You get what you ask for sometimes (though be careful of what you ask for; you may get it), like answers to unsettling questions or promptings for stalled action, for instance. If you stew long enough and put the fretting out there, wherever there is–occasionally you get what you seek despite your ignorance of the search. For the last two days, I inadvertently found my comfort and resolve in random readings around the net, specifically in elephantjournal.com and theguardian.com, two favorites.
The circle of my recent dilemma was typical for my pattern. A few months ago, I leapt into a project to challenge my fears, something I do occasionally for self-induced growth, only thinking about the consequences afterwards. Time draws the demons to me in hindsight: anxieties fill my head with body-shrinking scenarios, like outsiders’ criticism and mis-construction, and kill the fun I set upon in these let’s-jump-and-see-what-happens adventures when they arise. Often I deal with the discomfort and eventual exasperation of over-thinking, over-worrying by lurching from overly cautious to free-fall diving back to head-in-hands, anguished ruminating over decisions big and small.
We all want to be seen exactly as we are. Fully exposed, naked—physically, emotionally, energetically and everything in between. And in that place of exposure, to be met with pure approval, gentleness and love can move mountains of shame, fear and insecurity. It’s an act of love.
While the title induced a frown of raised feminist hackles, the simple statement bleeds truth, though cliché–we all want to be accepted. But before we can be accepted, we have to be seen. And to be seen, we have to encounter people who are open, interested, observant and insightful. We can only be seen by those willing to look at who’s there. The rest just want to make something of us that aids them in some fashion–stroke their egos or deny we exist at all in their willed blindness of safe, unencumbered worlds.
That basic truth about acceptance, coupled with yesterday’s McCartney project write-up, began the synthesis. Britain’s Jamie McCartney, artist, created a huge plaster mural of 400 vulvas of various ages, sizes and shapes, inspired to backlash the labiaplasty trend, according to the Guardian’s Mary Katherine Tramontana. McCartney’s response to the trend: “Don’t change your parts, change your partner.” He considers industry practices that pressure women through perpetually idealized imagery of their bodies, as a form of “fascism” that operates by “making women feel shit about themselves,” according to Tramontana. She further states that the “Great Wall of Vagina” (the title of the mural) acts “as catharsis or empowerment for the women who helped create it” by exposing and exploding the belief that there is a singular ideal image of anatomy.
Finally, the big to-do (or little to-do depending on your interest in Rupi Kaur, Tumblr or Instagram) surrounding Instagram’s censorship of menstrual blood, and other avoided male-catered-to cringes, reported in the Guardian rounds out the list of happenstance reading that helped me resolve my doubts about going forward with my project, one that ironically places me in the double bind: putting my own image out in a public space–exposed and untouched–risks wresting from me the very control over my image I seek in publicizing photographs of my body in the first place.
After this last reading, the story of Rupi Kaur’s censored selfie showing leaked menstrual blood in Is Social Media Protecting Men from Periods, Breast Milk and Body Hair?, I was convicted. In it, Jessica Valenti surmises that social media reinforces misogyny, shunning women’s normal, functioning bodies while concurrently promoting “sexualized images of female bodies” for men: “thin, hairless and ready for sex.” This imagery, she concludes, must change and women can make that happen.
The upside, of course, is that the very nature of social media has made it easier for women to present a more diverse set of images on what the female form can look like and mean. Selfies, for example – thought by some to be the epitome of frivolity and self-conceit – are now being touted by feminist academics and artists as a way for women to “seize the gaze” and offer a new sense of control to women as subjects rather than objects.
The message appeared aimed at me.
When we have the power to create our own images en masse, we have the power to create a new narrative – one that flies in the face of what the mainstream would like us to look and act like.
That was my intent in agreeing to be photographed and interviewed for a female body consciousness-raising website: to disseminate imagery that does not conform to advertisers’ aka men’s ideals of women’s bodies but defies that coded model. I wanted to put myself out on the internet–in all that I am, unfiltered–to help disrupt that narrative sold to men and women alike, that their bodies should be anything other than what they are, worthy, accepted and loved.
My body represents 54 years on earth and the genetic combinatory potential of random chromosomal breakage and interchange of two specific individuals as well as the exchanges in a line of people that led to them. The story in its unfolding is all there in every line, mark, tone and texture of my skin and its outgrowths: evidence of a living being, one specimen of billions, all different from me.
My dilemma only grew from preconceived labels and anticipated perceptions that I recognized as the “voices” of others eager to judge, criticize and injure. Even though I recognized those anticipated opinions for what they were, fabricated, inherited and illusory, I still felt the fear of judgment, drowning out my own desires to be the message unfazed about the interpretation in order to “seize the gaze,” be the subject and not the object. The act is for itself–and for my daughters to one day consider their mother’s statement: your body is your own and it is acceptable, even beautiful if you adjust your eyes to the light–just as it is.