Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Other People's Bodies (leave them the f**k alone)

A red-headed young woman with pierced ears and a large hoop stretching her earlobe.
It looked kinda like the thick grey hoop
in this picture, maybe a little bit bigger.
Yesterday @GloryisBen tweeted this post about not wearing makeup, which struck a chord with me, and also reminded me about a draft of a post that's been kicking around for a while. Here it is:

Last December during exams I went late at night to an on-campus eatery. The girl in front of me in line had big hoops in her earlobes, stretching them out. I was fascinated by them, and we were both standing there, so I turned to her...
"Excuse me, do you mind if I ask you a question?"
"No, no, go ahead."
"I was wondering how long it took to stretch your ears like that."
"About 2 and a half years."
"Wow - cause it's really neat."
"Thanks, yeah, it's good but it took a long time."
"Well, I mean, I just think it's really cool."
"Thank you - you know, I don't really get a lot of compliments on them."
"Well, I don't even have my ears pierced, but I think yours are really cool."
It was a nice conversation, based on the Captain Awkward social interaction rule that when it comes to other people's choices about their bodies (ie. what they're eating), you are only allowed to say nice things/ask nice questions.

But it left me so so sad. It's a travesty that something so neat, that took dedication, time and care to achieve, almost never gets positive feedback - and often, it sounds like, gets negative feedback. Her body, her ears, her choice - and everyone else needs to shut up about it!
I mean, I don't think I would ever stretch my ears - but before you think I'm saying that to be "better" than her, I'd like to point out that I also never intend to pierce my ears. I don't see anything wrong with either choice, but they simple don't interest me.

And I think that's the point - I can get behind the neat thing she's doing with her body because she wants to, without wanting that for myself or thinking everyone should. It's about respect for everyone. Respect, not judgment.

I've been that girl who has to deal with people expecting you to look one way and being embarrassed or angry when you don't. Not for what I've done, but for what I don't do: shaving under my arms or my legs, wearing make-up, wearing a dress to graduation.... the list is rather long, actually.

Around the same time as I encountered that girl, I wrote a monologue for a play that my school does, modelled after but more inclusive than the Vagina Monologues. On the surface, it was about the "smallest" of things - the fact that I don't shave my legs. But really, it was about the sheer amount of pressure I had to endure in order to leave my body to it's own devices.

Watching my speech performed live on stage was one of the neatest experiences I've ever had. Knowing the people who chose my words to be among those presented thought it was good enough, and important enough, was amazing. And hearing people talk about it, and clapping and laughing and sitting in horrified silence at all the right moments was amazing.

My favourite part of the speech is probably the end:
When I was 12, not shaving wasn't a statement to be made - it was as if I decided to cut my hair or pierce my ears. I was doing as I pleased with my own body. But with all the pressure on me, not shaving became an act of defiance. I am making a statement now, because I want a little girl like me to realize she's not alone, and because I don't fucking take orders from the patriarchy.

I don't judge other women for conforming - your body, your choice. But please, take a minute to think about why you do what you do, before you tell some little girl like me that she doesn't have a choice.
I almost want people to comment now, because I am so confident in what has become a decision thanks to years of paternal & step-maternal pressure. And at this point, if I could press a button and magically make all my 'unacceptable' hair go away forever - I wouldn't. It's a part of me.

This winter, the ski team was driving through a city and we passed a tattooed woman standing on a street corner. One of the boys in the van (someone who is a total fucking mysogynist but is also an assistant coach so I can only call him out on about half the stuff) started saying how gross that was. Other people chimed in to say she'd regret it, that it would look bad when she was older.

-- Amanda Palmer 
(this is one of my favourite quotes, and funnily enough,
 though I now am a fan of Amanda's, the first time I read
 the article she's quoted in, I had no idea who she was)
I said something. Not loudly, not forcefully, but I casually threw it out there: "hey if she's happy with it, why is it such a big deal?"

No one responded to that, but the conversation did move on quickly after. I almost wish they had asked me why I said that - I could have told them it's because I know EXACTLY how it feels to be judged based on what you do with your own body.

Here's what it boils down to: You don't have to find everything attractive. And in fact, you are allowed to say you don't find certain things attractive. But there are two conditions: 

1) Acknowledge the societal/family/whatever conditioning that may make you prefer thin/tall/white/non-pierced/whatever people

2) Frame your preferences as just that: preferences. Use self-descriptive vs. universally-prescriptive statements. (I don't like ear stretching, I wouldn't date someone with a mustache vs. That's just gross, People shouldn't do that)

To sum up: Other People's Bodies - leave them the f**k alone.

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