The Body Public, Part I

Hey y’all. I want to veer away from the frills and the food to talk a little about the bodies wearing said frills. I have lots of thoughts (shocker), so I’m breaking it up into parts. I’m primarily going to cite personal experiences as examples. In many cases, I am very, very fortunate that these examples are the worst that have happened to me. There are many women who suffer much, much worse, yet feel the same shame. They shouldn’t have to suffer, they shouldn’t feel the shame, and you shouldn’t either.

Also, because these are my personal experiences and thoughts, I’d love to hear from women and men out there who may have different reactions or conflicting opinions.

* * * * *

I’ve mentioned what I think of the media’s self-professed skill for sizing women’s breasts by sight. Namely, I think it sucks: sizing on sight based on a paparazzi photo is hopeless, and arbitrarily deeming certain cup sizes acceptable and others shameful is terrible. But it’s really subtle, it’s really insidious, and it’s EVERYWHERE. Especially now that temperatures are climbing and beach weather is slowly creeping in. When’s the last time you passed a weekly tabloid/fashion magazine/article in The Daily Mail that didn’t contain some variation on this headline: “Actress McSuperstar flaunts her bikini body!”? It feels like every week there’s a new one.

Look, maybe Actress McSuperstar looks fan-freaking-tastic. Maybe she checks every box in the mainstream-standards-of-beauty checklist. Good for her, you know? But I HATE these headlines, especially the “flaunts” part. It’s like her body is wholly unrelated to her; it’s just something she beats into submission for beach season and then takes out with her to submit to the public for judgment. The “flaunt” implies that by wearing a swimsuit, Actress McSuperstar is screaming for attention or begging for criticism. Worse, the word seems to be an invitation to other women to condemn her: “Hey ladies, look at this slut, taking her body out in a SWIMSUIT at the BEACH. How dare she? You should judge her.”

A woman cannot simply go to the beach, lie in the sun, swim in the ocean, and read a trashy novel because those activities are fun and supply Vitamin D. According to the tabloids and gossip magazines, she’s “showing off”, “flaunting,” “revealing,” or “daring to bare” her body/figure/curves. There is no conceivable reason that Actress McSuperstar could possibly want to take her body with her to the beach other than “She is submitting said body for public scrutiny and evaluation.” While some male celebrities suffer the same analyses, women’s bodies in particular are highly charged. Online tabloids are starting to use “bikini” as a verb, as in “Actress McSuperstar bikinis in Boca with boyfriend!” They’re betting that the combination of Actress McSuperstar’s name + bikini in a search engine will draw readers flocking to their article to cast judgment.

Fuck that noise.

I’m sorry, this makes me ragey. A little hot puddle of bitter anger bubbling away in my chest. Dear world: just because a woman is out in public doesn’t mean she’s up for evaluation. She’s out in public because she has a LIFE. She’s out because she’s a human being and she needs to go to the bank or the drugstore or the office or to school or the gym or, yes, to the beach because she’s finally gotten some vacation days and she can read the Hunger Games in peace while racked out on the sand, with the gentle sounds of ocean waves crashing to soothe her tired soul. She’s out doing her thing. Her body is a part of her. She’s out in public, and it’s along for the ride. Potential judgment from EVERYONE AROUND HER, male and female alike, should be the last thing on her mind. For many, many years I felt ashamed every time I set foot outside, let alone at a pool or the beach, because I was convinced that my body was a horrible thing to afflict on a general public howling for perfection. I, and my manners, character, thoughts, and talents that made up my being, was a fraud, and my body was my betrayer.

Further reading.

Tomorrow, Part II

6 Comments on The Body Public, Part I

  1. Mary
    May 21, 2012 at 10:15 am (11 years ago)

    I find beach season very difficult. I have a pretty healthy relationship with my body overall (mainly, and this might be a little sad, because I’ve been lucky enough to be in relationships with men who thought I was dead sexy exactly as I was for the last ten years). But I definitely buy into the expectation that I ought to “curate” my own body, make it acceptable for public consumption, before I go outside every day. So when the things that the weather and society want me to wear suddenly veer into the “covering the same amount of my body as my underwear” zone, I kind of freak out. Suddenly the parts of my body I’m least comfortable with (my belly and lower back) are ALL OUT THERE. And, dude, I am the person who goes to the beach to go swimming in the waves. I’m not a layer-out. But I never really feel comfortable. (Also, two-pieces are way more likely to come off in the waves. But that is a separate issue.)

    • Sweets
      May 21, 2012 at 10:25 am (11 years ago)

      It’s definitely difficult. I mean, you are way more exposed than you generally are, so of course you have to work hard to separate the “I feel weird because I’m in my skivvies in public” from the “I feel weird because I don’t look like so-and-so, and maybe I should?” feelings. I didn’t wear a two-piece on the beach until I was 25, and the whole time I had to keep telling myself “you are fine you are fine you are offending no one you’re just at the beach you are fine you are fine.” I had to fight, and fight hard, the voices in my head telling me that I was wrong for being at the beach without shame. Related: I don’t think it’s sad AT ALL that being with men who love your body helps you to love your body. That’s not sad; that’s awesome, girl. Don’t apologize for it!


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