Bodies have been on my mind. I read two very interesting posts this week on bodies thanks to the savvy Clementine Ford who shared a great piece by Whitney Teal and then wrote her own response. Both pieces are on the idea of the “right kind” of body, or the idea of what might be deemed an attractive body by society, marketers, the media or anyone who wants to register bodies to be good, bad, better, worse or unacceptable.
Each of us have a concept of what we want our bodies to be and what we think our bodies should be. That might be related to size, shape or level of perceived attractiveness. They can be considered in relation to labels of gender and sexuality. For some bodies might be a considered as to how they operate; able, disabled, healthy, sick, strong or weak or even the ability of our bodies to give life to others, take life away or be built upon in some form of cyborg, more human than human capacity. Bodies can be discussed in relation to numerous academic disciplines and intellectual perspectives and the dialogues that happen around this issue are rich in debate and detail.
Like most people I have my own ideas and issues around bodies; my body. As mentioned in the article by Teal, I’ve found the recent popularisation of the hour glass figure problematic. While I have a body size that generally meets societal acceptation, there remains plenty of other ways I can deem myself to be lacking or unacceptable by imposed standards of beauty and or femineity. The “real women have curves” tag line was long a point of contention as a formerly skinny up and down teen. In recent years the hour glass figure “trend” in fashion has seen shopping for clothes become frustrating as my body’s curves are apparently not in the appropriate places. When talking about bodies and beauty, one woman’s empowerment can be another’s dismissal (of course this issue is not resigned to women only).
I’m not anti fashion; I understand the drive of marketing and advertising it’s just become apparent that I may not be part of the key target market for fashion and beauty products. The images of models doe eyed and mouths pursed in a breathless shape confuse me. I don’t want to channel the 1950’s as a dolled up housewife or alternative sexy pin-up. I don’t want to be Miranda Kerr, Kim Kardashian or Beyonce (I’m sure they’re all nice enough). Many of my clothing choices these days come down to comfort – will this be suitable for sitting at my desk all day and comfortable enough to walk across campus to my car? Can I eat a large bowl of pasta without having to undo a button? How quickly can this be removed in the heat of the moment?
I recently had a conversation with a male friend about female appearances and in particular makeup. In a conversation about our respective love lives I mentioned being at a bar with my person of interest aware that I was probably the only female in the room not wearing makeup. My male friend sounded surprised at my barefaced choice “you didn’t wear makeup?!” I explained to my friend that while I do like wearing makeup (I trained in makeup artistry many years ago) I no longer feel the need to wear it often. Interestingly enough, he went on to tell me he thought one his person’s of interest wore too much makeup and that this in part was a deterrent for him. So even though he himself does not find heavily made-up faces attractive he still held belief that makeup was a protocol of the dating ritual. Tracey Spicer delivered a fabulous talk on the ideals held about women’s personal “presentation” in the workplace that I’d highly recommend. Ritual and representation plays a key part in our thinking about bodies, beauty and presentation. Comparison and evaluation of worth is part of that ritual for many of us.
Our bodies can directly impact our sense of worth. The academic discourses around bodies are often raised in relation to my work. When discussing self-injury words like embodiment are used; lines are drawn to the patriarchal impact on women’s bodies and the idea of the “skin-ego”. This work has its intellectual place and may be more relevant to some people’s experiences with self-injury than others. As I see it self-injury is self-worth impacting on the body (as opposed to the other way around). The self-injury body relationship is a strange one and likely varies due to the underlying issues and experiences of the individual. The experience of the scarred body is subjected to conventions of beauty and expectation of presentation. In online discussions on self-injury many who bare scars discuss their choice to “wear my scars” while others may choose to try to cover or conceal theirs. Some express that their scars are not significant enough and the same processes of comparison and value that occurs in relation to body size, shape etc can play out in relation to the severity of others scarring. I found that when my PhD shifted to the topic of self-injury many were surprised asking if I actually had scars, or exclaiming that my scars did not look any more noticeable than any individual who had an adventurous childhood. Is there a perceived “right kind” of self-injury body?
How I should feel about my self-injury body has at times been imposed on me by others. Many years ago I had a boyfriend who insisted on scrubbing my scars with harsh methods of exfoliation and tried to “help me” find the best potions and lotions to reduce my scars visibility. Before these experiences I can’t recall being bothered by the marks on my skin. I had another experience when I was chastised for not concealing my self-injured body. This individual claimed that by not doing so I was attempting to wear my self-injury as a “badge of honour”, the accuser drew a parallel to his sexuality “I’m gay but I don’t come in here wearing arseless chaps”. If these are the ideals placed upon the self-injury body then the assumption is that scars must be of a thick keloid appearance to be warranted as sufficiently damaged, self-injury bodies must also be kept out of sight to avoid imposing upon others and that self-injury bodies should be seen as in need of repair.
I’m not planning to offer solutions to any of the ideas or issues raised here. We each have our own choices to make when it comes to bodies and the expectations and conventions placed upon them. In my mind when it comes to our bodies, they are nobody’s business but our own.