More on Body Image Discussions

This is becoming so tiresome, this discussion of women’s body images. Not only from the standpoint of a machista misogynist voice, but even from a libratory feminist voice. If we are to stop concentrating on women’s image, what they look like, what they wear, how fat or not fat they are, then we must stop talking about it, simply put. We have to stop judging it, keep it from being a topic of interest. How many times have I heard this idea of the women on the front of magazines being “rail thin” and “waifish” … isn’t this critique boring us yet? Aren’t we ready for a critique with more meat on its bones? These words are so overused as to become cliché and indistinguishable from any other buzz word. They lack meaning. I no longer even know, somehow, what these critiques are about. I don’t know what they mean. I do not know the realities of these women. The problem is, women need to be encountered and known. Feminism is about empowerment of each other as women (and men). Feminism is about empowerment of each other despite the disempowered positions we come at each other with as a result of our gender.

Empowerment of each other comes through knowledge of each other. We do not know why a woman, who we see walking down the street, wears a veil unless we ask her. We do not know the extent of love, or lack of love, contained in her life or her relationship with the men in her life, just by seeing her. We cannot say that this woman has experienced a life absent of respect by men or even lack of self-esteem. We cannot even say that she does not consider herself a feminist. As feminists begin to understand their varied experiences and culturally specific contexts for feminisms, we see even more clearly that there is no way for white academic feminism to come into places where they have little or less cultural knowledge and talk about what “should” or “should not” be and what “is” or “is not” libratory.

I can apply this idea beyond that white feminist debate about how to frame the “issue” of the “veiled woman.” This idea extends to how we consider any image of any woman. When we see a “fat” woman walking down the street we cannot assume that she is unloved and mistreated, or that she feels bad about her body. Nor can we assume that she necessarily feels good. We cannot also say that she is or is not treating her body well. Just because she “has curves” does also not mean that she is a “feminist” or that she is being respectful to her body or treating it healthily. Equally, when we see an especially thin woman, we cannot assume that she loves or hates her body, that she treats it well. We cannot assume that she spends all of her time trying to maintain it, or that her body weight is or is not right for her level of physical activity and normal diet. When a picture of an actress is on the front of a magazine, are we to assume that automatically this woman is unhappy with herself and not a true feminist or flat out not someone to admire simply because she happens to be skinny? Are we such a superficial society as to actually believe this? What about liking or disliking women based on what they seem to do? And even more potentially liberating and radical, what about liking or disliking women based on what we actually know of them? How many women do we actually know, wish to know, attempt to get to know? And why not more?

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