August 25, 2010
Bikini Blog: Part I
Quick note: This entry will seem incomplete because it is; when I sat down to write it I ended up with about five pages of ranting and that was only the beginning. Therefore, this is the first of three (maybe four?) entries. Enjoy!
Weeks ago Ashley and I spent a quiet, breezy, beautiful afternoon at Presque Isle: Beach 10. I was laying out in my favorite
new bikini, Ashley was snapping pictures of the dozens of kites swimming in the air, and we had the idea to do a faux-Victoria’s Secret photo shoot of sorts. I was feeling confident and comfortable in my skin that morning; I’ve been working out regularly and taking care of my body for awhile now. The fun increased when a woman with a camera approached us. She was an actual photographer and wanted to take pictures of me too. My thought process through these events was fairly simple. I felt beautiful, the sun was shining, the beach was spectacular and I loved interacting with the waves and the sand and the sunlight. Of course I would want to capture all of that on film.
After seeing the pictures Ashley posted on Facebook, I quickly made one of them my default. Not only was it a damn good picture but the previous one was taken in November; I needed an update! A couple days later I was talking to one of my male friends. At some point he jokingly said “Jess, my mom saw your profile picture and says I can’t hang out with you anymore.” I knew he was referring to my beach pictures and when I asked him to elaborate he jokingly gave me some nonsense about how he doesn’t like to hang out with skanks. I knew Micky (name changed to protect the obnoxious) was kidding around, but being
me I like to probe and ask questions. Why would he be discouraged to hang out with me because I have a picture displayed
of me in my bathing suit? This evolved into a long conversation wherein many questions were asked. To paraphrase:
a) Doesn’t posing like that and displaying it as the focal point of your Facebook go against what you stand for?
b) In posing like that, aren’t you perpetuating the same type of female imagery that you are so against?
c) How is portraying yourself like that any different than the women in Playboy, Maxim, etc.?
d) Doesn’t posing like that undermine that whole feminism/“judge me on my mind” thing?
It’s hard for me to get all of this down on paper because each moment I type more thoughts come to mind. This is actually something I’m still working out for myself, so I’ll practice with the rant that follows…
This situation and the questions above remind me a lot of how I came to call myself a feminist to begin with. As a whole, I do want to be judged on my characteristics and parts of my identity that aren’t transient like my beauty. When people think of me, I hope they remember my heart, the things I believe in, and my conviction to live by those beliefs. Years from now, my ideas, values and personality will be intact, but my waist line and bosoms won’t.
If you asked me what my proudest achievements are, they would mostly be academic-related or involving facing adversity, not my ability to squeeze into a size 2. However, I don’t think that by embracing my brains I’m supposed to NOT be just as proud of my body. It seems counter-intuitive to be ashamed or afraid to wear clothes that make me feel good. I understand why a lot of people are against the objectification of women and our bodies; naturally I feel the same way. But it isn’t a cut and dry situation.
To me, being a feminist and a woman means doing what feels good and natural. The pictures from that day happened very organically. I didn’t think twice about it. If I had taken a step back and policed my actions because I thought that posting these pictures might be anti-feminist, or a poor representation of me, then I would be denying myself something that makes me feel proud. To hell with that.
As women, we are made to feel shamed about our bodies every time we open a Cosmo, watch commercials, movies, or catch a peak of a porn or magazine the men we know look at. Health magazines are centered on dieting and getting slimmer, telling us that eliminating as much fat from our bodies will make us healthy and happy when in fact women are naturally supposed to have a much higher percentage of body fat than any of the models we see in the media. We are constantly fed abnormal images of what a woman looks like and are told that these bodies are attainable if we are disciplined enough.
It is no mistake that the ideal woman looks the way she does; there is a reason why we don’t see women in magazines that are 5’4 and 140 pounds. If that were the case, we wouldn’t spend billions of dollars on the beauty industry. Diet pills, gym memberships, countless different types of creams to get rid of pimples, blemishes, wrinkles, cellulite, etc. Make ups, teeth whitening, push up bras, and of course plastic surgery. Healthy bodies are cut into every day because of “flaws” that are culturally conceived. So often I hear that this isn’t a big deal because women choose to invest their time, energy and finances into this shit. True, but I would argue that we don’t really have much of a choice. On a basic level, we can be intelligent enough to dissect the beauty/diet industries’ agenda behind all of their advertising. But with the way images work, and with the frequency at which they hit us, it is impossible to mentally engage with each of them. On some level, this inevitably affects the way we perceive beauty, and how we perceive ourselves.
Growing up in this culture, I, like many women, have had a love-hate relationship with my body. It has affected me personally. I’ve actually struggled with various eating disorders since I was 11 years old. This issue is so much more common than anyone would like to think. While other factors played into my disorder (like being a crazy perfectionist), a lot of it was due to the culture I was raised in. In many ways I think developing one is a fairly logical reaction to growing up in our culture; you must be beautiful to be visible, you must be thin to be beautiful. So hey, let’s try to reach that beauty ideal! Since the beauty ideal isn’t realistic, unrealistic drastic measures (fasting, over exercising, etc.) must be taken; a logical reaction to an illogical ideal.
Fast forward to now. While I have the occasional moments where I feel self conscious about my body, for the most part, I really like it now. My body makes sense to me in my own terms and I try not to compare it to anyone else’s body. I work out a lot because I like to be in shape and to feel strong. I’ve worked hard to get definition in my abs and arms, and I’m proud of it. I have crazy muscular legs (thanks, dad) and they are very strong and get me wherever I need to go. I have hips which come in handy when I have too many things to carry and need a place to set them. They also work pretty well when I am carrying a small child or huge case of water. It has taken me a long time to be comfortable and proud of my body. Proud of it for what it is, not what I’m trying to force it to be, and I’ll be damned if I can’t express that.