I just discovered something FANTASTIC. Indeed, I do believe it is the best form of procrastination I’ve ever come across: Stumbling.
There’s this website (application? I’m no web guru…) called “StumbleUpon” and it basically directs you to random websites based on this interest check list that you fill out upon registering an account.
First thing I stumble upon last night is this. “Love Your Body.” Right on the home page it reads: “At Loveyourbody.org, our vision is to create a world where you’re free from rules, pressure and self-punishment. Where people of all cultures and sizes embrace their unique beauty, standards be damned.”
At this point, I’m starting to feel super uncomfortable…
Further down on the home page it says: “Once we stop “fixing” ourselves, we become free to invent lives that inspire and excite us–full lives we can actually enjoy. Imagine the possibilities.”
I’m sure that the folks who created this site were very well intentioned. But we all know that good intentions don’t always turn up good results. (Think of anything from botched birthday surprises to colonization. The latter probably one of the largest global catastrophes in human history. “What is this colonization business?” you say? Check out this zine for starters – “500 Years of Indigenous Resistance” by Gord Hill.)
Some of us really appreciate feeling confident, strong, and sexy. Some of us aren’t really all that concerned with feeling sexy or really couldn’t give two hoots about being ‘strong.’ It can be a great thing to take stock of your talents every once in a while to remind yourself that you are valuable and precious.
Sadly, I’ve seen the ‘love-your-body’ folks too often rely on burlesque shows or fashion spreads that showcase ‘full-figured’ women (heaven FORBID we ever say the word FAT. Sacre bleu! While you’re *gasping*, check out this awesome fat blog!) This undermines the potential power of finding inner confidence and instead appropriates strength and inner power to physical appearance, which is most often realized through sex appeal. Ah great. We’re once again objects of desire. Pretty young things.
I’ve heard the love-your-body rhetoric over and over and over again. In the hallways of Women’s Studies Departments. In Women’s Centres. On feminist blogs, websites. In magazines. In advertising. I’ve been told more times than I can count that the true secret to happiness is loving yourself for who you are, regardless of what anyone says.
If loving myself and being happy were as easy as just ignoring what asswipes have to say about me, I would have a shit grin on my face all the freakin’ time. Life would be GREAT.
In For Real Land, the causes of my ‘unhappiness’ are quite a bit more complex and I’m sure this is true for many other people too. Like… almost everyone.
So let me break this down for y’all. Here are three things I’d like to say in response to love-your-body hoohah.
1) Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words really do hurt me and make my life difficult.
One of the key lines of love-your-body hoohah that I hear all the time is something to the effect of, “It doesn’t matter what people say.” This is a really simple way of ignoring the fact that oppression is systemic and doesn’t only exist in insults hurled at people who don’t conform to normative standards of beauty, size, ability, etc.
Actually, it does matter what people say.
It matters for a whole bunch of different reasons. It matters because it hurts and makes me feel like shit. It matters because it will affect how people perceive my intelligence, my qualifications, and my ability to play nice (didn’t you know that dykes don’t play well with others?). It matters because I live in a material world where I often have to use money to access housing, food, and clothing. (Dumpstering is great, except when all the stores around you BOLT DOWN their dumpsters and put up ‘security’ cameras around the back. Bastards.)
Even if what people said didn’t matter and we could all just ignore the slurs, jabs, and insults thrown at us, hurtful words are really just the tip of the freakin’ iceberg for folks who have to live with systemic oppression.
It’s all fine and dandy for me to just keep on keeping on when a dude yells ‘DYKE!’ at me through the open window of his speeding car while I’m chilling out eating my fucking ice cream on a fucking bench. (That was one fun Saturday!)
It’s another thing when a professor in my department calls me “a Queer” to his colleagues with a lilt in his voice that tells me that he has no clue what it means to reclaim language or the power and purpose of self-identifying. It’s another thing still when, upon entering a job interview, I get full up-and-down double takes from the panel of interviewers COMPLETE with simultaneous ‘oh-jesus-I’m-so-uncomfortable’ fake coughs and darting eyes.
Which leads us into my next point:
2) Words are often the least of my worries.
I assume that the logic pattern that serves as the foundation for the love-your-body camp of thought goes something like this:
‘Women are sad’ — ‘Women are sad because they don’t love their bodies’ — ‘Women don’t love their bodies because they’re taught/shown that beauty is very narrowly defined’
(I realize this is oversimplified. But stay with me for a second – I’m bringing it down to the bones so we can see at what point good intentions turn into not-so-good results.)
Before we can even get into a discussion about genders and why “Women” as a single category silences whole communities of people (!), we need to first talk about systemic oppression.
Ok. Here’s a quick Systemic Oppression 101: Oppression doesn’t just manifest in racial slurs or homophobic jokes. It also rears its nasty head when people try to access meaningful employment, health care, shelter, citizenship, and basic human rights. All of these barriers to access are created and supported by systems of power. Who has power, who doesn’t, who is allowed to wield their power. All important questions that can help us to start thinking about oppression and identify possible sites of resistance.
Let’s walk through a hypothetical situation. Let’s say there this person, Mytch, who identifies as genderqueer. Mytch might get funny looks when they walk around in public, might receive slurs every once in a while from completely random people. The slurs might hurt but at least they’re temporary. (?!)
Mytch might also have problems finding or keeping a job. (Think about Dani Dominick, a trans woman who was just told by the management of a farmer’s market in London, Ontario that she wasn’t allowed to do her job because she was one of “those people” who undermined the “family atmosphere” where she worked.)
If Mytch wants to buy a house, get a loan, go to school, or get personal identification that reflects their real name and gender, they’ll have to go through series of people who work as cogs in the systems that maintain structures of power.
And this is a piddling little pretend situation that doesn’t do a smidgen of justice to anyone’s lived experiences.
OK, let’s move onto number three before I abandon my keyboard.
3) Why must I love my body all the time?!
Sometimes our bodies don’t move the way we want them to. Sometimes our bodies hurt and our pain may be chronic. Sometimes we really wish that we could inhabit different bodies with different sexy bits.
We need to accept that not everyone can control their body whenever they want to. We need to give ourselves permission to say that it’s OK that our bodies and minds are sometimes interconnected, that pain or discomfort in one can affect the other. We need to be able to talk openly, if we so choose, about how we really wish we could change certain parts of our complicated bodies.
We need the freedom to be able to say, “Today, my body is a piece of shit.” If we don’t have this freedom, if we’re told that we must love our bodies ALL THE TIME or else we’re just dupes of the Patriarchy, we have no hope of creating cultures of care. We can’t create spaces in which it’s OK to drool or spasm in a meeting or say, ‘Hey, I really need help with X.’
And here is where the door opens to some possibilities!
Clearly, I’m not a big fan of love-your-body business. I’d like to say that I think it would be great if everyone could just love themselves ‘just the way they are’ buuuuutttt… I don’t think it would actually be that great. Because it’s not real. I can’t make any sense of that in relation to my lived experience and I’m going to chance to guess that I’m not alone.
Where I think we can redirect our energies is to creating communities of care, places where we can admit how we really feel, what we really need and want and dream about. I want to see some freakin’ posters showing people caring for each other, caring about each others’ limits and boundaries. I want to see a campaign directed at privileged dudes, telling them to “Check Your Body.”
Am I asking for too much?