May 29, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Emma Watson on celebrity life and feminism, in July 2007…
Emma [is not] afraid to offer opinions on other contentious issues of the day – such as feminism and size zero. Naturally slim, she is aware that in commenting on weight she might be criticised by schoolmates…”There are so many girls at my school who suffer from eating disorders. There is so much pressure on girls our age to be smart and pretty and funny and skinny – they have to be everything. I definitely know what that pressure is like but my philosophy is to eat what you like and be healthy and take exercise.”
One thing that annoys her about her female contemporaries is their reluctance – from vanity, she thinks – to continue with sport in their late teens.
“I am such a feminist on this. It drives me nuts when friends say, ‘We can’t continue because sport gives you muscles and it’s so unattractive, and you get sweaty.’ For some reason girls seem to think it is unfeminine and they worry about being ‘pretty’. But I feel the most pretty when I come off the pitch after a hockey game and I have got pink cheeks and bright eyes. Sport really makes me feel good about myself.”
May 25, 2009 § 9 Comments
As some of you may know, Shira and I run a feminism club at our high school. Our big project for the year was putting together a magazine of student writing. This series, spread out over the next week or so, will feature a selection of those articles (posted with permission of the writers). Enjoy! -Miranda
Beware The Virtual Babes – by Luke, a high school junior.
Part of a surging industry, videogames have been met with scrutiny and criticism. Critics have carped on videogames for encouraging violence, social isolation, and academic laziness. However, there is subtler problem that plagues many videogames: the unfair representation of women’s bodies. It may sound redundant to criticize the videogame industry for being “unrealistic,” but it’s important to consider the prominence and influence of games in our culture. 80% of all U.S. children have played videogames. An entire generation is absorbing a virtual, distorted image of what women “should” look like. Although more women are becoming involved in the game industry, it is still a patriarchal industry.
The story of sexism within the videogame industry begins, perhaps, with the videogames series Tomb Raider. Featuring the adventurous, beautiful, and powerful Lara Croft (later played by Angelina Jolie in the film adaptation), Tomb Raider is one of the world’s most successful games. Lara Croft set a sexual precedent for women in future videogames: voluptuous curves, minimal clothing, and flawless faces. In addition to her beauty, Lara Croft can leap with cat-like agility, perform death-defying stunts, and wield dual pistols. Thus, videogames send a dangerous message to women: without “beauty,” you cannot be powerful.
Short shorts, tight tank top, big bust, Lara Croft is as dangerous as she looks. And I’m not talking about her guns.
But Tomb Raider was released in 1996. Since then, the hyper-sexualization of women in videogames has become even more extreme. Released in 2008, Age of Conan is an online game where you can create your own male or female characters. You can customize their height, weight, and even body type. However, when I tried to create a female that looked like the average American woman – size 14 – the game wouldn’t let me. At the very most, I could make a size 10 female.
One might argue that because videogames are largely consumed by male audiences, they do not damage the female psyche. Such an assumption is not supported by the numbers: the Entertainment Software Rating Board estimates that 42% of all PC gamers are girls. And even if girls didn’t play videogames, these fictional females give unrealistic expectations to male gamers. If boys grow up expecting real life counterparts to “Casilda,” they will wind up very disappointed.
Meet Casilda, a typical Age of Conan female.
But can we really blame these videogame companies? Like other companies, aren’t they just trying to appeal to their target audience in a time of financial hardship? The answer is yes: we can blame them. Sex may sell, but the profits reaped by these software developers come at the expense of the objectification and hyper-sexualization of women.
However, if we solely criticize the game industry, we dismiss our responsibility as consumers. We are responsible for being aware of these stereotypes, so that they do not spread further throughout society. Furthermore, society is responsible for accepting women as being powerful in their own right. After all, you don’t need to wear a bikini in order to fight bad guys.
May 25, 2009 § 9 Comments
Two years ago, I lost weight. Growing up, I was made to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. Left to the devices of a television that made me feel inadequate, magazines that made me feel I was in need of a makeover, a doctor that criticized the numbers on a scale, verbal abuse from my peers, and a me who did not understand the meaning of size acceptance, I became obsessed with my appearance. Inevitably, I dieted.
At the time, I had not begun my love affair with feminism, let alone that with fat acceptance (I still bring up the latter during family dinners just to have the opportunity to educate the confused faces around the table). Before my discovery of the ability to let my body be what it wanted to be, I began to physically shrink. Almost everyone commented. When I changed my Facebook photo, people who I barely knew began to commend me on what they thought were improvements. I thought that if I “got thin” people would stop commenting on my weight, but no, the awkward dotes about my body just kept on coming.
It is considered far too acceptable to comment on women’s weight. Worse off, it is considered far too acceptable to commend thinness and criticize fatness. Although I never verbally criticized other women’s bodies the way I was conditioned to, I internally criticized my own. I am ashamed to say that when I dropped a few sizes and compliments abounded, I said “thank you.”
I no longer believe in dieting as healthy (neither physically nor mentally). I, diet-free, have a new system of beliefs: feminism and acceptance, the two joyously frolicking hand-in-hand. I believe in the power of my mind and body to take up space. It does not matter to me how much space I take up. Simply that I make an imprint on the face of equality is good enough for me. It does not matter if I’m a size 4 or a size 14. With feminism and acceptance, the imprint is still the same.
For some esoteric reason, people still comment on my weight. I do not blame them; they were taught to idealize one type of body and I provide a before, after, and yo-yoing picture for them. For similar societal pressures as why I lost weight, they comment on it. The difference between this year and last year is that this year, I do not say “thank you.”
Through feminism, I have become a size activist, reading the prose of other women speaking out against body discrimination and co-leading discussions on body ideals at my school’s feminism club. With the breadth of knowledge that I have gained from awareness and acceptance, I do not say “thank you,” but that alone unfortunately does not keep my friend’s mother from calling me “the incredible shrinking person” or my second-cousin-once-removed telling me I “look so much better after losing the weight.” Because I no longer deem these innocently demoralizing remarks worthy of my gratitude, I am left stuttering or awkwardly silent during the pause in which I’m expected to say “thank you.”
So what do I, a feminist size activist, do now? The comments keep coming, my body’s not changing, and the awkwardness pervades because I will not express my gratitude for recognition of conformity. How can I tell these people that my weight is not to be commented on (positively or negatively) when they are so innocently trying to compliment me? How do I spread this rant of size acceptance to people who just expect a “thank you” out of my loud mouth?
May 22, 2009 § 6 Comments
A family friend of mine is a professor at Barnard College, and was telling me about their fantastic graduation ceremony the other day. Hillary Clinton was the commencement speaker (jealousy!); a few students presented speeches as well.
Sarah Nager, the winner of a speaking competition, gave the “Academic Reflections” address, in which she drew parallels between the amount of space women are allowed to take up literally (on the subway) and figuratively (in leadership roles and in society at large). She praised Barnard as an institution that “does not limit the amount of space women take up.”
Nager’s speech directly addresses a double standard that I – and many other feminists – think about a lot. Quite simply, guys are encouraged to be there, to make their presence known. Male body ideals – tall, chiseled, formidable – teach men to value strength and self-reliance. They should stand up straight, look people in the eye, shake hands firmly. They should be able to defend themselves.
Women, on the other hand, always need a man to protect them. We fall back on the scientific “proof” that men are physically stronger than women (which is true. Men, on average, can bench press more weight – but then again, most women can grow a child using only their bodies. Interesting what society deems important, isn’t it?), but in actuality these roles are socially constructed and implemented. The activities that girls are most often encouraged to pursue, like dance and gymnastics, are of course physically demanding, but they are cloaked in an air of performance and superficiality. Girls should move their bodies not to become stronger or have fun, but because they’ll look pretty for an audience.
This idea goes farther than just physical activity. It extends to other spheres as well:
- Body odor: Deodorant marketed to men often has a strong, “spicy” scent, while women’s deodorant is mild and meant to be concealed.
- Body fluids: Semen is socially acknowledged and talked about casually. Vaginal fluids and menstrual blood, on the other hand, are supposed to be wiped up as fast as possible and kept hidden from the world.
- Posture: In my experience, strikingly tall men carry themselves with pride and confidence, whereas similar women tend to slouch.
How can we show girls – and perhaps more importantly, show ourselves – that taking up space is not only okay, it is a vital part of maintaining our physical presence and autonomy? What do y’all do to assert your physical, and consequently intellectual, selves?
May 17, 2009 § 1 Comment
The third installment in this weekend series is dedicated to speaking out against those who place a woman’s body weight over her moral weight. Too many women don’t accept their bodies as they are — fat, thin, medium, small, large, changing, stagnant, and everything in between. Idealistically, we say that everyone should accept their body, but with society dictating (quite specifically, actually) what women should weigh, it becomes pretty difficult to accept ourselves when we’re not accepted by anyone else. Enough of my non-rhythmic rant (you’ll see much more of it in posts to come). Here’s this week’s rhyme:
According to a train of thought,
all that is valuable about a person is for naught
if their waist
does not meet the narrow taste
of a status quo
where women are purely for show
and those who take up space
are discriminated, abased.
Past selves are trampled on
when superficial judges fawn
over a body changed;
their logic is rudely deranged
because to be thin does not mean someone wins
the prize of fitting right in
with everyone else
who is not themselves
for who is society to say
what anyone’s body should weigh?
We are people whose minds breathe
and hearts grieve
for how can we accept our bodies as our own
if we are told our space cannot be shown?
March 23, 2009 § 3 Comments
We’ve had some gorgeous spring weather in New York recently, although it’s been depressingly sporadic (lookin’ at you, global warming). Sunshine and warm breezes are something I look forward to all winter long, but like many celebration-worthy events, they can be ruined by a little old-fashioned sexism.
Misogyny and sizeism take warm weather as an opportunity get down and dirty, as Kate points out in her excellent post about the difficulties of buying a bathing suit when you’re fat.
The magazines have started. We are now in the pre-season — the “unless you’re already quite thin, it’s time to start losing weight if you want to show your body in public this summer!” phase. (If you are quite thin, please wait for our May issue, when we’ll tell you you’re too pale*, hairy, blemished, and unfashionable, your boobs are too small to go with your butt, you could still stand to tone up those muscles, and your body insecurity is a real turn-off.)
*If you’re a woman of color, you’re probably exempt from this one, but on the downside, we have no idea you exist.
And this is precisely why I adore Shapely Prose. I’m a thin person, but I still read this hilarious, down-to-earth, morally radiant blog daily. Why? Besides the obvious – that our society’s rampant hatred of fat people is, uh, wrong – there’s the fact that it’s not just fat people’s bodies that are available for public commentary. We get mixed messages from mainstream culture: on the one hand, there is always something to be “fixed,” which means you’re naive to like your “imperfect” body – but on the other, confidence is sexy so don’t let your man see you feeling insecure.
As women, we are constantly dealing with the immense moral weight that’s placed onto our bodies. If you’re fat, you’re lazy. If you have big breasts, you’re a slut. If you have body hair, you’re dirty and masculine. If you’re thin, you’re probably anorexic - and you could definitely still lose some weight.
We must all take up arms in the fight for fat acceptance, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because all of us whose bodies are seen as indicators of moral worth will benefit from a world where our physical selves are celebrated and accepted without critique. As Kate points out on the Shapely Prose comments page:
If you’re still not getting it, think about the difference between these two people:
Skinny Person A: You know, I really respect what you’re doing here, because people comment on my body and my eating habits all the time, and they assume I’m unhealthy just because of my weight. I don’t know what it’s like to be fat in this society, but I know what it’s like to have my body treated as public property and be judged negatively because of my size. It fucking sucks, so the Fat Acceptance movement resonates with me, and I hope I can be an ally.
Word. Allied action is where it’s at.
March 21, 2009 § 7 Comments
This week, Vogue‘s Shape issue, which touts “fashion for every figure,” has me pissed.
First off, there’s no way in hell that this magazine represents women of all shapes. The evidence is right there on the cover: above the Shape Issue: Fashion for Every Figure, from size 0 to 20 copy, I see NIP/TUCK: Designing a Perfect Body. And towards the bottom of the cover: Work It! Longer Legs, Leaner Lines, Sexier Silhouette. Because apparently only long legs and lean lines are sexy. Fuck that.
But the real misogynistic fodder is on the inside, in the Laid Bare spread (again with the long legs obsession: sky-high heels in leg-lengthening flesh tones are a revelation - really? A revelation? Because I think we’ve been seeing long, thin limbs in magazines for quite some time, and they’re certainly not missing from this issue). Pics from the spread after the jump.
March 19, 2009 § 4 Comments
A few things I can think of that are really fucking wrong with this, just off the top of my seriously pissed off head: a) the whole objectifying women thing. Just a reminder: we don’t like being defined by our breasts, or any body part for that matter. And b) that said body parts are fucking for sale. In an arcade game. Where you’d pay something like 50 cents in the hopes of winning this horrendous “prize” and probably wouldn’t even beat the machine nine times out of ten.
Stay classy, objectifying motherfuckers.
March 15, 2009 § 18 Comments
I don’t know how many of you watch America’s Next Top Model, but the first episode of the twelfth cycle premiered last Wednesday and has sparked some controversy over the first official photo shoot. It involved the girls (all of whom are 18+ years old) being dressed up as and posing as little girls. As Tyra described it:
This issue is really important to me, the issue of teen girls and being what I call ‘out of control.’ I did a survey on my talk-show website, and I found that one in five girls that are teens that we surveyed actually want to be a teen mom. Purity and innocence is something that’s being lost and as you Top Models are doing this photo shoot, you guys are role models, too. The assignment was for you all to embody different little games that little girls play on the playground. (Emphasis mine.)
Silvia and I both watched this episode and cringed. Our thoughts below the jump, including pictures from the photo shoot.
March 1, 2009 § Leave a Comment
In response to some of the great posts written recently about street harassment and inappropriate comments, I’d like to share one of my own stories.
I was in a deli on Friday when a young man said “Miss, you have very nice eyes.” I thanked him and continued on with my day, not phased or annoyed at all.
Had he picked a different body part, particularly a female-specific body part, I probably would have freaked out. But he picked my eyes- a body part that everyone (hopefully) has. He could have said the same thing to a man or to a transperson. Is the difference between a compliment and harassment that a compliment is gender- neutral?
I also appreciated the tone he used. I obviously couldn’t gauge his intentions, but from what I could tell, he really just wanted to tell me that he thought that my eyes were nice. I guess I’m saying that I didn’t sense guile or malice in his voice, and it didn’t make me feel degraded or self-conscious. But how do we define a tone that makes us comfortable v. a tone that makes us uncomfortable?
Ultimately, all of this is personal. Some people argue that no person should ever make a comment about your body, regardless of their intentions, tone, etc.
But what do YOU think? What is a compliment and what is harassment? What makes you feel comfortable and what creeps you out? Where is that line?
Have a productive Sunday night and a painless Monday!