Would anyone like a thread to talk about feminism and body image?

(68 Posts)

I am thinking about body image a lot, what with all the 'January diets' and so on. And fastidia's brilliant thread about pregnancy and childbirth also made me think about bodies a lot.

So I ended up re-reading bits of 'Beauty and Misogyny' (Sheila Jeffries) and trying to think through some of the issues again. I was really struck (more than the first time around) by what she's saying about shoes. This is a very minor thing, but I realized I've worn high heels maybe 20-30 times last year. I used to live in them. It got me wondering if this year I'll give up on them altogether?

So, I was wondering if anyone else had things they're moving away form as 'beauty' practices? Sort of like feminist 'diets', except what we're losing is a few patriarchial hang-ups?

Blistory Mon 14-Jan-13 10:49:42

I gave up on high heels two years ago but only because of a back injury and it made me realise just how ridiculous they are. I hadn't realised how vulnerable I felt in them but I do still struggle with not wearing them when dressed up.

Gave up dying my hair when I realised I'd been doing it for 20 years and couldn't remember why. Found myself genuinely surprised to realise I didn't mind my grey hairs which I've obviously had for some time but were disguised.

Stopped wearing makeup for the sake of it but still can't give it up for a dressed up night out.

BUT having stopped all of the above gradually, I have become accustomed to be told that I looked 'washed out' 'put a bit of mascara on and you'll feel better', 'you looked younger with lighter hair' hence my inability to completely stop.

It's made me realise how truly ingrained it all is and I don't think I would have been able to bear it if I hadn't also had a revelation about my age. I'm comfortable for the first time with how old I am. I like that I look like a woman and not a girl. Not that I look great but I look like me and I'm okay with that for the first time. But it's very much a work in progress and I know that others around me think I'm letting myself go/becoming a militant feminist harpy/giving up on attracting men. I don't think it is, I think I've finally realised that unless I'm happy with how I am, it really is a disguise and a way of hiding by blending in. Not that I'm entirely there yet......

Yes, I struggle not to reach for heels when I'm dressed up. I think part of it is to do with the way a lot of smart women's clothes are cut to suit a figure in heels - so it's a vicious circle.

It's crap that you get those comments about makeup. I was thinking about visual expectations on a thread someone had about how Venture photography photoshops pictures - someone mentioned their little boy had been photoshopped so it looked as if he was wearing mascara. It makes me think how odd it is, that makeup is so often cited as something that makes us look 'youthful' - but then, someone doing the photoshopping obviously thought a genuine toddler needed a little more! Where does it end?

I do like your 'work in progress' point. I will sign up to that: I'm a work in progress in terms of getting happy with my body. I'm definitely not all the way there yet and I find it nigh-on impossible to ignore the whole 'if only you lost a few pounds ....' rhetoric, but I am glad to balance that out with some voices on the other side of the debate.

JacqueslePeacock Mon 14-Jan-13 11:58:26

I would love to know if anyone else is giving up shaving/waxing/epilating?

I feel much better since doing so - happier with my "natural" body, more comfortable since my skin is less dry, relieved at not having to go through the daily discomfort, etc, but I am struggling with people's reactions. As Blistory says, it is assumed I'm "letting myself go" or "giving up on being attractive to men". Even my DH is unhappy with it (which makes me feel guilty and sad).

I shave my legs once in a blue moon, and I'm getting happier about that - it is nicer not having ingrown hairs.

The weird one I've found recently is I stopped plucking my eyebrows. It used to be something I found really difficult not to do every day because I was really conscious I have heavy, dark brows. I do still do it, but I'm getting less and less bothered and the intervals between are getting longer and longer.

It's rubbish your DH is unhappy about it, though. sad D'you mean he says he is, or you can just tell?

I talked to mine about the legs thing, and he was sort of half and half - he doesn't care, it's my body ... but he reckons it's difficult not to think shaven legs are more attractive. I can't exactly blame him for admitting that as I can see it's what we're all conditioned to think.

(Btw, I don't underestimate the role of monumental natural laziness in some of this, for me. Not plucking my eyebrows was not a conscious decision. I think this is a very good thing.)

This is an interesting subject. I realise that my idea of what makes me look nice is mostly due to socialisation - make-up, shaved legs and armpits etc.

However I am extremely uncomfortable setting foot outside the house without make-up and in a way my make-up is like putting on a mask. I love the way it makes me look, and I feel far more confident - I can look people in the eyes.

The shaving is pretty haphazard and tends to be done if I get the opportunity. I dye my hair but that's because I find my natural light brown rather boring - over the last 15 years I've been every colour under the sun (including pink and blue) and am currently bright red. Again though, I think it's partly about confidence and the persona I become (I sound crazy don't I?).

I'm very lucky though that DH constantly tells me how beautiful and sexy I am, that I don't need to wear make-up or shave or dye my hair. He's a very enlightened bloke. grin

Trills Mon 14-Jan-13 12:19:42

I spent a few months at the end of last year growing my eyebrows fully out.

I've now plucked them a bit, but less than before, and hopefully in a "better" shape.

So I don't know if I get feminism points or not. Probably not, since I was doing it in order to see their natural shape and then change away from that natural shape again.

joyful - your DH sounds lovely. smile

I do know what you mean - and I love bright red hair. I had mine red (not bright, though, I'm not brave enough) and it made me smile every time the sun shone through it. If we got rid of all the social conditioning that restricts us, we'd still like pretty colours and so on, so it's a balance IMO.

trills - there are points to be had? Excellent! grin

No, but seriously ... it's good, isn't it, to be able to see what does look natural. Because I think what is really, truly horrible is when you get into feeling that you can't let up on any of this stuff even for a minute, in can you look less than perfect in the interim.

JacqueslePeacock Mon 14-Jan-13 12:32:25

I don't know if it's anything to do with "feminism points" really. More just that you are happy and confident with your own body. If you prefer your eyebrows a different shape, then I'd say that's fine. I do tidy my own brows still, and I feel that I do that for me because i prefer them. I never felt that about leg hair - more that it was a chore I had to do because "that's what women do".

For me, not shaving has been a huge relief. I don't know what happened - I just suddenly started to find it very jarring that I had to remove all my body hair in order to be "womanly", when a natural adult woman has hair (and in fact its only small girls who don't). Especially when most adult men don't have to worry about this at all so it's clearly a huge issue of inequality.

I am very sad about my DH though. I had thought he was very enlightened. He did say it's my own choice what I do with my legs (of course it is!) but he pulled a very sad face and said he thought my legs were very unattractive now. Which did undermine my newfound feeling of being content with my natural body somewhat.

AmandaPayne Mon 14-Jan-13 12:38:38

It is such a difficult area isn't it? It is absolutely social conditioning that makes us feel that, for example, we wouldn't lie on a beach without shaved legs. However, sometimes I feel that pushing too hard on myself on those issues means (i) I get labelled a nutty feminist and it's harder for people to listen to messages on things I care more about, like gender stereotyping of children and; (ii) it actually takes up quite a lot of my energy to consciously not care IYSWIM.

I try to keep a healthy balance. I shave my legs sporadicly, but always do my armpits. I wear make up most days, but will happily go out without it. I rarely wear heels, but would for a wedding, etc.

Trills Mon 14-Jan-13 12:38:49

He did say it's my own choice what I do with my legs (of course it is!) but he pulled a very sad face and said he thought my legs were very unattractive now.

I'd think that DP's face was unattractive if he had a beard, especially an untrimmed "natural" beard.

Even if you are aware that what you find attractive is a result of social conditioning, that doesn't necesarily stop you from finding it attractive.

Trills Mon 14-Jan-13 12:40:13

PS I was semi joking about the points smile

Ahh, see, this is where I reckon my DH is a massive hypocrite because he is hairy like a bear man. Therefore it would be only polite for him to appreciate my fur-legging look?

TerrariaMum Mon 14-Jan-13 12:47:13

Jacques, about the 'that's what women do' feeling, that's why I was on and off various diets from the age of about 15. I thought that's what you did to be a grownup woman. You restricted what you ate. How sad is that?

My mum still looks askance at me when I eat chips. Never mind that I am 25 weeks pg and still bfing DD. Heaven forbid a woman enjoy fried things.

JacqueslePeacock Mon 14-Jan-13 13:07:08

Yes, I'm aware that he can't help what he finds attractive. I'm just disappointed. Partly because I was just starting to feel happy with my new natural look, and partly because it seems sad to me that adult men (even "enlightened" ones) don't find adult women in their natural state attractive.

Oh yes, and my DH is also a hairy bear man. Which I really like.

Trills Mon 14-Jan-13 13:08:14

He might get used to it...

MMMarmite Mon 14-Jan-13 13:24:47

I agree that he might get used to it, how long ago did you give up shaving?

I stopped shaving my legs in about October, I thought it looked weird at first, but now I really like them, especially now the hair is long and softer rather than sharp and stubby. Weirdly though, I feel quite uneasy talking about it, as if I need to be self-depreciating otherwise someone is going to be reading my post thinking boak, how disgusting. sad I'm not sure what I'll do in the summer though, I love the time saved by not shaving, but my leg hair is gloriously dark and thick, so extremely obvious when I'm not wearing trousers. I don't know if I want to deal with the likely social disapproval.

Blistory Mon 14-Jan-13 13:32:39

It's surprisingly tough, isn't it ?

I remember being admitted to casualty when I was younger and wouldn't let them roll up my trousers to examine me as I hadn't shaved my legs and was mortified. Even on entinox for the pain, I was more aware of the shame I would feel if someone say my hairy legs.

I hope I've come to my senses but I suspect the only difference now is that I would let them do the exam but still cringe inside.

grumpyinthemorning Mon 14-Jan-13 13:36:16

I'm just lazy, I don't bother shaving my legs at all in winter, and only bother in summer because I live in shorts. DP mentioned it once, but he agreed when I pointed out that nobody bloody sees my legs, so why bother? I dye my hair because my natural colour is boring, but don't bother sorting my roots out every week or whatever. Never plucked my eyebrows, rarely use make up or wear heels - and nobody notices. Honestly, I think we put more pressure on ourselves (due to societal conditioning) than society puts on us.

DP is also a hairy bear man smile I was on at him for ages to shave his beard off. He did for Movember, and I hated it. Odd how that works...

TheSmallClanger Mon 14-Jan-13 14:03:18

My body confidence and my attitude to makeup/beauty practices have fluctuated over time. Sometimes, when I feel confident, it makes me want to experiment more with makeup and fashion. Sometimes, it goes the other way.

I do think that there is more pressure from external sources than there used to be. It cannot just be golden-ageism when I look at pictures of myself from the 90s, when it seems to have been socially acceptable for a 20something woman to turn up to a formal event in minimal makeup and a trouser suit. You can even see a difference on our wedding photos from 2000 - no-one is wearing fake tan, no-one has fake nails and I think only my mum has a salon updo. We look so much less "polished" than women in public do now, and I feel like I'm supposed to laugh wryly at our lack of "grooming" back then, instead of feel sad about it.

MMMarmite Mon 14-Jan-13 14:16:15

"only bother in summer because I live in shorts." The summer in shorts part is what I'm wondering about. Why exactly do you shave in summer? Would you consider not shaving in summer too?

"I think we put more pressure on ourselves (due to societal conditioning) than society puts on us." That's a very good point; I can think of instances in my own life where the pressure comes more from myself because of social conditioning, and other people don't actually care very much. It's really hard to tell though, cos sometimes people are actually judging you, and sometimes you just think they are.

JacqueslePeacock Mon 14-Jan-13 16:23:18

The summer in shorts part is what I'm wondering about. Why exactly do you shave in summer? Would you consider not shaving in summer too?

Yes, THIS ^^. I am also wondering what happens come summer, as I too have very thick dark hair.

MMMarmite, I am just like you, in that I feel very odd discussing this, in case it revolts people. And then I just feel sad and mad that normal, natural adult women would revolt people.

feministefatale Mon 14-Jan-13 21:03:07

I live in an area that can be shorts year round. I am also a very large woman -nearly 6ft and heavy set but also (genuinely) large boned. I have always been made to feel "unfeminine" and manly..and just not good about my size so for me the leg hair thing is too much for me to take.

... I despise myself for it but I do feel bad with long leg hair and can't bring myself to go out of the house in shorts unshaven. I wish I didn't, and wish I had the brass ovaries to go out and be like "yeah, women have leg hair too" But I am just not there yet. I have given up on doing my eye brows it was a conscious decision- I don't want my little girl to see me plucking all the time. Surprisingly I actually quite liked the results. Although most recently I may be moving in to Alistair Darling territory shock so I may feel tempted to whip them in to shape soon. We will see.

Dh prefers my legs shaved he says he realizes it's not fair that women feel compelled to shave everything but like LRD's husband can't help how he feels. I let them go for a while and I was asking him about it later on and he said he felt them when we were, ahem, being intimate and I think it freaked him out a bit. It's ridiculous women have leg hair it shouldn't be considered a male attribute but it is now. We do see it that way.

I also have PCOS which makes me very hairy. and I have had laser hair removal on my face, it's helped me a great deal and I don't feel like I am being stared at for being the bearded lady. sad I am hairier in the face then is "normal" so hirsuteness is basically a side effect of PCOS, I justify this to myself that I am taking care of the side effect the way i would do any other side effect.

MMMarmite Tue 15-Jan-13 00:19:39

feministefatale, I'm sorry that you feel so bad about this sad If it's partly that you're putting yourself under pressure to live the feminist ideal, or something, I think you should go easy on yourself - ultimately feminism is about making women's lives easier, so if not shaving is disproportionately difficult for you, I think it's fine to shave. It's rubbish that we live in a world where this has to be an issue in the first place though.

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