I've been thinking a lot about body-image and the various trends that aim to improve body image, specifically that of young girls.
And I started to wonder: why is it that present-day body positive feminist trends seem to rediscover parts of the female body as if we never knew they existed?
Seriously, it seems that every day the internet discovers something “new” about women’s bodies that have, indeed, been there since the dawn of time. Like suddenly, someone woke up and looked at their hips and went, "Oh my god, there's a gap there!"
Body hair, stretch marks -- you name it! Aspects of the female body that used to be considered unattractive, or at least not ideal, suddenly become symbols of pride, strength. Even power.
The people who start these trends aim to reveal the truth that these qualities on a woman are not inherently unattractive, but simply natural, and should be treated as such. "Real women have stretch marks ––real women have curves–– real women don't shave." These ideas are often presented as feminist but they serve only to exclude many women from this depiction of "realness." If you remove your stretch marks or try to get rid of them, or shave your legs, you're weak for falling into the "traps" of a patriarchal society aimed at destroying women's self-esteem.
Well, I take issue with these "trendy" rediscoveries of the natural female body. Not only do I feel that they exclude women who do not have them as not "real," but they are only seen as attractive on women who already fall into otherwise conventionally attractive body types.
See: thin. And most of the time, white.
I noticed this trend and decided to test it on good old Google Images. I started with body hair.
I looked up "woman with body hair" and found an array of smiling thin girls with nose rings showing off their multi-colored underarm hair. These girls are "cool" for growing their body hair out because they're otherwise "pretty" and do trendy things like dye their armpit hair and get nose rings. It's a trend for them. Also, they're almost all white.
Then I looked up "black woman with body hair" and was pleased to find a few pictures of gorgeous black women showing off their underarm hair, although of course, they were thin. I was upset to find, however, that most of the photos on the page are of black women showing off their head-hair clearly styled with relaxers, weaves, or other unnatural methods aimed at erasing their blackness -- which is another problem altogether, which is worlds more messed up and complicated than the subject of this article. It makes sense that black women would feel less inclined than their white peers to show off their body hair -- they aren't even encouraged to show off their natural head-hair!
Finally, I looked up "fat woman with body hair." And found: nothing. Well, not nothing exactly: I found a lot of photos of beautiful fat woman. But none of them had any body hair. The trend of showing off the underarms just doesn't extend to fat girls yet. As for reasoning? It'd be nice to sit around and try to figure this out from an academic standpoint, but let's be real: everyone would assume a fat girl with body hair was just too lazy to shave, just like we assume her size is due to laziness.
It worked the same way when I searched stretch marks, –– mostly thin and mostly white. Although I do have to say that much more black women showed up when I searched for them specifically, and larger women as well. My only issue is that, when you look up black woman with stretch marks, it's almost always in black and white, whereas white women with stretch marks are typically depicted in color. I don't know if this is because of dislike of black skin tones, or just because darker skin looks super metallic and shiny in black and white (which it totally does!). The black and white tone also diminishes the appearance of the stretch marks, though, which is a little counteractive in my opinion.
Obviously, if you look up "fat woman with stretch marks," you'll get results, since stretch marks have always been a main target of fat shamers. But still, I was disappointed that most of the images were, again, of skinny girls. The post is about stretch marks! Yes, people at any size can have stretch marks, but it's women who have had children and gained weight that have been historically shamed for them! All of the images of women showing off their stretch marks in confident poses are of thin women. They've basically become a symbol of pride for women who are thin to reclaim that one "unattractive" part of their bodies. For women who are already fat to begin with? Try as we might, I think they'll always be a source of shame.
The latest trend that really irks me is "hip-dips," which became popular on Fitness Instagrams over the summer. Hip dips are when there is an inward gap between where your legs (hips) and torso (pelvis) meet. Here is a picture of hip dips:
Body positivity movements really serve to make people who have mostly conventionally attractive bodies to feel even better about themselves. The people whose bodies are actually targeted by shame are usually left on the sidelines.
And I'm sorry, but I don't buy the sudden "self-love" of body parts that have been the same way forever. It’s like these people sit around looking at their hips, and then all of a sudden realize, to their own amazement, that there is a large crevice there.
There’s been a space on my hips for years. I never hated it. Now all of a sudden it’s sexy? I just don’t get it. Maybe I've just never been taught to love it. Or maybe, hip dips aren't really the part of the body that people are most ashamed of, and they're being glorified because they skirt around the real issue. Or maybe it's the fact that none of the hip-dips people are so in love with look anything like mine.
Activism can never be truly powerful or significant unless it's accessible and applicable to everyone. Give me real women. And by real women, I mean women of all shapes and sizes.