Talking about body positivity and women's bodies, and social media always gets messy. Or so has been the case lately as I've continued to think long and hard about my feelings about the topic, and my role in all of it.
When we start to talk about the body positivity movement being a collection of women on social media dancing around in their underwear, and hunched over photos to showcase rolls, cellulite, etc. with a smile, we are missing the point. It seems this notion extends past social media to actual campaigns as well, with woman of all shapes in their underwear as solidarity? However noble the initial approach was, showing different body types doesn’t elevate women to anything more than their bodies. I’ve long been trying to convey the problem with body positivity is that it is obsessed with the body, and places women’s worth in the body yet again.
“Can we as women keep fighting the sexual objectification of our bodies and demand to be seen as more than our looks, when positive and inclusive campaigns for women are still buying into society’s fixation of the naked female body? While these images do not conform with the images typically seen of women in the mainstream, it still fits into the culture of the objectification and consumption of women’s bodies. Shouldn’t the movement be promoting healthier ways in which women and girls seek validation, instead of doing it through their body and looks?”*
Before the body shaming police come get me, let’s talk through this.
All of this social media nudity or underwear play is seen by some as empowering. Yet, take the word, empowerment. Though I think the word has lost most all meaning with it’s overuse, to empower, means to give power or authority to. This becomes problematic in that we are saying nudity, or showing ones body is the only way to get power. I draw a lot of issues with nudity being the only way in which we can be “empowered” as women. Playing to a system that devalues women is not empowerment. Though it’s not any individual woman’s fault for playing into such a system. It is a system so deeply embedded, it is overwhelming to think how we might get out unless it is completely dismantled.
But there are even more contradictions at play in this whole social media, women and women’s body discussion. The role of sex appeal comes up as well. We are bombarded by sex sells media, where woman are portrayed in specific ways, that further pushes women to assume they should perform in such a way. We are taught that women should care about body size and shape, beauty, youthfulness, and be sexually attractive. Women should be sexy, but not too sexy because when a woman actual owns her sexuality, she is judged or punished for it. Claim it empowerment, or free will, there is still judgment placed and yet again, women are minimized to a sum of their body parts or what they decide to do with them.
Nudity, is powerful. It can be raw, honest, and real. A confidence in one’s body, and comfort in one’s own skin is brilliant, and necessary. Nudity is not the problem. Bodies are not the problem. Social media is where things go awry. The need to put our bare bodies on a public forum for public consumption brings up questions about all of this. I always think it’s not what people do, it’s why they do it. What is the intent? Though the aim seems to be “desexualizing” the body, or showing bodies that are not normally seen in mainstream advertising, it still doesn’t achieve it’s intended goal whatsoever. As a female, showing your nude body has become the lowest common denominator of getting power. Be a naked woman, get attention. Be sexy or desirable by society’s standards naked, get even more attention. Put it on social media, where “conventional popularity and social approval”** reign supreme, and you’re in for myriad opinions; none of which really help or “empower” all women.
As many of my musings on this become, it’s a mess of thoughts and feelings I’m consistently working through from my own personal experiences on and off social media, and over a lifetime of being a woman.
Here are a few key points.
I want women to love their bodies.
I want the world to love and respect women.
I want women to never feel shame over their bodies, or what they do with them.
I want women to be seen as more than their bodies.
I want men and the internet to stop sexualizing women, and then deeming it the responsibility of the owner of the body to not elicit their unwelcome attention.
I want women to stop thinking more skin is more power.
I want society to stop making “more skin is more power” true.
I want to build communities of women who decide we can provide visual representations of our intellect, power, and skills…that have nothing to do with our bodies.
A personal note:
In my own life, a history of a deadly eating disorder and modeling brought up a great deal of thoughts over my body, and how it was seen since a young age. I have long looked at bodies artistic standpoint. Art, traditionally, had nudity as a means to allude an aura of purity. If I see a body, I’d like it to be imperfect, and to portray a flawed, non-idealized body that might be sensuous in it’s honesty and humanist leanings. I am not uncomfortable with the human body, nor am I uncomfortable with my own body. I do not think bodies are shameful. Nudity in itself is not obscene, nor is a body inherently “pornographic” if it lacks clothing.
As I moved into a public space, my favorite images are more abstract or stylized, no matter what skin is or isn’t shown. I see photography as an art. I see an image that is aesthetically appealing to me, and that’s what I like to share. Yet I quickly learned, once something is out in the world, it is no longer in your control. That didn't feel good. The most innocent of images can be manipulated or put in places through very dark lenses.
Trying to show body confidence without showing your body in a semi clothed state becomes tough. I wanted to think the fact I show up and present my passion, my work, and things I create, on a public forum is empowering enough. I also am of the belief, a life off social media, that is full of a healthy self worth, is the most empowering move of all. Be good for yourselves, and for your families and communities. Speak truth, and question anything that shows you the only way to be powerful is to use your body.