This is the start of something that may just end up being me blabbing on at myself, but even so, I feel it's something that I have to do.
I was (lovingly) prodded into this by my dear prellung after a series of private discussions we had through messaging one another on tumblr like the mad insomniac women that we are. It took a turn for the interesting when she challenged me with the fact that out of everything we discussed, there was clearly a restraint on my part when it came to giving my own personal views. Rather, those came out in other outlets, be it my writing or subjects I reblog on tumblr, but all in all, I keep an impersonal distance between myself and the content I post.
And you know, I get that. I declare myself, here on my own lj, tumblr, and frequently irl that I am a feminist, because, I am. There are many stances I take and beliefs I hold that I don't find myself discussing enough, especially with other women.
Which has led me to this.
I love a good discussion, and there's a lot I'd love to get into. So why not do it? I decided, every week, to have a discussion post in order to open a feminist dialogue. The topic will change every Saturday and will be focused on feminist/activist issues. It's going to get personal and messy on my part, but I welcome that. This won't be relegated to getting completely scholarly, but to be personal, because, quite frankly, I have a lot of feelings about a lot of things.
So, without further ado:
This week's post is focused on women and body image (something that I and many other women are well-acquainted with).
This post will remain unlocked. You don't have to be on my f-list to comment if you'd like. Anon commenting is also enabled, but comments that are purposely harmful/triggering will be deleted.
This post is NSFW, so head's up.
What spurred this on was my shared observation with prellung over the fact that I've not shaved my legs and underarms in over a week (as I type this, I'm getting into week two); this came after an ongoing discussion we had about women and our place in society, which of course, included all things that women are told we're not to be. Among them is the notion that as women, we must rip out any and all body hair that is not relegated to our eyebrows and scalps.
As I sit here on the couch in my beloved flannel owl print pajamas, I've been taking a peek at my calves, I see the hair growth, and I wonder just how, exactly, something as natural as body hair is supposed to be so repugnant?
When talking to prellung about this, I shamelessly gave excuses for why I have yet to shave; that even though it's been nearly two weeks now, rest assured, that hair will not stay a permanent fixture. I will be honest, however. I do prefer the feel of smooth skin, and being as queer as I am, I do very much enjoy the feel of smooth thighs on a woman.
But why is that?
I was never taught to shave my legs. As I can clearly recall, I was twelve years old when I first began. Such a decision was not prompted by my mother or any other women relatives, nor was it from any of my peers.
Twelve years old is the age at which I became all too aware of myself. It was as if a switch was flipped within me; up until then, I had self-esteem and in general, I'd say I was a well-adjusted child. But then, somehow, my twelfth year was the year I completely hated myself. Shaving my legs was only the beginning.
The following years of my adolescence were ones that, if given the opportunity, I'd erase; I'd gladly call for a do-over - even if it meant altering my present and future. It's all just fantasy, but I'd trade anything for years wasted on disordered thinking, disordered eating, and spending everything waking hour scrutinizing every inch of my still developing, young body.
Now, at the age of twenty-eight, I think of how absurd it is that at age twelve, I so thoroughly despised the sight of myself. Yet truth be told, that self-hatred was unrelenting until at least a few years ago; I look back on myself at age fifteen, at age twenty-two, and even just last year and I almost can't believe it.
I mean, it is absurd, right?
As women, we have been taught, seemingly from birth, to fear our bodies; to hate ourselves if we don't conform to the standards of beauty that have been set for us. Certainly as consumers, we do our part in perpetuating those standards, but this is something I feel that goes beyond the simple proposal of, Why don't you women just stop doing that? as I've heard that enough, and quite frankly, shut up.
When I take the time to think about it - really, really think about it - I'd be foolish not to recognize the fact that none of our beliefs and worldviews are just formed within a vacuum. There are outside influences that come into play - namely, society and the world that I, as a young, queer, cis white woman, have grown up and continue to live in. Ours is a society steeped in misogyny and privilege, meaning Godspeed to you white, heterosexual cis men and to hell with the rest of you.
We as women are constantly barraged with manufactured imagery dictating to us how we should look, act, live, and think; an utterly ridiculous set of rules that are arbitrarily written and re-written, which we must adhere to and keep up with lest we be viewed as less than desirable by the heterosexual white cis males that started - and continue to inflict - this whole mess to begin with.
While it seems that I may hold a bleak worldview, I feel that I don't. It's just that when I really give thought to all of this, it must be done through a critical eye - especially for those of us who are women.
For many of us, we've just about heard it all, ad nauseum - Short hair makes you look like a dyke Fat is disgusting You're too skinny Your body is revolting You're ugly You're a slut You're a prude Pubic hair is gross Your breasts sag Your ass is too big That's unladylike You'll never be good enough - and we always will; be it from the media, our families, our friends, our lovers, and most egregiously of all - ourselves.
When it comes to war waged on women and our body image, I have no clear answers. When I take the time to mull it all over as I'm doing now, I don't think I ever will - at least not for the time being. All I know is that this is something that we, as women, need to continue to call out and discuss. We need to find our strength wherever we can, but not through bogus beauty campaigns or the validation of others, but within ourselves and each other.
Allow me to let out all my feelings, won't you?
You see, I like to think of myself as subversive, to an extent, because the totally-punk-rock-eighteen-year-old-me still exists, apparently. As much pain as I was in then, (let me not forget to mention that depression is something I've battled since childhood) I was, in a way, more fearless.
I was angry.
As a result, I modeled myself after the likes of Courtney Love and Nancy Spungen. I wore possibly way too much black eyeliner than was necessary. I did whatever I wanted to my hair on a whim; I chopped it short, styled it into liberty spikes, and I dyed it a myriad of colors (turquoise remains my favorite of these). I was an obnoxiously opinionated baby feminist and I let my thoughts fly, whether asked to or not (I lost count of the people that rolled their eyes at me). Most of all, I didn't care.
Or so I liked to think.
More than anything, I look back and see someone who was scared. Desperately insecure, I was perpetually that twelve year old. As such, I forced people away before they could do the same to me, because in my mind, how could anyone genuinely like me? Those who were able to get past that remain close friends to me, even all these years later.
Sometimes, though, I look at myself and wonder. These days, I look more like a fixture in some artsy student film from 1990. I keep a very rigorous regimen for my overall appearance. All that remains anymore of that girl is the scar from my lip ring and my tattoos. They're almost like relics of an era long past.
I look at the hair on my legs, knowing that it will be gone by tomorrow and I think of how strange it is that removing this hair was always a priority as soon as it grew in, but that letting the hair on my head grow longer has become important to me over the years.
The last time I had long hair was when I was twelve, actually. Two girls I knew used to make fun of me, which included my long hair. In a bid for control, I had it chopped off, reasoning that they'd have nothing to mock me for if I took it away. Now I look back and think it odd to ridicule someone for the length of their hair.
As I keep saying, it's all absurd.
I keep that thought in mind as I look myself over in the mirror every morning and every night; it's inescapable, as my bathroom mirror is tall and wide, allowing me to view myself in more dimensions than possible on my own.
Sometimes, at the age of twenty-eight, I feel as though I'm too old. Realistically, I know I'm not, but it's just that adolescent insecurity creeping in.
I realize that while I'm no longer that angry young girl - who, in some ways I miss - I am more comfortable with who I am than I ever have been; I just find it lamentable that it took me all this time to get to there. It's almost as if that same switch that was flipped when I was twelve has now, at age twenty-eight, has been completely rewired.
But, better late than never, yes?
Finally being able to like myself (I admit, I still have a ways to go before I'll truly love myself) is something that I've had to come to on my own.
No one but me.
I look in that mirror and I can say that I quite like what I see: my long arms and legs, my breasts, my hipbones, and even that triangular patch of hair between my thighs. I see the body I had battled with for so long (and at times, truth be told, I still fight with), and I concede; I wave my white flag.
And, for me, it's a personal triumph.