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

(68 Posts)
LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 14-Jan-13 10:26:08

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?

Darkesteyes Tue 15-Jan-13 00:56:02

I was persecuted very badly at school for having hairy legs. (italian heritage and an Italian mother who would NOT let me shave or remove the hair under ANY circumstances. The kids at school used to persecute me badly for it. Really bad bullying. I started having them waxed when i was 18. Now i have a leg and underarm wax when i can afford to. But i do have a professional cut and colour every 6 to 8 weeks. I also inherited going prematurely grey from my dad. My hair is now naturally almost white and i cant bear it. I get my legs waxed because i HATE shaving. Its too bloody time consuming.

RiaOverTheRainbow Tue 15-Jan-13 01:38:02

I stopped shaving anything a bit over a year ago, and I felt pretty self-conscious for a couple of months but now I hardly think about it. In the past I'd have chosen a long-sleeved top if I hadn't shaved my armpits in a few days, now I can wear sleeveless whenever and not care.

Takver Tue 15-Jan-13 10:17:42

I do think size makes a massive difference to the pressures put on you. I haven't shaved/worn makeup/high heels since I was a teenager so going on 25 years now, and though I dye my hair sometimes it is crimson & a very short crop so more a punky look. BUT I am only just over 5 foot, and very skinny, so somehow I think it is socially more acceptable - kind of as if no-one would think I was a bloke anyhow so it is 'allowed'.

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 15-Jan-13 11:46:43

ff, I think marmite is spot on. You sound really down - and I really hope me starting this thread didn't make you feel worse. I know trills is kidding about 'feminist points' but that is really not what I am getting at.

I wanted to start this thread because otherwise, I get sucked into feeling shit about my body. I do feel as if I should be losing weight, and I should be thinner. It is so, so easy to do that. I'm go on diet threads, and I tell myself I am just eating healthy, but I also know that for my own sake, I need to resist the rhetoric of 'slim is better at all costs' which creeps up on me. I think the way to do that is to have a good feminist talk about body image, to remind me that health (mental and physical) is really, really not about performing femininity.

So, I am struggling and failing to live up to what the 'ideal feminist' might do. And I think sometimes it matters most to compromise and accept you can't live up to every ideal of what we might feel comfortable with in the feminist utopia. We're not there yet.

tak - yep, true. Though ... I think small women get the other problem, of being treated more like children? I'm not especially small or slim, but I still find if I don't wear makeup and wear a baggy coat instead of my 'grown up' clothes, I will get ID'd (I'm 28), and I will get quite a lot of people assuming I'm young and not very experienced in anything.

Takver Tue 15-Jan-13 12:08:38

LRD, that is true, tbh as I am 43 I have rather forgotten that problem! I'm also probably politely best described as 'forceful' so personally I tended not to be overlooked/underestimated even in my 20s but I did see it as a real issue for my nicer quieter spoken/less spikey women colleagues (I used to work as a consulting economist, so a pretty male dominated environment).

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 15-Jan-13 12:11:17

grin 'forceful' is good!

I need to learn me a bit of that.

I can do it in a classroom, but less so day to day life.

Takver Tue 15-Jan-13 12:15:26

I absolutely agree that it's really important not to get into the 'she's a better feminist than me' type mindset - as LRD says this stuff is meant to be about making our lives better, not adding extra stress.

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 15-Jan-13 12:20:35


Besides which, if we did 'shite feminist' olympics I would have some game.

Fivemoreminutesmummy Tue 15-Jan-13 12:24:27

I'm so glad to have found this thread as the shaving issue has been bothering me for some time. It seems totally ridiculous that 'society' does not find adult women attractive and I've heard numerous words including repulsive used to describe hairy women.
Similarly, as other posters have described, my DH finds hairiness less attractive although would support any decision I made. I don't do make up or bikini line shaving but still do my underarms and legs occasionally.

What are the origins of the hairless lady? I've heard things about pre- pubescent/ young being found attractive but that seems totally absurd!

RosyRoo Tue 15-Jan-13 12:29:42

I think we've gone to far down the body beautiful road to turn back now. There is just no way that any more than a small handful of women are going to stop shaving or dying their hair. But it's good for everyone to know that they do have a choice, and that they don't have to do these things if they don't want to. That option is not usually presented to us.

Body image, and being comfortable in one's body, is I think a different issue again. I would say I am pretty happy, but that is always being undermined. For example, I have very small breasts, almost none. I have read so many articles about how a person with small breasts feels less than a woman, that they should get NHS surgery, that it is fine for teenagers to have boob jobs if it bothers them enough. And of course, a boob job is the first surgery for most male to female transsexuals. The message is, you cannot be a woman if you don't have large enough breasts. I find it all infuriating.

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 15-Jan-13 12:35:18

I don't think it is totally absurd. I think the way it's sometimes understood is off-base.

I think some people imagine that when you say hairless women resemble prepubesent children, you are saying they are exactly alike and therefore men (or women) who find this look attractive are effectively finding children attractive. I think that is way too simplified and doesn't really (to me) make sense. People who find this look attractive are not making a direct association with what children look like. It's more subtle than that.

What I think it is, though, is that we've stopped associating that hairless look with the only age group on which it's natural (which is children), and started seeing it as natural to women. Pretty much everything women do with their bodies in terms of 'performing femininity' is about making ourselves look younger, and more different from men. Removing hair does both of those things.

A comparison might be to being blonde - blonde hair is associated with youth, because more children are blonde than adults. But, as with shaven pubes, it's not so straightforward as to say that people who find blonde hair sexy are only focussing on its associations with youth, or that they're consciously aware it denotes youth.

I think, anyway.

I reckon some of it is to do with the fact men and women are both naturally hairy, and increasingly being hairy is seen as being male - we're treading on men's territory if we have hairy legs like them.

MMMarmite Tue 15-Jan-13 12:36:00

"I think we've gone to far down the body beautiful road to turn back now." I don't quite get what you mean by that, could you explain?

AmandaPayne Tue 15-Jan-13 12:45:51

I kind of agree with RosyRoo - although obviously I can't speak for what she meant MMM. What I feel is that the ante has been upped for women so much in terms of presentation and grooming. What is 'normal' is unrecognisable from when I was a teenager in the 90s. So it is going to take a much bigger change to get back to something resembling 'normal self care' (if there is such a thing - the general standard of presentable and clean that men are held to). Also, the more hair removal, nails, etc at a high level of grooming are presented as the norm, the further from that norm a woman who doesn't do that is - it's a bigger jump for someone who has bought into it to accept. Which all makes it harder for that course to be changed.

Rosy - they have to be the right breasts too. You can't be a woman if you don't have the right breasts. I have large breasts. About a DD cup. However, they are natural, which means in a women in her thirties who has had children that they are mostly full at the bottom and they sag somewhat. They are not the pert DDs that schoolboys lust after. That s infuriating because it sends a message that just about any form of normal is not good enough. Very unhealthy.

LRD - I agree, a lot is compromise. To me, my appearance is a 'back burner' issue for my feminism. I try to focus on just being comfortable in my skin. And that does include lots of things, like shaving my legs if they will be on display, that wouldn't be necessary in a feminist utopia.

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 15-Jan-13 12:51:40

I agree, amanda. I do see what you mean (which may be what rosy means).

Doesn't it also go in cycles for all of us? It does for me - sometimes I am really fired up with wanting to push back against the patriarchy, sometimes I'm feeling tired and sad and no matter what I think about shaving my legs, it's not going to happen because I've got no energy. And sometimes I'm painting my nails and dragging out my heels.

I do feel happier looking back, than I did a year or two ago, when I wouldn't have worn flat shoes much. It's really nice to feel that change happened pretty much imperceptibly. So, while I see what you're saying about the difficulty of out-and-out challenges (and I think they are really, really hard), there's also a value to gradual, personal shifting of ideas. IMO.

(Not saying I don't have huge respect for those who manage the big challenges, because I do.)

MMMarmite Tue 15-Jan-13 12:52:06

What things do you lot find improve your body image?

For me:

- I avoid adverts (adblocker installed, watch tv on record and then fast forward). - I spent a bit of time looking online at before and after photoshop pictures, it's amazing how big the differences are. Now when I see idealised images of women, I assume that they are photoshopped, and mentally add back in a few spots, wrinkles and extra flesh.
- I try to think of my body in terms of what it can do, rather than what it looks like. "These legs are strong, powerful, great for walking" rather than "these legs look rubbish in skinny jeans". It's harder at the moment because I can't do that much due to illness: disability makes your relationship to your body a lot more complex. But I think it's still an important point.
- I'm trying to give up mentioning weight and diet (apart from having detailed feminist discussions about them!). Until I tried to stop, I didn't realised just how often the topic comes up often in daily life, often in a jokey self-depreciating way. The constant mentions, always with the subtext 'thin is better', put so much pressure on everyone. So when offered another chocolate, I no longer say "No thanks, it's not worth the calories", I just say "no thanks". (And to myself, I say "your body will feel better with a good range of nutrients rather than chocolate only", rather than "too much chocolate will make you fat").

AmandaPayne Tue 15-Jan-13 13:00:25

What I have found also is that being a mum has made me far more practical about stuff. I was never a big high heels wearer, but in the office I sometimes did. I am tall, and if I was dealing with particularly difficult men (you know they type, won't listen to the opinion of a young woman, even if she is the expert on this area) I sometimes found that a pair of four inch heels could be useful. It is harder for that type of man to be dismissive of someone towering over them I found.

Anyway, I digress. I am currently a SAHM, but have also been a WOHM. In both cases I have found that having children made me move in terms of this stuff. I didn't have ages in the morning to blend two eyeshadows. Or if I did, it meant not joining DD for breakfast. You sometimes see people on hear moaning about 'letting themselves go', but I think in my case it has been quite healthy and, because it was gradual and instinctive, not painful to do. I'm still presentable and smart, but I naturally spend less time on the 'stuff'.

RosyRoo Tue 15-Jan-13 13:02:36

Yes AmandaPayne that's pretty much what I meant. Having hairy legs or armpits will really mark a woman out as different. Most people want to fit in, and not go against the norm, and as hairlessness has been the norm for so long it is not going to change anytime soon.

MMMarmite I find having a partner who thinks you are gorgeous is the best boost to body image. You can acknowledge each others 'flaws' while still finding each other totally beautiful.

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 15-Jan-13 13:06:17

Ooh, that's a really good question and a great post, marmite.

Ads for me too. And I don't read Vogue/Grazia etc. any more and that has made a huge difference. It's a pity because I like pretty clothes, I just don't like the shit that goes along with it.

I agree with rosy that having people in your life (not just a partner, IMO) who make you feel beautiful is really important. I think women being good to each other about their bodies is the best thing. So for me one nice thing is stuff like going swimming or walking - my mate and I go for a lot of walks together, and it's nice because you can enjoy thinking about what your body does rather than how it looks.

feministefatale Tue 15-Jan-13 15:15:30

One of the few good things to come of the idiotic makeup thread for me was seeing so many women say, actually I don't need it, I'm pretty enough with out it. Women are so often made to Feel shit about them selves it was quite refreshing. Although a few assholes felt the need to comment on that, because how very dare a woman think she might be attractive.

Darkesteyes Tue 15-Jan-13 15:57:37

A lot of the pressure does come from some men. RAGE.

Darkesteyes Tue 15-Jan-13 15:58:49

From the above link.

There I was, merrily treading water, marvelling at my bravery and the welcome increased sobriety, when an actor friend who shall remain nameless (Tom Hollander) swam past sporting a large pair of goggles (surely against the rules when skinny dipping?). Anyway, he ducked dived right in front of me, only to surface very rapidly, huffing and puffing for air. He was slack-jawed with a mixture of horror and shock. “Jesus Christ!” he exclaimed, just about daring to glance below. “Have you completely given up?”

Darkesteyes Tue 15-Jan-13 16:24:40

I avoided the make up thread and purposely didnt click on it. I got really annoyed with some of the comments on the weight bashing threads that have appeared recently...the Lanzarote thread and the "DP beer belly" thread.
Comments like "some women will go all the way up to a size 12 despite slogging it out at the gym" really made me rage.
I managed to get down to a size 12/14 from a 28 ten years ago but no matter what i did i couldnt drop any lower. I actually ended up having an operation to remove my gall bladder. The surgeon told me it was because i lost the weight too quickly.
It annoys me when i see people on other threads saying that 5"5 and 11/12 stone is obese. I really had to struggle to get down to that.
Now im a size 20 and trying to look at things differently and want to be healthy rather than worry about my size. I do realise i need to drop some weight but i will see that as a bonus rather than the main goal.

Darkesteyes Tue 15-Jan-13 16:33:14

Speaking of Grazia.

Its not just younger womens mags like Grazia that have this attitude. In this months Easy Living there is a feature "40 and fabulous This is what 40 looks like now" and the article features people like Cameron Diaz and Halle Berry. So they want older women to feel the pressure too.

Darkesteyes Tue 15-Jan-13 16:33:36

MMMarmite Tue 15-Jan-13 17:04:35

Darkest that bikini wax article is so depressing. I thought she might yell back "Jesus Christ! What a misogynist." But instead she just goes of and spends 30 quid getting it waxed, without explaining why.

In the past I have protested that my full Seventies triangle was a sisterhood thang. That fannies were a feminist issue and that as someone who has a daughter and who is terribly anti-porn and all that jazz, it was not only my duty to spend the summer posting pubes, it was what Emmeline Pankhurst et al actually fought for.

But truth be told I was scared. Aged 18, while at university I had had a bikini wax so bad my thighs bled and I had erupted into the sort of pustulous acne, leg-ne and vag-ne teenage nightmares were made of. Throughout my twenties I had therefore contented myself with popping on an old pair of pants and swiping off any trailing excess hair with a slather of Immac. However, the older I have got, the less inclined I am to sit on my bed with my legs akimbo waiting for the stuff to work.

So, she knows the feminist arguments, but says that she just cited feminist reasons because she was scared of waxing. Then doesn't even explain why she disagrees with the feminist reasons, she just kind of ignores them and wanders off.

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