How can we add some more AND to our perception of women's bodies?
Recently, the hubs and I watched The Full Monty, the rare movie that makes both of us laugh out loud. And I came away with such a nice feeling. The movie addresses all manner of body image issues and insecurities, but ultimately celebrates the men's bodies all the while having a laugh both with and at them. There is only one conventionally handsome actor in the group, and they are all a little endearingly awkward when they dance. This is NOT a movie where they start terrible and end really great dancers - they basically start and end at the same place.
After the movie was over, I started wracking my brains for an equivalent movie for women. A movie that both celebrates women's bodies AND allows their bodies to be funny. I came up with Calendar Girls another English gem of a movie. But it isn't exactly equal because in Calendar Girls all the women are senior citizens. I get the feeling that as long as women's bodies are potentially sexy they aren't also allowed to be funny. (In the conventional sense - I think many older women are sexy as hell) And in Calendar Girls they were posing with strategically placed props - not gyrating around on stage. It's hard to imagine a movie where women of equivalent body types as the cast in The Full Monty dance on stage and are met with love, laughter, and acceptance from the audience. I can imagine people laughing at them in a jeering way, and because I've seen these sorts of comments far too often online I can just hear the following:
Ewwww. I don't want to see that.
Yuck. Put some clothes on.
Why? Why is a shirtless guy in too-small shorts acceptable in public and even funny, but say, a woman breastfeeding in public, not acceptable to many?
And to take it even further, why do we have to make all women's bodies ‘beautiful'? I see it all the time - someone criticizes a woman's body online and the automatic response is, “Shut up! She's beautiful." In Calendar Girls, the first woman to go topless isn't comfortable enough to have her photo taken until the photographer says, “You're beautiful." She visibly relaxes and her photo is captured. There is a similar scene in The Full Monty where the overweight character doesn't want to dance until his wife says she wants to see him dance. It feels different because it is his partner who is telling him, essentially, that he is beautiful in her eyes and that's all that matters.
Generally, men's bodies just ARE. And our perceptions of them change with what they are doing - a man's body can be funny, or sexy, or funny and sexy, or just THERE. A woman's body is alluring OR neat and tidy and everything put into its place so it can’t offend anyone. Legs shaved, bra on, anything unsightly covered up!
I realize that I am making some broad generalizations here and that many men feel insecure about their bodies and that there are more pressures now for men to look a certain way than there were 50 years ago. But this is the conversation I want to have right now - a general/broad one:
Why can men's bodies be funny AND sexy, strong AND goofy, flabby AND endearing? It's that AND that I'm most interested in.
How can we as a culture add some more AND to our perceptions of women's bodies?
And I want it FOR REAL for women - not just a ‘she's beautiful' stamped to everything we do. Why can't we be beautiful AND goofy, flabby, saggy, etc? Or dammit, get rid of the beautiful entirely - I would love some flabby AND endearing applied to women.
I put these questions to my friends on Facebook and two examples were given of women who ‘pulled it off’ as one of my friends put it: Lena Dunham on Girls and comedian Bridget Everett. I’ve never seen Girls but from what I’ve heard about the show, this seems like a great example. However, another one of my friends pointed out that all of the other characters on the show have stereotypically beautiful bodies. Hannah, Dunham’s character, breaks all the molds and that’s part of the idea behind the show. So, that one’s a toss up. Bridget Everett, however, is much more cut and dry. I watched some of her videos on Youtube, got a good laugh, then scrolled down to read the comments. It was just as I suspected - vile comments about her body that I will not repeat here. If Chris Farley had done similar videos, people everywhere would be in hysterics. People adored Farley when he did a Chippendales skit with Patrick Swayze. And while there are supportive comments on Everett’s videos (mostly from women) there are far too many shaming comments. Not surprising, but so disappointing.
My aunt and a friend both presented the idea that women have been taught that we are inherently inferior to men. We are instructed through religion, media, and the generations who have gone before to cover up, shut up, and be ashamed. We have both internalized these lies and continue to perpetuate them. Why? That’s a complicated question with, I’m guessing, hundreds of answers - but I think it all boils down to two things:
We believe it. Deep down as a culture and as women, we believe that there is something wrong/threatening/broken with the female body.
We are scared for our daughters and nieces. We are afraid that if they fully embrace their womanhood and own their femininity that they will be cast out from the community. We want to keep them safe so we continue the same harmful messaging that was passed down to us.
I’m here to call bullshit on ALL of the above. There is nothing inferior about the female body and it is time to stop teaching girls and young women that there is.
And, here’s the hard part ladies: it starts with believing that there is nothing wrong with your body.
My two nieces are both under the age of three. I get pictures of them naked on the beach, or sprawled out while playing, totally unconscious of what they look like. They delight in their bodies. They pat their round little bellies and laugh. They climb, and jump, and explore - their bodies are their delightful means of experiencing the world. I want this for them forever. I don’t want them to ever question whether or not they can do or be something because they are too fat, thin, short, tall, ugly, etc. If my nieces observe all the women that they look up to criticizing their own bodies, then they will eventually do the same to themselves.
I’d love to continue the conversation that I started on Facebook here. How can we be more loving, accepting, inclusive, etc. of women’s bodies in general, and toward our own bodies specifically? How can we add more ‘AND’ to our culture so that women’s bodies are more than sexy or distasteful? How can we influence media - both traditional and social - to reflect and celebrate reality rather than an idealized form that is only possible through surgery or photoshop?
And please, let's try to have this conversation with love in our hearts. SO not interested in male or female bashing.