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Why This Matters

April 30, 2010

In a post on Jezebel today, Helen Razer took to task many in the media for calling Britney Spears’ decision to release the untouched photos from her recent Candie’s photo shoot–photos that reveal her slightly-chunky thighs and cellulite–“brave”, “bold” and “awesome”.

My own view is that such “real”, “bold” images are every bit as useful to the ongoing feminist struggle as, say, a discount voucher for a push-up bra. Pictures of gorgeous ladies looking a little less gorgeous than they normally might serve no real civic purpose beyond selling product.

At first, I thought I might be able to get on board with–or at least understand–Razer’s point. When, like Spears, you are so close to our society’s ‘ideal’ of beauty (white, thin, able-bodies, cis, etc.), how bold, brave or revolutionary is it to show a little cellulite? Are these images in fact widening the standards of beauty at all? But this is not the direction in which Razer takes her argument. No, she goes on to bash body positivity and the effort to promote positive body image as a distraction from ‘real’ feminist concerns like “equal pay, domestic violence and federal representation.” She denigrates efforts to widen the standards of beauty and promote body positivity, saying, “This just in: heat is hot, water is wet and teenagers are obsessed with their appearance.” Well, as you might guess, I disagree.

Body positivity matters to the feminist movement. It matters because every second a woman spends obsessing about her appearance or counting calories is one less that she can devote to critical thought, political engagement or working for gender equality. It matters because women–and all people– should not have to define their self-worth based on their proximity to the white, cis, able-bodied, thin ideal. It matters because we must reject the idea that plastic surgery, makeup, trendy diets and designer clothes, rather than feminist ideals like equality and freedom of choice, are what will really empower us. It matters because loving your body means treating it right, working to make it healthy and safe and respectful of other bodies. It matters because embracing your body and sexuality can lead to a more fulfilling, safer sex life. It matters because every inch we widen the definition of beauty is an important step in the empowerment of all people-trans people, people with disabilities, people of color, men, women and others. It matters because fat is not unhealthy and we need to stop deluding ourselves that it is–the “obesity epidemic” distracts from real issues of class, race and gender. It matters because when we respect ourselves we begin to demand that others respect us as well–in our relationships, at work, in public life. It matters because body positivity creates bonds between us that foster community, creativity and empowerment.

For these and so, so many other reasons, body positivity is at the heart of the feminist movement. We cannot stop fighting for equal pay, fair representation, reproductive justice, LGBT rights, domestic and sexual violence prevention and so many other rights, but valuing ourselves and each other enough to fight for these feminist ideals starts at home–by owning, loving and celebrating our bodies.

/end rant

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Ashley permalink
    April 30, 2010 7:08 PM

    I don’t really have much to add to this (because it’s so dead on) but I just wanted to comment and say how much it means to me for posts like this to exist; sometimes it’s really hard for me to put into coherent words these kinds of thoughts and ideas (especially if I’m talking directly to someone [and even more especially if it’s someone who’s aggressively challenging my ideas and trying to shut me down]). So when I read posts like this it really makes me feel good and empowered and supported; just seeing the ideas spelled out so easily really helps and it also helps me think of new ways to construct my own thoughts.

    With the one-year birthday of Pussy Goes Grrr, I’ve been thinking about Happy Bodies a lot since this is the blog that 1. inspired us to start our own blog and 2. got me and Andreas more involved in the feminists/sex/body-positive blogosphere. Thank you for everything.

  2. April 30, 2010 9:41 PM

    Feminists have bodies too, so it’s crucial for a feminist to be at peace with her own body and choices. That’s really where freedom begins, from the inside out! I agree with you a 100%.
    By the way I invite you to get to know my new blogging experience at More of Me to Love. It’s a great website! I’m writing about fashion in a Health at every size and self acceptance perspective!

    Have a nice weekend!

  3. Lisa permalink
    May 1, 2010 10:26 AM

    Jill, thanks for this post. That post at Jezebel really irked me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. But you expressed my frustrations perfectly. I think it is absolutely “bold” of Britney Spears to release those pictures. Celebrities bodies are held up to an incredibly high standard of beauty, and there will be lots of people trashing her body after seeing those photos. And I also think that showing how fake all of those magazine and album cover and publicity shots are is really important as far as letting women know that those ideals aren’t real. The fact that they have to slim down Spears, who isn’t exactly a fatty, should show us how deluded our sense of “normal” has become.

    • Lisa permalink
      May 1, 2010 6:19 PM

      Dear Emily,
      I am the worst. Ever. Totally unclear to me why I thought Jill wrote this post. Apparently I can’t read. Sorry 😦

      PS – “celebrities” in my previous comment should have an apostrophe afterward.

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