Sunday, February 1, 2009

Confession: I still don't love my body

I got involved in the feminist group on my college campus (Students Against Sexism in Society, or SASS) fairly quickly after I started school. Last year I was involved in helping planning our Take Back the Night event that also included a nude "Love Your Body" photo shoot.

I wanted to help with the photo shoot because body image issues were one of my main motivations for getting a start in feminist activism, and this photo shoot was meant to help people see their bodies in a positive light and to help them appreciate a diverse range of body shapes.

This year, instead of combining the Love Your Body photo shoot with our Take Back the Night activities, SASS is putting on a separate "Love Your Body Weekend" February 13-15. Friday, we booked a local place to display the photos of over 60 nude models from campus. We will also be having an open mic for anyone who wants to present something relating to body issues, whether its a piece of music/art/prose by someone else, or that they composed. Saturday we will be painting tampon boxes from bathrooms on campus, having a discussion, and Larry Kirkwood will be coming for an exhibit/speech. Sunday we will be having another discussion.

Last year I decided not to participate in the Love Your Body photo shoot. This year, however, I did participate. I went into it thinking that it would be a good opportunity for me to see my body in a new way, and hopefully gain more appreciation for it instead of constantly seeing it so negatively.

My photographer was wonderful. I chose him because I had seen his work before and knew it to be quality. When I arrived for my photo shoot, I was nervous, but he struck up a conversation with me as he set up his equipment, and when it came time for it, I felt comfortable enough to go through with it.

This photo shoot is set up with some guidelines. First, poses, amount of clothing, and what was photographed was all left to the models. Second, all photos included in the display must be in black and white with no faces and only skin showing, even if the model kept some clothes on. Third, the photographers would take the photos, edit them, and then give on a CD to the model so they could choose which photo would be included in the display.

My photographer got my photos to me the day after they were taken. I had decided to leave some of my clothes on for the photo shoot, and I was eager to see them, so when I got the CD, I immediately uploaded the photos to my computer. I quickly realized that I couldn't go through them. I had already finished the shoot, the supposedly difficult part, and now that the pictures were sitting in front of me, I couldn't look at them.

I looked through a few of the first ones, and, to be completely honest, I was disgusted. Not with the photos themselves: they were of very good quality. But the fact that they were of me (and me partially nude!) made me feel sick to my stomach. This feeling broke my heart. After being such a proponent for this photo shoot, I couldn't stomach my own pictures. I knew that wasn't the good feminist reaction I was supposed to have, and it upset me greatly.

It made me think of how deeply embedded my body issues must be, and I can't even pinpoint a source for them. I'm upset because I feel like this opportunity that should have been a positive one, has been ruined because of my intangible issues with my appearance. I'm not giving up, but damn. This sucks.


Anonymous said...

Don't let yourself get bent out of shape about what a "good feminist reaction" would be or what you "should have felt." We are all at different places in our journey to love ourselves and live our principles. Whether you ever feel comfortable displaying the photos or not, you've clearly taken on a new experience from which you will grow and learn and think about feminism.

September Sui said...

When I first began my difficult journey to learn how to love my body, I was also very upset and disgusted with my body nude, even when I was quite slim and attractive to most other people at the time I started. There is something ingrained in us through societal standards which maintains hard-to-break barrier, and part of why it's hard to break is because our standards are kind of abstract, and very very difficult to articulate.

I found that identifying specific things I did not like about my body to be a first step in accepting it, because when I could figure out specific things I like, and specific things I didn't like, I could then decide how to accentuate stuff I did like, and whether I could work on stuff I didn't like (eg. I hate my nose, but I can't do anything about it, so I focussed on stuff I *could* work on, like my tummy).

Turning the abstract "I hate EVERYTHING!" and breaking it down helped me immensely. Maybe it might work for you too.

Amelia said...

Thanks for the advice, September, I think that's a great idea. :)

FeministGal said...

I completely agree with Anonymous, there's no "right" way to be a "good feminist" and your reaction is your own - you evaluated it, and will grow from it, that's all anyone can ask of you :) <3

lindsay said...

I know completely how you feel - I've recently started running. I'm training (loosely) to run a section of a marathon with my family members over the summer so I've been working out on a fairly regular basis. I'm definitely doing this for myself to accomplish something and to participate in this with my family, not to lose weight. At the same time, I can tell that I've lost weight (I don't weigh myself on a regular basis) and my face looks thinner. I tell myself and others that it doesn't matter that much to me, yet I notice on a day-to-day basis how my body changes and reacts to the activity. I can run easier and faster than I could when I started and my face and body is thinner, yet I focus more on the body changes than the noticeable easy of running. I know that I'm doing it and it drives me crazy, yet I can't not do it.

I suppose just noticing and being aware that what I'm doing is damaging is half the battle.

deb said...

Paradigm Shift

Amelia my body is a roadmap of my life. On my right forearm a scar from a dog bite when I was 3 years old. My left temple a chickenpox scar I could not keep my hands off of.

The stretchmarks on my hipbones and breasts tell the stories of 2 pregnancies, 17 months apart, and the beautiful babies that resulted.

I am the last of a generation that bear a "sunburst" scar from the smallpox vaccine.

Varicose veins and long from Grandma.

Being the tallest girl in school...well that's from Grandpa.

My knees and shins covered with scars from soccer...I still love the game.

My left index finger, badly broken and bent in the tragic Christmas cookie accident...yes, I know you got a laugh out of that one.

My body is my history. It tells the story of who I am and where I have been.

My husband loves it. He has his own scars and history. Joy comes in sharing.

Embrace your history.

You are beautiful and I will believe for you until one day, hopefully soon, you believe for yourself.

I love you!

Anonymous said...

I've gone this route as well in the endless search for body acceptance. I've participated in nude photo projects celebrating natural beauty and body diversity. I've even shared these photos with friends and acquaintances in an attempt to assert my right to view myself, with all my physical quirks and flaws, as "beautiful". It never had its intended effect, and I'll tell you why.

Patriarchal society mandates that women meet a very narrow and specific set of criteria for physical beauty, and so participating in such projects feels very rebellious, it feels like flipping the bird to the patriarchy and liberating yourself from oppressive beauty ideals simultaneously. Initially. And then I realized that I'd failed to gain the satisfaction I desired because I was going about it the wrong way, I was trying to see myself through patriarchy's lens. I was attempting to comandeer the male gaze, bend it to satisfy my longing to be culturally sanctioned as "beautiful" and "sexy". I was using one of patriarchy's prime weapons (objectification of the female form) to fight back against it. Like fighting fire with fire, it's a strategy ultimately doomed to failure.

I found real freedom the day I acknowledged that the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house -- I had to forge my own. I had to tell the patriarchy "eff you" and believe in my worth. To believe in your worth means you have nothing to prove. To anyone. Ever. It renders nude photo projects redundant and meaningless.

Maybe you already knew that on some level. Maybe you knew that the master's tools weren't the best way to carve out your freedom. All you have to do is believe in yourself.

Amelia said...

Wow, thank you, Anonymous. That comment really hit me hard and opened my eyes to a lot of things. You're right, I guess I did realize this on some level, but never really took the time to figure out what to do about it.

Thank you. I will pass on your words.

Jeffrey said...

Since Ted and I both got cameras this Christmas, I want to finally get a couple shots of me in the same types of poses that George and Kramer do in an episode of Seinfeld. If you don't know the episode, just google Timeless Art of Seduction. Lots of people have done it but I've just always wanted to. This comment really only relates distantly but I thought I would share. lol

Amelia said...

haha go for it, Jeff. :) Thanks for the comment.