my cousin they’d looked strangely tough and grown up, and I hope that they would give me the same air of hardboiled adolescence. Mostly I just thought that they were normal, and that I would eventually grow out of them.

As the summer progressed, though, the bumps spread across my face, down my neck and over my back and chest. Huge patches of skin were angry and red; whiteheads started to appear, and I was mortified by the fact that I had to walk around with what seemed like enormous pus-filled lumps on my face.

I was even more mortified when my father pulled me aside and said that he’d noticed that I had blemishes and offered to send me to the doctor about them. In retrospect, I know that this was because he’d been teased as a teenager about his own pimply skin, but at the time I just wanted the floor to open up and swallow me whole, then maybe regurgitate me in ten years’ time as a gorgeous twenty-something with a flawless complexion.

Our family doctor referred me to a dermatologist, whose treatments were the closest thing to torture that I’ve ever experienced. I would lie on a table under a magnifying glass with an enormous, burning light on it, and he would peer through the glass at my face. He had a funny metal instrument with a tiny sharp hoop at one end, and he would use that to pop my pimples. The light hurt my eyes, but closing them and having every fresh flash of pain come as a surprise was somehow worse. If I looked like I might start crying, he would tell me harshly that if I cried I would fill the open sores with bacteria.  So I would lie there, blood and pus running down my faces and my head aching from the bright light, trying desperately not to cry.

Once the doctor was finished shredding my skin, he would pour iodine over my face. The burning seemed unbearable, except that I had to sit there and bear it. As I waited for the stinging to subside, the doctor, his voice oozing condescension, would say,

“There now. That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Afterwards they would put goggles on me stick me in a sort of tanning booth, because ultraviolet light was supposed to cure acne.

I only went to a handful of these treatments – five, maybe ten at the outside. Eventually I just refused to go back. I figured that being a social pariah was less painful than having my face cut open and doused with what felt like acid on a bi-weekly basis.

Just to be clear, I really was a social pariah that year. And the year after. And the year after that, right up until the end of high school. Some of the cruelty was fairly subtle – innocent-seeming questions about how often I washed my face, or wonderings aloud about how much chocolate I must eat, with pointed glances at my waist-band. Most of the jokes about my skin were openly mean, and the kids who made them faced few consequences. One girl said that it was no wonder that no one wanted to kiss me, because what if one my zits popped in the mouth of the boy unlucky enough to be making out with me? A boy in my class said that I was lucky because I didn’t have to spend money on whiteout; if I ever made a mistake I could just pop one of my zits and use the pus to correct what I’d written. Both of these remarks were made in front of teachers; in both cases the teachers just laughed along with everyone else.

I tried everything – creams that made my skin even more greasy, gels that burned when applied them, pills that made me feel queasy and light-headed for hours after I took them. I tried caking foundation an inch thick onto my skin, because it was easier to be teased for wearing too much makeup than for being Medusa’s twin sister. I tried lying for hours in the sun, suffering sunburn after sunburn, because I thought that there really might be something to that ultraviolet light idea.

Mostly I just tried pretending that it wasn’t happening.

When little kids would ask me what was wrong with my face and if I was contagious, I would just smile like they’d said something incredibly adorable. When people at school said mean things, I would laugh harder than everyone just to prove that I could take a joke. When adults gave me unasked-for advice, I would pretend that this didn’t translate in my head to, you are the ugliest person in the world.

Because that was what I felt like: the ugliest person in the world. When boys were nice to me or complimented me or wanted to date me, I wondered what the catch was. Did they want me to do their English homework or introduce them to my cute friend? Would they go back to their friends and laugh  about me later? Was someone recording our conversation, like on candid camera?

It never occurred to me that anyone might ever want to touch me; I didn’t even want to touch me.

Sometimes I’m still surprised that people can hug me or kiss me or place their hand on my face without recoiling in horror. Because, as much as my skin has cleared since I was a teenager, it’s still what is politely referred to as acne-prone. I still get those angry red bumps; I still wear more makeup than I probably should. It’s like a bad joke – I used to think that my acne would disappear once I was a grownup, but now I just get zits on my wrinkles.

Fuck. Me.

I guess the point that I want to drive home here is that I really feel like my skin will never be good, and that is fucked up. Why do we have to refer to acne as “problem skin” or “bad skin”? My skin isn’t bad or a problem; it’s just my skin, and I’m fucking tired of being made to feel like I should be ashamed of it. I’m sick of the fact that the only time I ever see someone in the media with acne, they’re there to tell me how not to have acne.

I can turn on my television and see people from all different kinds of ethnic backgrounds. I can find television shows with characters from all the major religions; I can find shows with characters of several different sexual orientations. There are television shows with trans characters. There are television shows with disabled characters.

There are never any people on my television or in magazines or even in cute, independent, deliberately not-Hollwood movies who look like me, with angry red skin and patches of whiteheads and that greasy sheen that you get because the Exxon Valdez has crashed on your face your oil glands are working overtime. I just want to see one person who doesn’t have beautiful, flawless skin because at thirty one I’m so fucking tired of hating my body. I just want to feel normal.

I just want to stop flinching every time someone leans in to hug me. I don’t really feel like that’s a lot to ask.

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It’s Okay To Feel Weird About Your Pregnant Body

23 Feb

Dear Fug Girls,

I like you. I like you a lot. I’ve been reading your site for, like, probably ten years now. I remember the days when Jessica wrote X-Files recaps for Television Without Pity (and those were some good days!). So, suffice to say I’m a pretty big fan.

And, as a fan, I want to tell you that what you wrote yesterday about Kim Kardashian wasn’t cool. Like, really not cool.

I get that hearing women talking about their weight can be stressful, maybe even triggering, and that one of the ways to deal with that is through humour, but I don’t think that it’s ever okay to make fun of a woman for being uncomfortable about her body. Because you know what? Everything in the freaking world is conspiring to make her feel uncomfortable about her body, and mocking her is not helping.

Look, pregnancy sucks. I mean, in some ways it’s kinda neat, but in a lot of ways it sucks big time. Your body, which has probably remained fairly static for most of your adult life, is suddenly taken over by a parasite and starts expanding in all kinds of weird ways. And suddenly, it’s not your body anymore. I mean, it is, but it’s totally unfamiliar to you, and also its housing a weird tiny thing that kicks and squirms a bunch. I spent a lot of my pregnancy feeling like the dude in Alien, to be honest, although thankfully I gave birth to an actual human being who was surgically removed from my abdomen rather than bursting out in a totally badass, metal way.

Anyway, what I’m trying to get at here is that even though I’m a thin woman, and even though my pregnancy weight looked perfectly fine on me, I still felt uncomfortable gaining weight. And I am not someone whose appearance is routinely picked apart by tabloids. I am not someone who felt obligated to prove that she’s “bikini ready” at six weeks postpartum. So if pregnancy made me feel weird about my body, I can only imagine how hard this must be for Kim Kardashian.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know a whole lot about Kim. I know that she’s with Kanye West, and I know that she’s done a bunch of reality shows, and I know that people love to hate her. I know that people like to make comments about how she’s famous for “nothing” (which is a hilarious criticism, because if anyone offered to let me be famous for nothing, I’d be like, “sign me up, bro” – who wouldn’t want to get tons of money for doing nothing?), although the number of times I see her out promoting stuff make me have a hard time believing that she really does nothing. I know that she’s a woman of colour who’s got hips and boobs, and I know that she’s already endured tons of criticism about her size from the media, long before she ever got pregnant. I know that she’s a woman, and as such she’s going to be scrutinized and mocked and ridiculed far more than her male counterparts.

At the end of the day, I’m just not really interested in shaming anyone for their feelings. Especially when those feelings have totally valid roots in the way our media and culture treat women. If Kim Kardashian wants to talk about how gaining weight while pregnant is upsetting, then more power to her. I’ll be happy to tell her a thousand times that she looks fantastic no matter what. Because there’s absolutely no good that can come from telling someone that their feelings are wrong, or bad, or stupid.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got. I hope you guys will consider this the next time you post about someone’s weight gain. I mean, as much as I know that making fun of the way people dress is your gig (and usually it’s a pretty funny gig!), maybe you’ll be able to be a bit more empathetic the next time something like this comes up.

Sincerely,

Annabelle

p.s. The pants were pretty ugly, though, I’ll give you that

p.p.s. Say hi to the Mulder and Scully action figures for me! I hope they’re locked in an eternal embrace now that they’re retired from TWOP

p.p.p.s. I kinda hope these crazy kids make it, not gonna lie

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ETA: Go Fug Yourself put an addendum on their post, which is pretty awesome:

** I may need to clarify that I am not trying to say that pregnant women can’t be thrown off by the changes in their bodies. But there is a difference between that and denial. To me, wearing those pants doesn’t say, “I am feeling awkward about my changing form.” Rather, that garment, to me, is a fingers-in-ears scream of, “LA LA LA NOTHING IS
CHANGING AT ALL.” My point was, don’t let denial get in the way of biological necessity — and also, those trousers are odious. But the former is dipping into armchair psychoanalysis, so I apologize if I overstepped…