Monday, April 28, 2008

Body Geography

[all photos by Fresca]

“Take bubble baths.”
--From a list of tips for girls with anorexia about how to feel better about their bodies and stop starving themselves to death

I suggest, on the contrary, that if we are de-, re-, op-, or otherwise- pressed by a culture that has colonized the human desire for beauty and health in order to gain money and power, then, in fact, bubble baths will not save us.

Body-image advice for American women often sounds like advice to colonized people on how to assimilate better into the master culture:
work harder to please, and you will be rewarded.

And so we will, but it will take our valuable energy, and it will not be on our terms. That is a recipe for domestication, not liberation.

French rule in Algeria, for instance, offered full French citizenship to native Algerians. But only to those who would give up their religion and language. Those who did benefited, but remained, of course, second-class citizens no matter how fluent their French.
(Watch the fantastic French thriller Caché (Hidden), by director Michael Haneke, for a take on the mix-up of guilt and responsibility in such situations.)

Like the nationalists in Algeria under the French, I don’t want the ruling system to determine whether I am acceptable, and on what terms.
I claim self-rule and self-determination.

In terms of body image, I don’t accept that feeling bad or ashamed about my body is a natural or inevitable state. It is learned. It is software. Software can be rewritten.
If I want to do that in the bathtub, then, sure, bubble baths are nice.

What language do I speak? What language do I hide?

To whom and to what do I listen?

My body is my land.

Who determines my beauty? my worth? my future?


Rudyinparis said...

So much here to respond to... I've been visiting the Already Pretty blog lately and she linked recently--you probably know this--to an article about how women really don't owe it to anyone to always look good. I.e, to choose not to wear leggings because they're not flattering (if you want to wear leggings, that is.) I loved it. And how crazy, that that seems like a quasi radical idea, that I can just go ahead and wear unflattering clothes if I want to. And I remember how when I was guarding I was regularly--and I mean *regularly*--told to smile by a certain male demographic. (Coincidentally, the same type as the "I love the sound of my voice" group). Commanded to smile, really, as if every young woman is obligated, has a Very Serious Social Obligation to walk around grinning like an idiot. Talk about a colonized people! By the end, my God, I hated it when it happened, I would just say, with a slightly quizzical look, as if I was honestly curious, "What do the male guards say when you tell them to smile?" I got reprimanded for this (although the Director, who had to do it, didn't want to, and got why I was saying that.)

You know, in my lifetime, I have only heard one woman, ONE, say freely and honestly: I really like my body.

Well, I say it now. In front of my girls. Maggie just this past weekend had an imaginary game going where my role was to pretend that I didn't think I was pretty (I was bewildered as to what provided the fodder for this game). Then she would tell me I was pretty and I would protest in a really exaggerated style. Gales of laughter. We did it over and over. Then she changed it, and my role was to know that I was pretty. She told me I was pretty and I beamed and said, Yes, I am!

I'm not making that up, isn't that crazy?

bink said...

Being told to smile always grated on me too. Some guy I went to grad school with said that to me shortly after a friend of mine had died of AIDS and I was deep in mourning. I viciously explained to him why I didn't feel like smiling. Shortly thereafter a stranger on the el train (in Chicago) made the same remark with the same result. I bet neither of those guys ever told a woman to smile again. Who do they think they are?

fresca said...

One of my pet peeves is that women writers are almost always smiling on their book jacket's author photos, while most men writers look all serious.
Talk about issues of author/ity.

But I know a lot of men suffer from the body image lies too---it's really insidious and hurts us all.

Rudyinparis said...

Exactly, Bink. Does it not occur to them that a woman may be dealing with some horrible personal event, or struggling with something horrible? What the f***?

BTW, Fresca, I was hoping for more "Fresca Gone Wild" stuff as shot by Snoop Dog and instead I get Edward Weston here. I'll be expecting a You Tube video to make up for it.

***Dude, I keep being unable to pass the "Are you human?" verification test. It is very disturbing.

fresca said...

Yes, R., you're right. I hang my head and admit I was too nervous to go the Snoop Dog route, and I hid behind "I'm presenting my body as being remarkably like a green pepper, so please don't say mean things about it."
Let me tell ya, it's nervous-making enough to appear as a piece of art...
I'm working up to the video version. You go first, OK?
P.S. I'm always failing that word-verification thing too--and I am a human (I have the photos to prove it!).

bink said...

xxx nnnn
mmm n n
O j j q
m k k q
m w k k q
allllllllllllllllllllllllllllf u b q
g Can you tell I'm "reclaiming" my body here?
appearing as a piece of art....

bink said...

Well, that didn't work. I used the letters up above to do a little drawing of my body in the comment box. Unfortunately, when it was published blogger took out all the spaces, leaving the above nonsense comment. Oh well, I tried.

fresca said...

Bink--Thanks for trying. Take a photo of your self-portrait in letters of the alphabet and send it that way, OK? : )

Lee said...

A wonderful post, Francesca, and great comments here, too, from your thoughtful public. It really is messed up, and not fair, and there needs to be a rebellion. As a dude, I do have certain involuntary reactions to "pretty" women, but I try very hard not to let those reactions dictate the degree-of-personhood I experience in others. Everybody's a soul stuck in/with this flesh, which should be a celebration and revelation of being since it's what carries this lovely, fantastic, miraculous spark of love and thought and consciousness around. I do have to add something, as well, on the subject of smiling: at one of my recent jobs, one of my co-workers kept getting all this guff from the (all female) managers about not smiling more. And yet, she was a veritable smile-factory compared to me, and they never said a thing to me about it. I thought that was very unfair, though my preferred solution was to have them stop bugging her, not start bugging me. :-)

In conclusion, enjoy your bodies and peace out, y'all!

fresca said...

I love what you say, Lee. Absolutely: nothing whatsoever wrong in appreciating physical beauty!!! (Yum!)
Many things wrong with exploiting it or limiting oneself to it.

And yeah, women can be just as much enforcers of cultural tyranny as men--
we are in this together, for better or worse.

You point out a problem--sometimes "equality" goes the wrong way--toward everyone being equally oppressed instead of equality liberated.
Like, how did the women's liberation movement end up with American women soldiers being among the abusers at Abu Ghraib???
The idea was supposed to be that we would all be more peaceful.
Let's try that again.