Take Back Your Body

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Observations From a Weekend In Miami

by Erin Bagwell Brooklyn, NY

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]S[/dropcap]pending a weekend in Miami beach has sent my feminist heart into a bit of a fury. To be blunt, in Miami, women’s bodies are literally everywhere. From bikini bodies without heads in the tourist shops, to thinly veiled sexual innuendo illustrations in the “naked taco” restaurant, to billboards floating above the beach pulled by prop planes. Women’s bodies are a commercial commodity that flood these sun soaked streets as the norm. Now I should preface these thoughts by saying I am a body positive feminist. I enjoy shedding the big wooly winters sweaters I have left behind in Brooklyn to frolic in light summery dresses or a midriff and jean shorts. However with all of this commercialization of the female form I have to wonder about the social and emotional implications this has on women, and particularly on our rights as women.[divider type="dotted"]

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[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]I[/dropcap]t’s not hard to see the immediate implications of this cultural craze on the women in this town. The tall gazelle-like ladies seem more akin to exotic creatures than humans. Women who are forsaking their natural curves for ones that are culturally deemed “appropriate”. But what happens when we start distancing ourselves from our bodies? What happens when we leave the body positive images out of the equation? What happens is we as a society start isolating everyday women, and the sexualized versions become the cultural norm and ideal. And stay with me here, but I think when the blatant use of women’s bodies for commercialization is the cultural norm, it becomes much easier for the powers that be to regulate our bodies and our choices.[divider type="dotted"]

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Because women are seen as objects, images, and cultural ideals of something that isn’t real, we cease to be ourselves. Our function, our purpose, is to strive to be objects. And being an object is a dangerous place to be. When women are seen as objects it makes it easier to put all our stock and worth into the body. Issues like eating disorders, appearance anxiety, substance abuse and depression increase in women who view all their power in their physical appearance. And on the flip side, men who objectify women are more likely to see them as disposable emotionally and physically. And honestly, I think we have a huge number of politicians who view and promote these ideals of women’s bodies as a way to sidetrack us from control. If we put all our stock in beautification we lose control of our own agenda because basically it’s not even on our list to worry about. Leaving room for politicians to regulate, control, and make mandates on our bodies because our bodies (in their minds) don’t belong to us. They are feeding this machine of commercialization that says our function is our sexaulity. There isn’t anything wrong with having sexuality be part of our identity, but when it becomes the overwhelming function of a person (for another person’s pleasure)...we have a problem.[divider type="dotted"][divider type="thin"]

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]N[/dropcap]ow I have given a lot of thought to this issue and there are definitely ways to combat these ideals and take back our bodies. Here are some of my thoughts:[well]

  1. If your body isn’t the “ideal,” Love it anyway. The mainstream media is screaming at you to hate yourself, to change, to be whiter, skinnier, blonder. But the truth is- the most powerful weapon you have as a woman is to love yourself. Stop being their ideal consumer and start questioning the beauty ideals that surround you.

  2. Run for office. The regulation and restrictions of women’s bodies from birth control to maternity leave we are leaving in the hands of old white men who don’t see us as equals. We will never have gender equality without political equality. Run for office and change the ratio and the way we are treated.

  3. Keep your eyes open to bullshit advertising. Women’s bodies are used to sell literally everything. It’s time we took a step back and saw the real cultural implications of that. These aren’t just images on a screen, these are affecting our right to equality and they need to be changed. Keep your eyes open and question everything.

  4. Protect the girls in your life (and your inner girl). One of the most devastating cultural norms (in my opinion) is the emerging sexualization of girls. If you have young ones in your life be sure to nurture and embrace their adolescent and any hobbies, clubs, or sports they connect with outside of beautification. Preserving the adolescent stage of their life where it’s ok to not shave your legs and climb trees is paramount. When we lose this stage we lose self esteem, self discovery, and worth beyond beauty.

  5. Find your inner power. Inner power is something inside of you that can’t be taken away, “fixed” by makeup, or sold to you in a store. It’s a core strength, talent, thought, meditation, job, or practice that makes you totally unique. Harness any and everything outside of the physical that gives you strength and power. Your body is a shell, a beautiful vessel, your canvas for the world- but it does not define you. Find something inside you that does and let it shine.[/well][divider type="thin"][divider type="dotted"]

Is there an advertisement, or cultural norm about women’s bodies that irks you? I want to hear about it! Write your experience in the comments below! Or is there a way you have been able to combat objectification in your life? I want to hear your tips!

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Erin Bagwell is the founder of Feminist Wednesday and the Director of the documentary Dream, Girl. Follow Erin on twitter: @erinebagwell [divider type="thin"]