Is It Important To Know You Are Beautiful?

Recently, I heard someone present the argument that it is not at all important for us to think our bodies are attractive. We don’t need to accept our weight or our stretch marks or our hair, because at the end of the day, none of that makes us us. We are not our bodies. We are not our nose or our eyes or our legs or our ass. We are more than that; we are people. We are intelligence and wit and kindness and strength. We don’t have to be beautiful, because we transcend that.

I agree with part of this argument. I agree that, yes, we are more than our bodies. That is one hundred percent, completely true – you are not at all defined by what people physically see about you. You are so much more than that.

But at the same time, I do believe that it is important that you know your body is beautiful as well.

Why? I mean, if I think that we are more than our bodies, then wouldn’t I agree that a body is mostly superficial? Meaningless? Our bodies just support us through life, they are the means through which we interact with the world and that’s it, right?

Well, yes, technically that is their purpose. But societally speaking, bodies (and female bodies in particular) have been assigned a much deeper role than that.

Essentially from birth, female bodies are discussed in terms of ‘beauty’, and too often, that beauty is connected to something else, something more insidious – worth. Saying to a little girl “oh, you’re so pretty!” is pretty much synonymous with saying, “you’re a good, worthwhile person, aren’t you?” Women are taught from a very young age to take pride from their physical bodies, and especially in their teen years, women are warned about what will happen if their physical bodies don’t match up to society’s standards.

A young girl who carries extra weight too long for it to be considered baby fat anymore is warned that she needs to lose that weight immediately, and if she doesn’t lose that weight, then the boys won’t like her. And if the boys don’t like her, then she’ll never get a boyfriend. If she never gets a boyfriend, then she’ll have to settle for the first boy with low enough standards to take her. If she settles, then she won’t be happy in her marriage. If she isn’t happy with her marriage, then she won’t be happy with her life. It doesn’t matter if any of this is true or not (and trust me, it isn’t). Many women are still told this or similar narratives while they are still too young to be able to question it.

And even if we ignore the fact that many young girls are told that their physical beauty is directly proportional to their worth, there are simply so many ways that society teaches women to hate their bodies. We have commercials telling women that their eyelashes aren’t long enough, so buy this mascara and your life will be better. We have magazines that shock and gasp at the mere prospect of a celebrity with stretch marks or cellulite. We have a movie industry that returns again and again to the same beauty standards (thin, feminine, youthful, lighter skinned, able-bodied, cis-gendered, etc.) to represent their female leads, the characters that the script decides deserves a happy ending and a good life.

So with all of this, it isn’t surprising when young girls start to hate their bodies.

And when girls hate their bodies, they sometimes start to do very dangerous things to them. For example, it is estimated that 10 million American women suffer from an eating disorder.

Or perhaps we don’t cause damage to our bodies. Perhaps we just feel ashamed of them, covering them up wherever we go, hating the idea of anyone ever getting a peek at them. Perhaps we feel a little bit like our bodies devalue us as a person – after all, we have received the message that our beauty is directly correlated with our worth, haven’t we? We feel like we can’t find love until we reach a certain size, or we need to keep a certain part of us hidden, lest our lover be less interested as a result of seeing it. We feel ugly, gross, like something nobody ever wants to see. We call ourselves names and avoid mirrors and become jealous when we see someone who better matches our idea of beauty.

At the end of the day, our bodies are just bodies, yes. They are designed to be a vessel that carries your intelligence and your kindness and your talent and everything else about you that truly makes you amazing. But at the same time, all of this still matters. Not because our bodies have any huge bearing on who we are as a person – they don’t, but because, due to the amount of importance that society has put on our bodies, they end up having a lot of influence on how we see ourselves.

And maybe you have managed to get passed all of that. Maybe you really don’t care how you look on the outside, and if you do, then that’s awesome. Good for you. But in this society, it is perfectly understandable if you haven’t. You can tell yourself, again and again, that your physicality doesn’t matter because you’re so many amazing things on the inside, but that doesn’t mean that when someone else places value on you based on your body, it won’t hurt or make you feel like less of a person.

And that, I think, is where changing our perspective on what’s beautiful comes in. You need to know that you are beautiful, no matter what you look like. You need to know that our society’s definition of beauty is incredibly limited, and at the end of the day, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You need to know that your stretch marks do not devalue you, that your body hair doesn’t make you any less beautiful. Because once you know that, then you become more confident. Then it stings a little less when someone else makes a comment about your body, because you know that they’re wrong – and they are wrong. They come from a very limited, very sad perspective, and you’re so much better than all that! You are a beautiful person, and you have every right to feel like a beautiful person.

And once you gain that confidence, then it might become a bit easier for you to express all of the things that truly make you amazing. Because your body is just that – a body, and learning to love it is just one step. It’s a very important step, a step that I think needs to be made, but only because it will lead you toward accepting that you are worthwhile, that you deserve all the joys this world has to offer you. And once you know that (because it’s very true, and society is wrong to have ever made you feel otherwise), then you can feel free to be the amazing, strong, incredibly unique person that you truly are.

The Hatred of Femininity

Misogyny: (noun) the hatred of women.

In our society, misogyny can take many forms. It can come in the form of gender-based violence, like rape or domestic abuse. It can come in the form of social exclusion or hostility in certain spaces, such as cat-calling – especially if that cat-calling turns into threats, insults, or anything else that makes them feel unsafe in a public place. Or it can come in the form of constantly assuming the worst of women – thinking that they’re to blame for rape, thinking that they’re too delicate and too vulnerable to hear certain truths, thinking that they’re too emotional to do anything right.

Misogyny is something that is still very much alive today, and it is a very serious problem in our society that we cannot stop talking about. But the sort of misogyny that I want to focus on today is not simply the hatred of women, but rather the hatred of the feminine – because while these two issues most certainly connect and stem from the same issue (as I said, misogyny), the thing about the hatred of the feminine is that it affects all of us.

Because as much as femininity is something that gets assigned to straight women most frequently, that does not mean that only women are capable of femininity. They really aren’t.

Gay men, for example, are frequently represented as feminine in our media. They are represented as feminine so often, in fact, that some people have begun to shun this representation for being ‘stereotypical’, favouring the more invisible image of the masculine gay man (this can sometimes be referred to as effeminophobia, or discrimination against effeminate gay men). But feminine gay men most certainly exist as well, and they deserve a chance to see themselves not only represented, but represented well, and as much as feminine gay men have gotten a bit of the former, they haven’t always gotten the latter.

One example that we might all be aware of is the representation of feminine men in Disney movies. While not necessarily gay (or not openly so, anyway), many of the male villains of Disney cartoons are rather feminine – the Pocahontas villain Governor Ratcliffe styles his hair in two pink bows and carries around a small dog, the Peter Pan villain Captain Hook is highly emotional and dresses very flamboyant, the Aladdin villain Jafar has his eyeliner game on point. And why is this a reoccurring theme with male Disney villains? Well, in my opinion, it’s because, while Disney isn’t outright trying to say that femininity (and male femininity in particular) is wrong, they are trying to use these conventions to convey certain misogynist messages. We as the audience are supposed to read these men as being silly, vain and greedy because they are outwardly feminine. These villains are more easily detestable because they remind us of feminine aspects.

Disney will sometimes even use these aspects in their female villains as well. Honestly, think about it – when Ariel first meets Ursula in The Little Mermaid, she is applying her lipstick and fixing up her hair, and in One Hundred and One Dalmatians Cruella de Vil’s greatest downfall is her obsession with fashion.

Which brings me to another issue in all of this – it is not only women and men who receive scorn and hatred if they become classified as ‘too feminine’, but hobbies and interests as well. We as a society tend to regard the playing or watching of sports, a masculine pass-time, as worthwhile, something that builds character. And yet, watching fashion shows or reading magazines is regarded as silly and frivolous. Fixing a car is a useful skill to have, whereas sewing a dress is kind of cool if you can do it well, but not really useful unless you can make some good money at it. And don’t even get me started on the way that we as a society look down on chick-flicks for being stupid, unrealistic, and vapid, whereas action movies are awesome and full of fun car chases and explosions.

Especially if someone identifies themselves as a masculine person, it is a very common narrative for them to completely reject feminine pass-times. We have all heard about the very stereotypical set-up of the masculine boyfriend complaining loudly as his girlfriend drags him, kicking and screaming, into Sephora, while women are frequently expected to sit there quietly and watch sports with their boyfriends, even if they don’t like them.

Now, at this point you might be asking: so what? Why does it matter that people tend to look down on femininity? Well, it matters because, to some extent, we all have some aspect of us that is feminine. Not just straight women. Not just gay men. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. And this societal rejection of femininity as a valid option in our lives forces us to make one of two choices: we can continue to act feminine as accept that a side-effect of that will be that people will see us as vapid, silly, stupid, frivolous, etc., or we can reject the feminine parts of ourselves and act masculine, neither of them really works for me.

The latter option forces us to shave off parts of ourselves, to never be our complete self because society tells us that we can’t be. The latter option leaves holes in our identity, leaves parts of ourselves unexplored and unfulfilled. And when it comes to the former option, here’s the thing: I am very feminine. I like to do my hair and my make-up. My favourite movie is a love story. I dress very flamboyantly, I move very flamboyantly, and when I talk, my mannerisms are very feminine. And I am not stupid, silly, or frivolous. I do not appreciate being called stupid, silly, or frivolous. I refuse to live with that title placed on me by others, and I refuse to let others place that title on others like me.

Femininity is not a weakness; femininity is just a different way of being, and a perfectly valid way of being. The only reason why we tell our daughters that they’re frivolous for liking the Notebook, our sons that they can’t wear a dress or make-up, is because femininity is frequently assigned to women, and societally speaking, we do not like women. We think women are vapid and silly and overly-emotional, and so we think that anyone like them are the same. And it should probably go without saying that this way of thinking is misogynist and wrong.

You can like romantic movies, and get shit done. You can know all the latest fashions and be a total boss. The two things are not mutually exclusive, and we need to stop treating them like they are.

Why We Should Talk About Free the Nipple

Hey guys; I don’t know if you noticed, but we’re nearing the end of July now. And maybe this isn’t exactly something that I have the best experience with, seeing as I spend my days in my dark and dank, cavern-like basement with only my computer screen for light, but I hear tell of the myth of summer, this time when the world gets very, very hot, forcing people to strip down and wear fewer clothing.

And, okay, maybe I’m not entirely familiar with the concept of sun or beaches or swimming or going outside, but I am familiar with the strange sort of controversy that exists around this concept of wearing fewer clothing – a controversy that really exists every day of the year, thanks to women who insist on breastfeeding their baby (as though that was what boobs were meant for or something), but which gets more and more prevalent during the hotter months of the year.

And one of the main reasons why I’m aware of this controversy from my cavern-like basement is because of the Free the Nipple campaign.

Started in 2012 after a few incidences where women in the United States were charged with indecent exposure and public indecency for appearing topless in public (including in states like New York, where such things are supposed to be legal), the Free the Nipple campaign describes itself as centred around the idea of gender equality. Perhaps most notably, the equality that they take a special interest in is a woman’s right to take her shirt off and walk around with her tatas out.

And, I mean, sure. Why not? I mean, summers get hot, and ever since the 1930’s, men have had the right to walk around and make us all feel like we’re seeing way too much of their torso, so why can’t women have the same right? In fact, it might even make more sense for women to have the right to be publicly topless than men, because (as I briefly touched on before), women with babies often need to breastfeed them, and this involves exposing a boob or two. I mean, what else are we going to do with those breastfeeding mothers? Make tired, stressed-out women who have already pushed a human being out of their vagina hide away in the Bathroom of Shame while all of their lucky friends without children just go on with their lives? I mean, what sort of sense would that make?

So, yeah, let’s make this legal! Let’s fight for police to recognize our right to bare the boobs!

Except, this is already legal in many places in North America.

Despite this campaign’s beginnings in legality, you’d be surprised by the amount of places where it’s technically legal for women to walk around topless. In the United States, individual states have the right to dictate the legalities around female toplessness, and though these laws change frequently, you’d be surprised by the amount of states where boobs are actually legal. And then we have my country, Canada, wherein it’s actually legal for women to walk around topless almost everywhere – including and almost especially in my own province, Ontario.

Look, I know I just said that I don’t really get out much, but if this was the case, then you’d think I would have at least seen one public boob. But I haven’t. In fact, if I didn’t know that female toplessness was legal where I live, I wouldn’t have even guessed it.

I still see women covering up their boobs, all throughout the hot summers. I still hear about mothers who shock and gasp at a woman breastfeeding in public because “think of the children! What if my little Timmy sees a boob! A boob!!!!” And in fact, although I’ve never actually seen this mythological creature known as the publicly topless women, I’ve still heard people make snide comments about them when they see pictures – comments like, that’s disgraceful, and that’s so weird, and why doesn’t she respect herself and put some clothes on, and, at their most dangerous, she’s just asking for something to happen.

So if, legally and technically speaking, female toplessness is the same as male toplessness, why isn’t it treated the same?

Well, it’s because, societally speaking, female toplessness isn’t the same as male toplessness.

A lot of this comes down to the way that we tend to think about women and women’s bodies. Women’s bodies are often viewed as sexual objects in a way that men’s bodies aren’t. Technically speaking, breasts are just another part of the body – about as sexual as hands are, but the difference is that hands occur on every body, whereas breasts tend to grow most commonly on people who are assigned female at birth, and therefore, as a female body part, they are viewed as inherently sexual. It doesn’t matter that they can function also as food for babies, or as odd bags of fat that cling to your chest; they’re female body parts, which makes them sexual, which makes them bad, which means that you have to cover them up, no ifs, ands, or buts about it!

When a man appears shirtless in public, it can be for a lot of reasons. Maybe he’s hot (temperature-wise, I mean), or maybe he got his shirt dirty, or maybe he doesn’t own a shirt; who knows, really? When a woman appears shirtless in public, people will automatically assume that it is for only one reason: sex. She is ‘inviting attention’. She is ‘opening herself up’ to being leered at, to being flirted with, to being assaulted; if any of that happens to her, then she may not even be viewed as the victim, but as the cause. She has a female body that she isn’t ashamed of, which immediately means that she’s promiscuous, that she’s a ‘whore’, that she has no self-respect (and by the way, why would being promiscuous necessarily mean that you have no self-respect anyway?).

Except they’re just boobs. They are not inherently sexual. They’re body parts and little else, they say nothing about us and mean nothing.

If you want proof that boobs are sexualized to a ridiculous extent in our society, as well, then look at some of the responses to the Free the Nipple campaign, which include certain men claiming that boobs ‘belong in pornography’, and that if a woman earns the right to walk around with her tits out, then he should have the right to walk around with his dick out. In our society, a woman’s nipples are so intensely sexualized, that some men do not even see them as being the same as the nipples that they have on their own chests, but rather equate them to being the exact same thing as genitals. In our society, female nipples are deemed less of a body part, and more of a tool used in pornography to get men off.

And if Free the Nipple proves anything, it’s that this needs to change.

That’s the beautiful thing about all of this being societal too; this can change. Right now, it isn’t common or, in some cases, even safe for women to walk around topless, but that might not always be the case. With campaigns like Free the Nipple, we can keep talking about this, keep supporting women who want to go shirtless, keep pointing out how ridiculous it sounds to claim that female nipples belong in pornography and male nipples belong at the beach. And the more that we do, the more that people will begin to change their minds, and the more that society will change as a result.

So even if you aren’t comfortable baring your breasts this summer (and trust me, I get it if you aren’t), don’t forget about the women who are, and the women who are trying to be. Support those women, and talk about those women. Make those women normal, because someday, they might just be.

 

Performing Gender

Gender is a topic that comes up quite often nowadays, but what, exactly, is gender?

In the popular conscious, gender is often divided into two categories: masculine and feminine. People who identify as men are masculine. People who identify as women are feminine.

Masculinity is strength. Masculinity is no emotions, the ability to be a provider and take care of their loved ones in financial and safety-related means. Masculinity can be recognized through very specific, very visible means. Masculinity means shirts and pants, suit and tie. Masculinity means faces clean of make-up or product, but covered in hair. Masculinity means obsession with sex, and sex with women in particular. The more heterosexual sex a man has, the more masculine he is. The more respect and fear a man earns, the more masculine he is.

Femininity is vulnerability. Femininity is more emotions than can easily be dealt with, the ability to be a housekeeper and take care of their loved ones in nurturing and love-related means. Femininity can be recognized through very specific, very visible means. Femininity means dresses and skirts, pantyhose and yoga pants. Femininity means faces clean of hair, but covered in make-up and product. Femininity means hesitation toward sex, but wanting sex with men in particular. The less sex a woman has with anyone, the more valuable she is considered. The more love and adoration a woman earns, the more feminine she is.

All of this, however, is just the way that gender is considered in the popular culture. In real life, nothing is as simple as all this.

The feminist scholar Judith Butler has said that gender is performative, meaning that we are not born into a gender, but we are told how we should act if we want to be accepted as a member of our gender – and we want to be accepted as a member of our gender. If we aren’t, then we pose the risk of being dismissed as (for women) a butch, a bitch, selfish, man-hater, ball-buster, and (for men) a sissy, gay, weak, or feminine (I am not trying to imply that there is anything wrong with being any of these things, I am simply pointing out that these are sometimes used as insults to undermine someone’s gender identity). This means that we force ourselves to act and present ourselves in specific ways so that we can be accepted as a member of our gender, which we are then rewarded for by our peer group. This means that, by nature, there are parts of ourselves that do not easily fall into the category that we are put in as far as gender goes, but we sometimes ignore these parts of ourselves to be accepted.

This means that men (and people identifying as men) are not completely, totally, 100% masculine by nature, and it means that women (and people identifying as women) are not completely, totally, 100% feminine by nature.

We see examples of this everyday, and yet we still continue to claim that there are a certain set of accepted behaviours for men and women to adopt.

There are men who enjoy (and even prefer) dressing up in women’s clothing. But that’s okay, because those men are drag queens, or cross dressers, or gay men, or altogether ‘feminine’ men with nothing masculine about them. Right?

There are women who prefer to take charge, who don’t want children or a family and just want to focus on their career, which happens to be in the sciences or in fitness-related fields. But that’s okay, because those women are ‘masculine’ women who find the company of other women frivolous and annoying, who prefer to spend all their time with men and just consider themselves “one of the guys”. Right?

Well, not necessarily.

Yes, there are plenty of people that fall nearly perfectly into the definitions of ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’, but in my opinion, most people in this world have at least a few aspects of themselves that do not correlate with the gender that they identify with.

Some people who identify as men like to wear make-up, and that’s okay.

Some people who identify as women are capable of growing full beards and don’t feel like shaving it, and that’s okay.

Some people who identify as men aspire to be stay-at-home dads, and that’s okay.

Some people who identify as women are very forward and aggressive, and that’s okay.

And the only reason why I feel the need to say this is because there are so many people out there who think that doing one thing or acting one way means that you should change the way that you identify yourself. But if you are comfortable identifying as a man but dressing as a woman and vice versa, then nobody should ever have the power to take your identity away from you.

In my opinion, we should all be opening up our definitions of what it is to be a man or a woman. There is no one right way to behave in order to belong in your gender, and there shouldn’t be. We should all be free to present ourselves in the way that makes us feel comfortable, regardless of the gender we live in. Society has turned gender into a prison, but there are plenty of scholars who debate if gender roles even exist outside of society.

So be yourself, whatever that means. Don’t change to fit into someone else’s limited view of what you should and shouldn’t be based on gender identity. Masculinity and femininity are just ideas, and you so much more than that.

We Need to Talk About Catcalling

Earlier today, I was walking home from the movies with my mother. We were talking about the movie, having fun, not thinking about much at all, when a man across the street from us began yelling. I wasn’t paying much attention to him because he was across the street and I really didn’t care, but I could tell that he was yelling at us.

I ignored him. I continued on my way, talking about the movie with my mother.

And then the man crossed the street and approached my mother and I. He made a couple of uninvited comments on our appearances and we ignored him, just started walking faster. It didn’t take us long to pass him by, but he continued yelling at us, making comments about tattoos (which both my mother and I have).

At that point, we stopped ignoring him. We turned into a more residential area, one that would have been a little easier to find help if we suddenly needed it, but that was a bit out of our way, and we continued walking quickly. I kept looking back over my shoulder, because at that point, I didn’t care about being subtle. If he figured out that he made us uncomfortable, then good! He should know! But I wanted to make sure that he didn’t continue following us, and he did make the same first turn as we did, but upon us making the second turn onto another residential road, he left our field of vision and stayed there.

My mother and I continued walking through the residential area for a little while, and then once we felt a bit more comfortable, we returned to the side of the road, because that was the quickest and easiest way for us to get home. A moment later, a truck drove past us, and a man leaned his head out of the window and screamed at us: “Fuck you!”

The two events in succession made me a little bit angry, making me think about the way that women are treated in public spaces.

Keep in mind, there was absolutely no way that anyone could possibly depict any of this as being our fault. We were leaving the movie theatre in the middle of the afternoon. We were not drunk, we were wearing our everyday yoga clothes. The only possible “crime” that we could have been committing at the time was being two women who were occupying a public space.

And this is not the first time that things like this have happened to either me or my mom. The two of us go for walks frequently, and this has resulted in the two of us racking up quite an impressive amount of stories about men who have uninvitedly made comments about us in public, stories that range from being approached by a man in the rain, who then proceeds to make very sexual comments about my mother’s body, to a man making actual cat noises at us while we walked.

And don’t get me wrong: I am fully aware that not every man harasses women on the street (and that’s exactly what this is: harassment. It is harassment when a man verbally insults you and/or makes unwanted advances toward you), the fact that it is not every man does not at all improve the fact that it is every woman. This has happened to me frequently in my life, and it has happened to every woman that I have spoken to. In fact, it’s so common that I’ve even heard some women joke about it, regarding it as something that is simply to be expected.

But why is it so common? Why does every woman become subject to being commented on and yelled at in the street? Well, for this I propose two reasons:

  1. The reason why men do it: because they can. Because it makes them look aggressive, heterosexual, and masculine in front of all other men. It has nothing to do with the woman at all. If it did, they would get out of the car, stop yelling, be respectful, and have an actual conversation with her like an actual human being, but they don’t care about her or what she thinks about them. They just want to look tough to those around them, and they aren’t thinking about the potential costs that it would have on the woman, including but not limited to: feeling uncomfortable, feeling unsafe, feeling objectified and dehumanized, feeling as though this is somehow your own fault and that you did something to invite this. But none of that matters, right? So long as everyone knows that you’re a big man on these streets.
  2. The reason why it’s perpetuated: because no one stops them. In some cases, it’s difficult for women to respond to these men because they just leave so fast, whether they be in a car or simply passing by – like the man who yelled “fuck you” at me and my mother. But there are other cases, like the man who followed my mother and I on the street, where they give you every opportunity to respond, but frequently, women just… don’t. We have been socialized to just keep walking, just ignore them. They’re just being dumb guys, and boys will be boys, so why get mad at them? Or, in other cases, women don’t want to respond, because if you make them angry, that might escalate the situation and they might try to hurt you. Which only further proves my point that this scenario goes much further than a simple ego boost for the man: it is based in fear for the woman. In this scenario, the man in question is proving his masculinity by causing a woman fear. And that, to me, is not masculinity.

Catcalling is an issue that people have been talking about more and more frequently lately, but as the fact that it happened to me and my mother twice today proves, we need to talk about it more. We need to make people aware of the way that it affects women, because I don’t think that a whole lot of people are aware. I think that the majority of men who do catcall do it without even thinking about how it affects the other party. But it most certainly does affect the other party, and we need to stop ignoring that.

And as much as I previously pointed out that, at the time, my mother and I were doing nothing that might make someone perceive that we “deserved” to be followed by some creep who kept yelling at us, and then yelled at by another man, I still don’t care if we did “deserve” it. Even if it was me and a friend walking to a bar, completely drunk and practically naked, we still do not deserve to feel unsafe in a public space. We should be allowed to walk from point A to point B without being harassed or dehumanized. In my opinion, that should simply be a basic human right.