What You Decorate Your Beautiful Body With

A while back, I was scrolling through Facebook, bored, not really looking for anything in particular, when I came across a picture of a woman. She was a little bit older, a little bit larger, but she was wearing a great, beaming smile and a small dress covered in Disney characters. “I finally got it!” read the caption. “I’ve been eyeing this dress for so long, and I’m so glad that I finally got it! It’s just a shame that it’s on my fat body.”

When I read this last part, my heart sunk. I left the obligatory “you look awesome in that dress, rock what you got!” comment, but I’ve been thinking about that comment ever since.

Because, really, I don’t think that it’s all too rare a comment to make.

When it comes to clothing and style, people feel a need to conform to a certain set of expectations. People who are bigger in size are mocked and made fun of if they wear anything that shows off their body. People who are older are mocked if they dress “too young”. And when it comes to alternative styles, like funky hair colours, obvious tattoos, or facial piercings, many people behave as though the act of getting them is a courageous one, telling people who have them, “oh, you’re so brave! I could never do that!”

And there are a lot of ways that society enforces these beliefs. For example, certain employers will refuse to hire someone who is dressed completely clean and professional, and yet they have a tattoo of a flower on their arm. But these beliefs are man-made. They do not reflect any sacred truth, and the only thing they reflect is the way that we as a society see people who do not conform to what is deemed the ‘appropriate’ way to dress.

But restricting what a person can and can’t wear, bullying an overweight person until they feel ashamed to so much as wear a dress, is a strange and cruel thing for society to do. Because, really, what does a person’s style really do to offend those around them?

How do inoffensive tattoos get in the way of a person’s ability to do their job?

How does an older woman wearing black lipstick and a mini skirt affect your day?

Why would a cis-gendered man wearing a dress offend you?

And when you actually ask these questions to those who enforce these beliefs, often times they’ll come up with the same responses: because it looks silly. But why does it look silly? The only reason that I can think of is because we don’t see it very often. And the reason why we don’t see it very often is because society bullies people out of doing it – they tell them that if they do it, then they’re wrong, they’re ugly, they’re ridiculous, none of which is at all true.

There is nothing ugly about your body. Your body is a magnificent thing, whether it is overweight, wrinkled, disabled, tattooed, covered in stretch marks, or whatever the case may be. It is a human body, and it is capable of sustaining you, of bringing you through life. And of course it isn’t perfect – nobody’s body is, and neither should they be. They should be scarred and marked and calloused, because these are the things that life does to us. These are the signs that you have lived.

So whatever you want to wear, whether that be sweatpants or a small dress covered in Disney characters, please wear it! Some people might laugh and mock you, sure, but those people are wrong to do so. Those people are too stuck in the idea of what’s acceptable and what’s not that they haven’t bothered to ask themselves why they feel that way. And as far as the ways that society enforces these rules, the issue of employment and what not, there are always ways around it. Some employers might take issue, but others won’t. Others will look passed the things that you choose to decorate your beautiful body with and see you for what you truly are: a remarkable, open-minded person who can’t be defined as easily as society says you can.

“Men Get Raped Too”: Why Rape is Still a Gendered Issue

Increasingly, there is this phenomena across the internet where a woman will talk openly about rape, and about how rape affects women, and when you scroll down to look at the comments, they will be filled with male commenters pointing out that “men get raped too”.

Now, I know that a lot of people say that you should ignore the comments on anything on the internet. The comments are a free-for-all where anyone can say anything, and sometimes they aren’t always intelligent anythings. But this specific comment, this “men get raped too” has appeared again and again, across multiple videos, articles, Facebook statuses or posts, and so the more often I see it, the more often I find myself wondering why so many men feel the need to place it so frequently on posts about female rape.

I’ll admit, the first few times I saw this comment, I rolled my eyes a little bit – not because I don’t believe that men can be raped. They very much can be. According to SexAssault.ca, approximately 20% of sex crime victims are men (more on this in a little bit). But when I saw these comments initially, the fact that they were very brief and placed specifically on discussions of female rape made me think that these commenters didn’t really care about male rape victims at all – they were just trying to derail the argument of the woman who initially posted. The way I saw it, it was their way of saying, “yes, women get raped, but men get raped too, so shut up and stop complaining about it”.

It was only recently that I saw a posting that made me change my mind on these commenter’s intentions. This particular post was, again, made by a man, and again, it pointed out that men get raped too, but it went a little bit more into detail about it. What this man was trying to argue was that men get raped too, and therefore rape isn’t a gendered issue – it’s a universal issue. It isn’t a topic for feminism, it has nothing to do with women’s issues.

And I have to admit, that is an interesting perspective – but, respectfully, I disagree. Although I will agree that rape is something that happens to both men and women, it is still a very gendered issue, and it is still an issue that should be addressed by feminists.

Now, why do I say that? What about rape is gendered if it is something that happens to both men and women? Well, the thing about rape is that it is something that people experience differently depending on gender.

Let’s start with the way that women experience rape. Women are raped more frequently than men are. In my home country, Canada, 80% of sexual assault victims are women, and one in four women will report being raped in their lifetime. That, however, is only the reported rapes, and the majority of rape victims will not report being raped, for a plethora of reasons. Although women face no issue being told that it is possible for them to be raped, they are still doubted when they come forward, and often times for very gendered reasons. Women who go to the police face a barrage of invasive questions, designed to make the crime seem as though it were her fault. What were you wearing? Were you drunk? Are you sure you didn’t lead him on at all? Because, you know, if you dangle a juicy steak before a dog, what else is he going to do but bite? And you, as a woman, are less of a human being and more of a juicy steak, a hunk of meat to be taken advantage of and fulfill a man’s pleasures. Women who have gone forward in an attempt to report a rape have described the experience as being a second violation. She is forced to relive her experience again and again. She is doubted, villainized, told that she has no chance of winning her case because it’s her word against his and a man’s voice will always be trusted before hers. And many women don’t even try to come forward, because the man who raped her was a friend, a boyfriend, a husband, someone who she trusted and doesn’t want to hurt, or someone who she knows will be trusted before she will. Who will ever believe that a boyfriend raped his girlfriend, after all? She must have consented and just changed her mind later. Or maybe she just doesn’t want to bother, to go through the whole terrible violation of seeking justice when she knows she won’t win anyway.

Female rape victims continue to be classified by the misogynist worldview of the virgin or the whore. If you were raped and you were wearing revealing clothes, or you flirted with him first, or you were promiscuous before even meeting your rapist, then you’re a whore and you were clearly asking for it. If you were raped and you were a virginal nun who never so much as touched a drop of alcohol or saw a party, then it’s a terrible tragedy and how could those boys do such a thing? Even women who haven’t been raped are classified in this way. Party girls who go out every weekend are told to “look out” or they might get raped, as though rape is the inevitable punishment for wearing a skimpy dress and drinking alcohol, whereas girls who stay in every weekend and read are praised by their fathers, who say that “something like that would never happen to them”, despite the fact that they are still at risk, simply by being a woman in a society that excuses the aggressor. Just because they don’t go out to party, that doesn’t protect them from the boyfriend who feels entitled, the employer or teacher who pursues more than he should, just because they are women and their aggressors are men.

Now, what about male rape victims? Men report being raped much less frequently than women do, but when men are raped, they too will rarely report it, but for very different reasons. Many men live under the illusion that men cannot be raped, simply because they’re… well, men. They’re big and strong. They can fight off any woman who expects more from him than he’s willing to give. And more than that, as a man, he wants sex constantly. If a pretty girl is asking him for sex, then of course he consented. He’s a man. Many male rape victims aren’t even aware that they have been raped because of this myth. But some male rape victims are aware, and yet they still don’t report, and often times, the reason for that is that they feel as though rape is a threat to their masculinity. They are supposed to be big, tough men, so why couldn’t they fight off their aggressor? Are they lesser men because of it? After all, the typical image that we as a society have of rape victims is a frail, small woman being attacked by a aggressive, predatory man; it is very difficult for men to accept themselves in the role of that frail, feminine victim (not that being a victim is at all a feminine thing to be, I am merely discussing society’s perspective). And if they were raped by another man, internalized homophobia might also play a role in their refusal to come forward.

When men do come forward, however, they face just as difficult a time as women do, but for different reasons. Women are doubted because they must have somehow been at fault; men are doubted because it simply couldn’t have happened. Men can’t be raped, not the way that women can be, or so they are told. There have even been cases of men turning to rape crisis centres and being turned away because they are doubted. Even the community that has dedicated itself to helping them refuse to do anything.

And to return to statistics, 15% of sexual assault victims in Canada are boys under sixteen, which adds an entirely new layer to the discussion. When children are being raped, they have a very hard time reaching out to anyone, or even understanding what’s happening to them, but the mental side effects will last a lifetime.

So to return to the commenters on the internet, I will agree that, yes, men can be raped too – that is most certainly a fact, and I agree wholeheartedly. But that being said, rape is still a gendered issue. The reasons that we as a society have for doubting victims when they come forward are extremely gendered, and the ways that we respond to them are gendered as well. Men are doubted because of our society’s understanding of what a man should be, and women are doubted because of our society’s understanding of what a woman should be. This results in very different experiences for the victims (each of them equally terrible), and very different reasons for why the crime is committed. But when I say that rape is a gendered issue, I am not saying that rape is an issue of men vs. women. At the end of the day, the crime is the same; it is only society and society’s expectations around gender that makes the experience different. And it is the goal of feminism to create a society where these expectations around gender are no longer relied on so heavily – for both men and women. My hope is that we as a society can someday reach a point where male and female victims are not treated differently, if they are raped at all; they are equally believed and they equally receive justice and support from their community. But the thing is, we simply are not there yet, and in order to get there, we must continue to discuss and dismantle the gendered issues around rape.

Hot or Not: Women and Competition

It was a very usual day, and I was passing the time in a very usual way – by bumming around on the internet. And while I was there, I came across a very usual post, one that I have seen variations of before and will see variations of again. This particular post used the figures of two female celebrities, Madonna and Lady Gaga, and it asked the question: which of these two women is hotter?

Now, there are many things that I could say about this post. I could say that Madonna and Lady Gaga are both intelligent business women and artists who have fought to keep themselves relevant through the changing years, and yet this post reduces them to their physical beauty. I could say that both women are much more than their appearance, and more than that, they have represented themselves as being more than mere objects whose beauty is to be judged and determined by others. But that isn’t what I’m going to say. As much as all of that is true, what I am going to discuss is the manner in which these two women were being pitted against one another as competition in beauty.

And this is not a rare occurrence for women either – sometimes very directly, such as the example of the post that outright asked whether Madonna or Lady Gaga was hotter, and sometimes more subtly, such as when people make comments like “girls who are *insert body type here* are much more attractive than girls who are *insert body type here*”. This last example gets passed around quite often. Women who are a bit larger are made to feel as though they would be more beautiful if they just lost some weight, but in attempt to validate women who are larger, the internet produced a quote that read “real men like curves, only dogs go for bones”. And body weight is not the only area through which women are pitted against one another. Women who don’t wear make-up are told that girls who do are more beautiful, while women who wear a lot of make-up are told that girls who wear natural make-up are more beautiful. And the competition doesn’t even end at physical beauty – many women, especially teenage girls, feel the need to insist that they “aren’t like other girls”, as though to say that there is something wrong with other girls while she is inherently better.

In a lot of ways, it seems as though our society has decided that there is one clear way that is ‘right’ to be a woman, but they haven’t entirely decided what that way is. Some will say that curvy women are hotter, some will say that skinny women are hotter. Some will say that feminine women, who enjoy doing their hair and nails, are better, and some will say that masculine women, who fix up trucks and live for sports, are better. Some will say that Madonna is hotter, and some will say Lady Gaga is hotter.

And you know the reason for this? The reason is that there is no one way to be beautiful.

We too often forget that. We think that we can come up with a definitive winner in this competition that all women were unwillingly entered into. Who is the hottest woman? What is the best way to be woman? But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. One person will like skinny girls, and another person will like curvier girls. One person will like girls who wear a lot of make-up, and another person will like girls who wear natural make-up. There will always be someone out there who will think you are beautiful, and there will always be someone out there who will think you are not, no matter what you do. It is impossible to please everyone, so really, why bother? The only person you have to please is yourself. So long as you are happy and you are comfortable in your own skin, the right people will be able to see that and love you for it.

So let’s stop pitting women against one another. Let’s stop saying that one woman is hotter than another because, really, she isn’t. Both women are beautiful, and they are beautiful in their own ways. And this idea that women need to be in competition with one another to be the most beautiful or gain the most men (if the woman in question wants men, that is) is only hurting us in the long run. We should be supporting one another, not tearing each other down. We should be trying to make our fellow women feel like they have value, like someone out there cares about them, because that is a much more beautiful thing to do than tearing each other down to build ourselves up.

Why We Need Diversity in Politics

When it comes to politics, I am a firm believer that people from all perspectives should be considered. After all, who knows more about a woman’s experiences than an actual, flesh-and-blood woman? Who knows more about what it’s like to live in a wheelchair than someone who has actually been in a wheelchair? And who can better speak to the issues faced by people of colour than someone who has spent all their lives being a person of colour? Of course, it’s not always perfect – not every person in a specific community represents every aspect of that community. We all have different forms of privilege, we all meet with different challenges in our lives, and some politicians who represent marginalized people have actively fought in support of issues that concern their community. However, that being said, you are still going to make a much more informed decision around what to do with the lives of women if you are actually confronting a group of women, rather than a group of men.

And it is very rare that you see this nowadays. I am very proud of my own country of Canada, whose cabinet is intentionally diverse, made up of immigrants, Muslims, disabled people, native people, and not a small handful but fifteen women. In America, however, Trump’s cabinet is overwhelmingly white and overwhelming male – so much so that it is, in fact, the least diverse cabinet since Reagan’s. And since Trump has been elected, he has continued to make decisions that do not directly affect white men. Abortion, for example, is not a procedure that cisgendered men will ever have to endure, and yet Trump and his cabinet have made the decision for women that their access to it should be limited. I am not necessarily saying that if you asked any random group of women about their opinions on abortion, the answers will be any different – what I am saying is that too few women were consulted. This was a decision made by men for women.

And in my personal opinion, that isn’t okay. I do not think that men should have the ability to limit what a woman can do with her life and body, any more than I think that white people should have the ability to limit what people of colour can do, or that cisgendered people should have the ability to limit what transgender people can do. If you do not have the lived experience of belonging to that particular group, then you do not have the necessary information to tell that group what they should do and how they should behave. You do not know what they deal with.

And yet, I have heard my own perspective countered multiple times. “I think that people should be chosen for a job based on whether or not they are qualified, not based on whether or not they belong to a specific minority,” people will say, and I understand. To a certain extent, I even agree. If someone is faced with hiring one of two people: a black, transgender lesbian who is completely unqualified in every way or a straight, white man who has spent years preparing for this job, of course they should choose the man. But from what I can tell, that isn’t what’s happening. Unqualified people are not being chosen over qualified people to fill a minority quota, as this statement seems to suggest. Rather, in situations such as the one that I described in my home country, where Canada’s cabinet is a diverse one, perfectly qualified people are given jobs where they perform according to standards while simultaneously offering up their marginalized voice, providing a perspective that a straight, white man (a figure that continues to be seen in this workplace) lacks. In other words, the black, transgender lesbian from my example is not only good at her job, but she offers a perspective that would otherwise be lacking.

When I say that we need diversity in politics (and in the workplace, more generally), I am not saying that straight, white, cisgendered, able-bodied, neurotypical (etc., etc.) men should go without jobs. I am not saying that minorities should be given any special treatment that their more societally accepted counterparts don’t get. All that I am saying is that we should support minorities achieving positions that they are perfectly capable of filling, but that they haven’t in the past due to societal imbalances. There are a wide variety of people in our world, but if our political system continues to hear the story of only one side, then that is the side that will eternally be catered to. Inequalities will continue to be enforced, because as much as it is completely possible for a cisgendered man to sympathize with the issues of a woman and want to stand up for her, he cannot understand it in the same way that she does because he has not lived it. She has. Let her tell her story. Let all of us tell our stories. And let us all fight these battles together.

The Sacrifices We Make To Be Thin

A couple of days ago, I saw a picture of a woman on Instagram. The frame focused on the woman’s torso, and she was turned just slightly aside, so that the lighting perfectly caught her abdominal muscles, making her look thin and fit. Underneath the photo, she had written the caption, “This is the only time I have abs, and I haven’t eaten for twenty four hours because I’ve been sick and throwing up”. The photo had been liked multiple times, and it had only one comment, written by another woman: “I’m so jealous.”

Now, I’m sure this woman didn’t mean her comment the way that it sounded. I’m sure she was not actually saying that she would love to be physically ill and vomiting to the point that she cannot bring herself to eat for twenty four hours, all for the sake of obtaining abs. Chances are, she did not read the photo’s caption and merely thought that the first woman’s abs were admirable. However, there was something about seeing this exact comment on this exact photo that simply felt like a microcosm of how we as a society see women’s bodies.

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The photo above shows me two years ago, when I was 175 pounds and unhappy with my body. I was just coming out of a year spent coping with depression and eating what polite society would generously call a fuckton of fast food (pizza was my kryptonite), and so I came to the conclusion that if I was going to make a permanent change in my lifestyle, I was going to start with my diet and exercise habits.

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Fast forward a year, and now we’re at this photo. Here, I am 125 pounds. I had worked damn hard to lose those fifty pounds, and I was incredibly proud of myself for it, but on average, I was only eating about a thousand calories a day – and for those of you who don’t count calories, that roughly translates to “not enough food”, especially considering I was working out six days a week on top of that. There were nights where I only went to bed as early as I did because I knew that if I went to sleep, then that would bring me to breakfast faster. On average, I went through my days feeling hungry and weak. I was shaky, I had a hard time focusing on the things that I loved to do, and there were times where I missed being physically larger simply because I didn’t feel quite so vulnerable and small when I was. But at the same time, as much as I did not feel well, I was dedicated to staying that way. I counted my calories diligently, and if I went over, or if I ate more than one cheat meal a week, then I felt incredibly guilty to the point of tears, sometimes to the point of feeling the urge to go into the bathroom and try to make myself throw up (I never did, thankfully). And the strange thing about all of this is that I don’t really know why I, of all people, felt this way. I mean, yeah, 175 pounds was a little heavy for me, but I had been a curvy girl my whole life until this point – and I was damn proud of my curves too. I was that girl who reminded people that Marilyn Monroe had been a size twelve. I was that girl who rolled my eyes at the idea that women needed to lose weight to be beautiful. I was that girl who seriously questioned why ‘fat’ necessarily needed to be an insult. And yet, here I was, starving my body and putting myself through emotional torment – and why? It wasn’t to be beautiful – I thought that I was beautiful before. So why was I doing this to myself?

Well, to be honest, I think that it was because of the way that we as society view women’s bodies – and I return to the Instagram commenter as my microcosm. It didn’t matter that the first woman needed to starve herself and be physically ill to get abs – the fact that she had abs was the only thing that mattered. We tend not to see the pain that goes into getting the body that society tells us we should want. Hell, we tend to not even think of it. When someone we know has lost a ton of weight, our go-to comment to make is always, “wow, you look great”. And of course, this compliment comes from a supportive place – all that we’re trying to do is assure someone that all of the hard work they’ve put into their body is being noticed. But what about the girl who lost all of that weight by starving herself? What about the person who lost weight because they were sick? When they’re being told that they are increasing their value in the eyes of those around them by causing themselves harm, then that is going to encourage them to keep causing themselves harm. They are going to keep on starving themselves, and they are going to keep on ignoring all of the signs that their body is giving them that they need to change what they are doing, all to get that compliment and feel that sense of accomplishment.

I’ve seen it done, again and again. The woman who knows exactly how long she can go without eating anything is told, again and again, by everyone around her, that she looks great and should keep doing what she is doing. And so she does keep doing it. She keeps on starving herself and she keeps on putting her own health at risk, all because we as a society have decided that the only acceptable way for a woman to look is thin, and so some women will do anything they have to to achieve that.

In my case, I didn’t even think I hadn’t been beautiful before. I just knew that I wanted to change my life, and considering the comments that I was receiving and the expectations that I placed in myself, so long as I kept losing weight, I was doing something right.

I decided to change my lifestyle shortly after I reached 125 pounds. People had been telling me for a while that I looked too thin, that I was a person built to be curvy and I didn’t look right so small and bony, but that wasn’t the reason that I decided to change. No, the reason why was because I sat down to write one night, to do the one thing that I always told myself came before anything else, and I couldn’t do it because I felt so weak and hungry. It was at that moment that I realized it wasn’t worth it. I decided that I would rather feel strong and energetic than look the way that society expected me to look. I still eat healthy and I still work out six days a week, but now, I eat when I feel hungry and I make sure not to count calories. I have gained seven pounds since, and I feel much happier and much more comfortable in my own body.

But it still scares me when I see exchanges like the one on Instagram. I hate to think of all the girls and women who are putting their bodies and minds through hell, and they continue to do it because they continue to receive compliments for their weight loss, as though their being thin somehow matters more than their feeling strong and well. And it’s difficult to say that we should not compliment someone on their weight loss at all, because if someone has lost a lot of weight by simply making healthy changes to their lifestyle, then that is something that should be celebrated. But girls and women should also know that being thin is not the most important thing that they can be – being happy and healthy is infinitely more significant. Strength is so much more beautiful than a lean stomach will ever be.

And my message here is not that there is any one way that our bodies should look. I am not trying to belittle the beauty in thin bodies, nor in larger bodies, nor in muscular bodies. I firmly believe that every body type is beautiful, but it is more important that you feel comfortable and happy, and that you are healthy in mind and body. I believe that it is absurd that society encourages us to sacrifice our wellbeing for a body that is easier to accept. I believe that we are more than our physical appearances, that our thoughts and feelings and happiness has value, and that no one should ever feel the need to cause themselves harm in order to become something that society says they should.