Have you heard the expression ‘fighting fire with fire’?
It’s often misunderstood as ‘giving as good as you get’, but in its original sense it’s more a means of pointing out when a person’s response to a situation only makes that situation worse. After all, fire plus more fire just equals a lot of fire. Makes sense.
I bring this up because ‘fighting fire with fire’ is the phrase that most encompasses how I feel about the state of body positivity and feminism right now. I feel like, as much as I absolutely want everyone to feel comfortable in their own skin, there is a lot about the body positivity movement as it stands currently which really doesn't make me want to jump for joy. Which, I'm reliably informed, is how I'm supposed to feel when I see 'real women' in the ads, or wobbly bits being celebrated on social media.
"The thing about body positivity is that you can't criticise it"
I've tried to write this post so many times but it just won't come out right. The thing about body positivity is that you can't criticise it. It's a Good Thing with a capital 'G' and if you question it even for a second then you are a hater and a body-shamer and jealous and a bad feminist and probably a neck-beard.
What I'm saying is fear of being perceived as said neck-beard is cramping my style with this post. But I want you guys to get where I'm coming from with this, I really do. I want you to get that I'm not coming from a place of wanting women to just cover up and be ladylike and sip tea with their pinkies out a buy a linen spray and marry Mr Darcy. But I do want to say a few things about where we are right now in the fight for women's sanity with regard to bodies.
Essentially, my issue is that while we say that we're reclaiming the female form and representing it how we want to, and on our terms as women, all I'm really seeing is a lot of white girls with bodies which only very slightly deviate from the 'ideal' (oh, you appear to have a slightly bigger than usual bum. Vive la revolución!) endlessly getting naked on instagram and telling me to do the same. You know the ones. The daily mail gets very excited about them, which is never a good sign.
Not yet imagining me with a patchy neck-beard? Then let us continue.
Now, I get that in order to reclaim the narrative of women's bodies in media you need to actually be part of that narrative, but something seems to have gone wrong here. In our (very well-intentioned) efforts to take control over what we aspire to aesthetically, and smash the 'ideal body' out of existence forever (huzzah!) we seem to have played right into the hands of those who would have us believe that what we say with our bodies is always more interesting than what we say with our voices.
They've said: 'This semi-nude woman is what you should aspire to. Her thinness and big boobs speak volumes about how attractive and successful and together she is, so much so that she doesn't need to ever actually speak. She is a symbol of beauty. Gaze upon her in awe. Also please buy this soft drink.'
And we've replied: 'No, this semi-nude woman is what we're going to aspire to, cos we're millennials. Her wobbly bits and willingness to show them speak volumes as to her girls'-girl credentials and her thighs tell us what she's been through in her life, so much so that she doesn't need to speak either. She is a symbol of empowerment. Please retweet.'
And then the bloody brands have got involved (as someone who works in advertising I can only offer my most heartfelt apologies) and that's exacerbated the whole thing. They've picked out the blondest body positive girls with the flattest stomachs and given them bomb-ass blow-dries and stuck them in a commercial with a wind machine and now we're back where we bloody started except her bum is slightly bigger than before.
And now I’m basically being presented with two sh*tty options: objectification through nudity, or empowerment. . . also through nudity
I'm not down with either. We've tried to re-write the book about what it means to be a woman, but all I'm reading on every page is 'body body body body body'. And all men are still seeing is bodies bodies bodies bodies bodies, and I don't really feel like we've moved that far on from square one. For example, here are some captions I've lifted from real body positivity instagram accounts.
"Whenever I post anything celebrating my belly rolls there's an army of body shamers ready to tell me that I'm hideous, unhealthy, unworthy. But guess what? MOST WOMEN HAVE BELLY ROLLS WHEN THEY SIT DOWN"
"I want you to Share your swimsuit selfie or pic, use #MySwimBody because we all have imperfectly perfect swim bodies and everyone can rock a bikini"
What do you hear? I applaud their bravery. I applaud their willingness to act on something they believe in. But the take-home message I'm getting is 'body body body body body body' on and on and on.
I’d like to kickstart a new movement. Maybe we could call it the ‘body irrelevance’ movement.
A way of thinking and talking about ourselves which puts bodies, however they look, whatever size or shape they are, way down our list of priorities. A movement that we can all participate in with our clothes on. A movement which offers me a kind of empowerment which isn't expressed via my sexuality. A movement which doesn't force us to respond to the male gaze in its favourite language: the naked female body. One which lets us stop fighting fire with more fire.
What do you think?