Mirror Images

I need to start off by apologizing for dropping this blog- life got pretty hectic and it’s not slowing down, so while this is on my agenda I’m focusing on… well, getting paid. Even angry activists need to eat. ;) BUT I will be updating this blog again a little more frequently, so hang tight!

When I found out about NOW Foundation’s Love Your Body Day, I got really excited. I’ve blogged a lot about body image; topics have ranged from fat politics (the good, the bad, the ugly) to sex and disability (emotional and physical), from the sexualization of children to the everyday nature of the male gaze, even in activist spaces. It’s pretty important to me, of course, as it’s deeply personal.

Going through the submissions to their blog carnival, there’s a lot of excellent topics being covered. Of particular interest to me were ones relating to “sexy costumes“, women of colour’s struggle to see their skin as beautiful, the issues surrounding child beauty pageants, and how people with disabilities fight hostility and disgust when they leave the house. It’s angering, but inspiring to see so many speaking out (though may I speak up briefly in defense of women who choose to get their breasts augmented- it doesn’t automatically make them idiot pawns, ok? They do have agency).

But I also notice that they are mostly women blogging about body image. Charlie Glickman posted about “finding his ass” in a sweet post that made me smile, but I don’t see a lot of discussion generally about body images and masculinity. In fact, “Love Your Body Day” is specifically described as being for women and girls:

Each year NOW Foundation celebrates Love Your Body Day to send a positive message to women and girls that beauty comes in all colors, shapes and sizes.

And that makes a lot of sense, frankly, as I feel like women do deal with a lot of body image related bullshit on a rather constant basis. But one of the things that I think will help fight against that is to acknowledge that men struggle with their body image as well- that this is an issue, not about rescuing female bodies from exploitation, but about fighting the capitalistic ideals that make all bodies into commodities with a value defined, not by the actual market, but the constructed one of the media.

Now, I am a sex worker who works a lot with people who have disabilities, though not exclusively, and works with a lot of people who are male-identified, though not exclusively. And body image issues are pretty prominent. They don’t always say something immediately- sometimes it takes a couple of sessions before they start pouring our their worries that they’re too chubby, or too skinny, or their hair is too thin, or their skin is too freckled. But as I was told on twitter, while men might not call it “body image issues”, they definitely look at themselves in the mirror and wonder if they would be attractive to others.

Penny Barber wrote an interesting post about the male desire to be desired that’s well worth a read- and I really liked this quote she quoted:

Describing her clients, Crane said, “Men really want to learn how to please women and our multi-faceted feminism has left them very confused about how to do that. I don’t think men want to buy women, I think they want to feel desired by them.”

The further you go from privileged groups, the more likely these issues exist, too, in my experience- not that middle class, white, cisgendered heterosexual men are at ALL immune to worrying about their sexual appeal (far from it, btw) but I do notice that men of colour, transmen, working class men and queer men are more likely to admit that they’ve been concerned about their attractiveness.

It’s not really surprising, either, the number of men who have told me that it took them a while (or that they’re still struggling) to see themselves as having sexual bodies. While women complain about there being so many incredibly stupid “sexy” costumes for women and girls (I love the feminist costume list), men don’t really have sexy costumes that’re… well, sexy. Sexiness for men is seemingly about being either hilarious or flamingly gay. This underlines an incredibly problematic idea- that women’s bodies are to be consumed, and men are the consumers. By not creating space for male bodies to be sexualized, we do everyone a disservice by maintaining the status quo- one of the things that was an inspiration for the Andro Aperture Project.

Feminism has done a lot for me and my relationship to my body. It’s not perfect, by any means, but there are websites, support groups, books and even fat-positive porn out there to support me, to help guide me through. But my boyfriend and the other men in my life don’t have similar access to help them. Not only that, but it seems difficult for people hearing about these issues to know how to comfort and reassure the male-identified people in their lives. I feel like as long as the discussion of body love centers around female bodies, we’re still focusing on female bodies, which is part of the issue.

Katherine on Feministing put it really well:

A mentor of mine a long time ago told me that if you stand on a chair and hold hands with someone standing on the floor, it’s a lot easier for them to pull you down to the floor than it is for you to pull them up on the chair. Feminists can’t win by only addressing female bodies, or by only including males in that they too shouldn’t hate our female bodies. Yes, we have experienced the effects of body hatred in different ways, compounded by the gendered power-structure of our society. But that doesn’t mean that men don’t experience body-negativity at all. By addressing only female body perceptions, we leave men on the floor. We need instead to create the tools to get them up on the chairs with us.

Yes yes yes. This. Body image is an issue that crosses ability, class, race, ethnicity, sex, gender, and orientation. It’s a human issue, and I think the way to fight body fascism is through the respectful appreciation of the diversity we display.

Because ultimately, that is what’s beautiful.

This post is part of the 2011 Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival.

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