Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"Everything in Sugar is feminist"

excerpt from Bitch Magazine article "Sugar Rush" issue no. 56, fall 2012 
Can we have a sincere talk about beauty? I'd really like to chat about it. I want to pretend it doesn't affect me. It does. I worry. I fret over silly things. What's worse is I feel good when I look good. Why? Is that ok? Do I have to look good all the time? No, but I do have to have the "right" clothes. I know it's all crazy-talk. Brainwashing by a broken culture. I'm aware of my own internalization of these standards. Now what? I can't just will them away.

And the pictures online. Today I discovered #GPOY (read this for a great analysis of it's cultural meaning). For the most part I only post cute pictures of myself online. Unless I'm being funny. I couldn't share a bad picture. It sounds ridiculous. Why would I share a bad picture? But, why share a good one? Why share any? What are my expectations? This is on my mind a lot lately. Partly because I'm feeling better about my body because I'm taking care of it. I'm losing weight, which is great in many ways. I can honestly say that the main reason I started being healthy was because I was depressed and anxious. I did it for my mental and emotional health and it's working (along with lots of other internal work I'm doing). But I can't help but like how I look. And I feel shameful, mostly because I don't know how to undo it. The truth is I'm a few pounds and a bad hair day away from feeling like crap. Cheryl Strayed is right. But how do we "stand together against the beauty machine" while also not shaming ourselves?


Heidi Richardson Evans said...

This is such a layered and complicated topic. (And I had never heard of #gpoy until this post.) This beauty conundrum intersects so much with my thinking about identifying as Sex Positive. For me, as a person with a visibly anomalous body, posting photos of myself in full view, not just as a close-up on my face, was CRAZY empowering. I feel the same way about showing my body when I'm heavy. It feels like magic to say, "Dear Everyone: I feel fucking GORGEOUS."

I saw on MamaPop recently that Dakota Fanning turned 18 and immediately did her first nude scene. I surprised myself by reacting with a Sex Positive Brain instead of Mommy Brain. I remembered being that age and just *bursting* sexually. If I'd been an actress, that nude scene would absolutely have been my first order of business. The post is here:

That story and this conversation put me sort of hesitantly in the You Go Girl camp of self-sexualization. It's such a mess I really just can't sort out our dysfunctional beauty culture from a desire to see sexuality as healthy and normal. It's the puzzle society deals us: Along with totally sexualizing women in every single arena of life, we also slut shame and feign puritanical standards. Coming of age in this culture (to non-Laura readers, I didn't grow up on MySpace; I'm 37) it seems inevitable that girls are broadcasting their sexuality and beauty this way. Again with the layering, I see a touch of the subversive here. I like the idea that girls are embracing their beauty on their own platforms.

I'm not 100% behind this, and I may be reading this through wishful-feminist glasses. I want more discussion here, too, and I have to renew my Bitch subscription right now.

Also: I have no idea what Sugar is.

Laura E. Davis said...

OMG you MUST READ DEAR SUGAR!!! Go now. She is daisybones incarnate.

I love everything you say here. I must say that I reacted in the opposite way when you mentioned the Dakota Fanning nude scene. I actually said, "ew." I still don't think that reaction was wrong; I think I'm reacting from a place of experience, thinking back to myself at that age and doing things I wished I hadn't later. Film never disappears. I suppose it's different when you're an actress.

Also, holy crap. Dakota Fanning is 18? I'm old.

Sex positivity does have an interesting role in this discussion. I'm glad you pointed out the conflict between cultural messages, "Be sexy!" "But don't be a slut!" American's must assert individuality to the point where someone different or outside the norm becomes a threat. That's another conundrum - if we are all individuals, how can there be a normal? Someone different can't just be different. I'm all over the place with my thinking here, but I think you can leap with me, Heidi. You have artist-brain like me :)

I think what it ultimately ends up being about is, "Live and let live." Why do I care about what Dakota Fanning does and doesn't do with her own body? I don't.