Posts Tagged body image

Trickling through the Hourglass

Relationship wise, me and my body are terrific friends. Not just because we occupy the same space, but I sincerely feel as though I have forged a strong bond with my body. I feel harmony between my mind and body. My mind has the ability to affect my body physically. When I discover things that really move me, I feel it transcend to my body. My mind can make me feel physically sick, while sometimes it can place me in a reassuring place. Conversely, my body can influence my mind. An orgasm, a post-workout runner’s high, or a lingering pain can form mental states ranging from euphoria to catastrophe.

One of the main areas of influence that a child experiences when forming their idea of gender roles and their relationship with their body is the family. I grew up with a mother who cared too much about her body. Fortunately, I was too stubborn to be affected negatively by her obsessiveness, but I remember clearly thinking that she was a terrible body role model. She was always watching her weight, which was certainly below her BMI. She was constantly exercising and her night would be ruined if she ate too much at dinner.  And she believed that having small breasts should make someone feel less like a woman. Now, I’m a slim girl, and I have been my whole life, but I’ve always loved being a woman and never questioned how much of a one I am. I can’t help but refer back to a documentary I watched while browsing Netflix’s Instant Play catalog. It was simply called Breasts: A Documentary  and it featured women of all ages, sizes, shapes, and backgrounds discussing their breasts in humorous and sometimes eye-opening ways. Of course, some of these women share their own stories of how society has imposed its views upon their chest. Men (and women) are gendered from a young age to appreciate and hope for large breasts, but whether this is a biologically explained or not, biology likes to get creative when shaping breasts. There is no doubt social pressures for a feminine appearance that is both slender and athletic while maintaing voluptuous, “womanly” curves. I’m sure some men and women, when asked what an ideal female body is, will conjure up images of the Hooters girl and other famous hourglass shapes.

 

The infamous hourglass figure

Unlike my mother, I recognize where I came from, what I am, and what I have. I love being able to go bra-less (Let’s burn some!). I like my body and like being able to convoy my inner self to the world through my outer self. I love traditionally “feminine” things not because I was told to do them, but just because I’ve developed an interest in them, whether it be sewing, fashion, or cooking, which I like to do with my dad. Julia Serano, in the “Boygasms and Girlgasms” chapter of Whipping Girl discusses some of the biological differences in men and women on the hormonal level. Sure, testosterone is known to increased sex drive and estrogen is known to increase the intensity of emotional feelings, but as Serano says, “if one were to argue that this biological difference represents an essential gender difference-one that holds true for all women and all men-they would be incorrect.” Just as one can find incredible variety in the beautiful, bountiful breasts owned by women across the world, it is the differences between individuals that makes each person so fantastic. I am a woman, I am a woman with emotions, but I get emotional for different reasons than the woman down the hall would. I am a sexual woman, but I find pleasure in different things than the woman I sat next to on the train might. The differences that distinguish us, and the common similarities that unite us, are what construct the overarching web of womankind that I identify with and enjoy contributing to in my own way.

-Amber McGarvey

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My Gendered Body and Me

The first question everyone asks about you the moment you are born is: “Is it a boy or a girl?” From that moment forward we are forced into the tiny gender box we have been placed in. We are assigned clothing colors, so that our gender can determined with just one glance; we are assigned bathrooms, so we never have to be confused about where we belong; every standardized test, survey, and application drills into our head which side of the binary our gender is on with the check of a box; we have presumed occupations and job aspirations, since men and women are considered unequal in our patriarchal society; even our behavior is gendered: women cross their legs to take up less space, men speak loudly to assert their dominance, and so on. We have pushed, through this forced gender binary, our own society off balance and into rampant sexism, cisexism, and discrimination that has yet to be checked in any significant way. In the essay “Boygasms and Girlgasms,” by Julia Serano (from her book Whipping Girl), that we read for class, a phrase that stuck with me was when she stated: “Gender is not socially constructed but socially exaggerated” and that “while biological gender differences are very real, most of the connotations, values, and assumptions we associate with female and male biology are not.” This speaks to me because I can definitely see a few inconsequential but undeniable biological differences (what stimulates us, or methods of processing for example) but I too believe that as a highly gendered society we have blown these differences completely out of proportion to fit the needs of those in power. Through this dynamic I am privileged, which contributes to my gender identity. I am cisgender, so I don’t have to ever question the gender that has been assigned to me; I am heterosexual, so I never have to question my femininity based on my sexual preference; I have white privilege, this allows me to been seen as valuable, a luxury many minorities are forced to go without (as we discussed in class, around the article “Sin, Nature and Black Women’s Bodies” by Dolores A. Williams, where women of color are not only gendered but also dehumanized and/or over-sexualized). These privileges mean that I don’t always catch the gendering of our culture right away, however, I believe it is my duty to make myself more aware of these issues. The gendering of society hurts everyone; no one can escape its impact. My body is gendered because of this and due to the impact it has on gender roles and gender inequality in my life.

The gendering of my body is made most relevant to me in the female side of the spectrum due to how it has created gender roles and gendered body image. When I was younger I hated tights. I would refuse to wear them until my mother would finally grow impatient and force me to. They are itchy and uncomfortable and none of the boys I knew ever had to wear them, to me this seemed like a great injustice. They were, I was told, something that women had to wear to avoid indecency, a statement backed up by the women always modeling them on the package, and yet, as I have grown older, I view them more as shackles to an ideal beauty that I just don’t fit into rather than a magical key into that beauty’s world. That is my first memory of my body being gendered. My body, however, has been gendered in a much more significant way: by an irrational goal to reach the body type ideal that my full senses were barraged with daily. I was told one thing by the media, television, radios, magazines, and pictures: To be truly beautiful I must be skinny. This led to a lot of self-hate and negative personal body images in my life for a while. Society puts such a stress on women to be feminine that they have narrowed down their definition of being a woman to a degrading and almost unreachable goal. I must be quiet, submissive, passive, nurturing, caring but never overly emotional, bad at math and logic, unfit for politics, crazy when my period comes around, pure and virginal, catering to my MALE partner in the kitchen, home, and bed, and always grateful that men are around to “protect” me, all because I am a woman. My body left my mother’s uterus, a doctor assigned me the gender of female, and now I must fulfill every sexist stereotype and ideal or else it I am ugly, unseemly, or just plain undesirable.

 

The male gendering of society has also impacted me, in its creation of a patriarchy, gender inequality, and disrespect for other women’s bodies and mine. By gendering people’s bodies, and forcing them into these hyper masculine or feminine states, we have created a disrespectful and hate charged atmosphere. Men are forced into strict behaviors that leave no room for expression or emotion. They must be “manly” and strong at all times. As we discussed in class, the portrayal of this role instills in men the idea that their needs are the most important, that a “real man” always gets what he wants and that they must constantly prove and validate their own “manhood” for fear of being called that scary word, a girl (which is of course the worst of all insults). This not only reinforces the gender binary’s idea that there are stark differences between the genders (an example of Serano’s exaggeration of gender differences) but also the propagation of violence and disrespect towards women. Street harassment and sexual assault are very much tied in with the gender binary; we create this system that perpetually separates the sexes while media states that violence is ok, or even sexy, and a pattern quickly forms where men feel entitled to comment on and take what they want from a women’s body simply because society tells them that that is what a real man does; while on the other side women are told to be passive and take it or even, horrifyingly enough, to view it as some sort of warped compliment. Growing up in Baltimore and now living in Carlisle, I have had my own share of harassment over the years. This has affected me by perpetuating my own gendered views of men and my own female bodies self worth.

The gendering of my body, and the discriminating social structures it creates, have led me to feel more connected to the environment and to other women. I feel, despite our many other differences, that when I meet a woman we have a shared fear and hope, heritage of discrimination, and impact of gendering on our bodies and so, for a split second, we share an identity before the rest of us comes crashing down. I feel my connectedness to the environment in a different manner however. As we have discussed in class, physically the gendering of my body impacts me because it places environment-based gender roles, such as gathering fire or providing food for a family, on my shoulders but also it links the attacks on/of the environment, such as natural disasters or harmful drilling, with those of women. I find similarity between the defacement of nature and someone harassing me on a street, between the government taking advantage of natural resources and a man taking advantage of me. Our society is not so diversely oppressive that each attack is so unique as to exclude it from any other. In this way it is nearly impossible to deny at least some small connection to our environment.

 

  “Miss Representation”: Official Trailer – YouTube

To combat the gendering of my body, I have decided: If I want to share my opinions I will, if I want to eat I will, if I want to spread my legs when I sit, or wear baggy clothes one day and tight clothes the next I will. Most importantly, if I want something then it matters and it is just as god damn important as it would be if I were a man wanting it. Society has gendered me, but I am fighting back.

 

P.S. This is an interesting documentary on challenging the gender binary and intersexuals, check it out if you have time (it is a bit dated but still good).

http://www.isna.org/videos/boy_or_girl

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Body Awareness and Femininity

Seventeen Magazine, perpetuating beauty ideals with an overly Photoshopped image

I’m a person who is annoyingly in tune with her body. For me and people like me, we note how sluggish we feel after devouring a pizza drenched in liquidized fat. We feel the way our bones and muscles move when we shift a bit in uncomfortable wooden seats. We’re aware.

I wasn’t always one of those people. Part of this connection stems from accepting my body for what it is, not what it isn’t. I’m sure I’m not the only girl who’s stood in front of a mirror and nitpicked about not having a shape like Beyonce. Therefore, my connection to my body was closely tied to my “femininity.” As someone who perceived herself as “unfeminine” thanks to her height, aspects of my gender identity came from other places that had less to do with my physical body and more to do with societal perceptions of it. Sure, society may exaggerate the minimal biological differences between male and female, as Julia Serano wrote in her article Boygasms and Girlgasms: A Frank Discussion About Hormones and Gender Differences. We still exist in a society that largely perceives gender as binary. If someone is not that feminine, they must be more masculine. If someone looks like a female, they will be treated as a female.

Shared experience significantly contributed to part of my identity as a female when I deemed my physical body as a bit less “feminine.” For example, many women have stepped outside to be greeted by wolf whistles and saucy remarks about their appearance, often by men they did not know. I could relate to that with my other female friends, their responses varying from, “I feel like I’m being treated like a piece of meat” to “I take it as a compliment.” Catcalling is another manifestation of how women’s bodies are the subject of criticism – from magazine covers to YouTube comments to a walk down the infamous and now-defunct cafwalk. Take, for example, Adele. She’s a talented artist and a beautiful woman, but she was recently called “a little too fat” by one of the biggest names in fashion, Karl Lagerfeld. If ladies on the thinner, less curvy side, they still get criticized. There is no winning.

Another facet of body-shaming culture, this time in Internet form.

External criticism is, unfortunately, a shared experience for women that attacks their femininity regardless of their size or shape. It’s the shared experiences that make me most aware of my gendered, female body, as opposed to having female “parts.”

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