Being body positive and being feminist sometimes collide in my head, one of the issues which comes up often is to do with nude bodies.
From a feminist point of view, women’s nude bodies are (more often than not) used in the media specifically to appeal to the male gaze, they are often objectifying and further cement women’s role as decorative wank fodder. In an ideal world no women would be objectified, we’d be valued regardless of how we looked, and our value would not be tied in to how fuckable we appeared to men.
In that world, posing nude would be no big deal because it would not impact on us and how we are perceived.
We are not in that world.
In this world, women are judged so often on their appearance and how pleasing it is to men. We are sold this aspirational ideal of how we should look and behave that centres men’s approval. Just look at how often, when women’s body size is brought up, the responses focus on men’s preferences.
Personally, because of this, I find the idea that posing nude just because you are bigger is in any way empowering. I can’t help agreeing with the quote
Look, if posing naked were empowering, then the rich men who run the world would be lining up for it. We would be awash in naked dick shots of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates and Barack Obama; magazines would be filled with male politicians and financiers and moguls with their bits hanging out. Softly lit, perhaps; head coyly tilted, bunny tail on the ass. Power.
– Reclusive Leftist
As far as I’m concerned for something to be “empowering” it actually needs to confer power. Posing nude just doesn’t.
It’s why I can’t get excited about something like the latest Sports Illustrated cover featuring Ashley Graham, she looks stunning, and well done to her landing that job, but.. I am struggling to see why that cover is being lauded as a win for body positivity.
Everything about that cover is for the male gaze, she’s in a “sexy pose” on all fours, she’s got her breasts pushed together with her arms and the lighting has been used to draw attention to them, it’s as close to a boobs and butt pose as they could manage. It’s also very carefully posed to make her look slimmer, with no rolls of fat visible at all. It’s not surprising, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition is just wank fodder really, so exactly what you expect from it. Is it empowering just because she’s a bit bigger than their usual models? Is this what we are aiming for?
The thing about body positivity for me is the focus on us being valued because we are people too, because our personhood isn’t lessened the more weight we carry, our right to respect does not diminish the further go from narrow beauty standards. What body positivity isn’t for me is the right to be objectified as much as slim women.
I want better for us.
I don’t want to be saying, “look us fatties make great wank fodder too!”.
We deserve not to be treated badly for failing to match beauty standards, and to do that we need to challenge the idea that our value is tied up in how attractive we are to others, not just expand the range of women found attractive, but to smash the association between beauty and our worth.
Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t think we should pose nude. I think there are very good reasons to do so, and I wish men wouldn’t assume that all nude images of women are for their benefit. Something I know my plus size sisters get a lot of.
Here is a nude I see a lot of good in.
While it is still a sexy pose, it has some significant differences over the Sports Illustrated cover. The most obvious one is that it doesn’t hide her rolls of fat, so while men may find this cover tittilating, I find it quite a compelling image because I look at it and realise that I am not abnormal. Up there I see a woman who looks a bit like me.
This is hugely important.
[TW: Eating disorder]
When I was in the midst of my eating disorder, and had already lost a lot of weight, I would sit on my bed and stare in horror at the natural folds my body formed, particularly my stomach. I didn’t believe they were natural, I’d been so bombarded by images of heavily photoshopped women, with bodies that somehow never folded, just curved gently. Stomachs were flat and smooth, even when sat upright. I thought I was still far too fat because I still hadn’t attained this level of smoothness. I wasn’t fat, but I’d been so starved of images of what women actually looked like that my expectations were warped.
In these images of plus size women, nude, showing how flesh actually forms itself, was a route out of self hatred. Out of self destruction.
It wasn’t that long ago that an image stopped me in my tracks, it was a photo of Katana Fatale. I’ve been gaining confidence in my body, but still have my niggles, I’m still early in my body positive journey, and we still have so few representations in the media of fat women who aren’t hourglass that I still looked on my apron of fat with horror. I admit, there are days I still do. But this one photo stood out to me because my first thought on seeing it wasn’t, “oh look, belly”, it was “wow, she looks amazing, I wish I looked like her” and then, then I realised that I looked more like her than I’d initially realised. I wasn’t being presented with a body which was unattainable and impossible, in this photo I was seeing that it was possible to love my own body.
This is something the Curvy Girl Thin talked about in her blog post Plus Size, Naked and Fetishised.
Women have taken the time to let me know I have inspired them to wear what they want; women who, seeing me put myself out there, feel just that little more confident in their own skin. For all my triviality of pretty clothes and lacy underwear – that is the reason I blog and that is why I can sit in bed as I write this, sipping my hot honey & lemon drink, whilst feeling perfectly content in my round, scarred, wobbly, fat body.
However, what I never really considered is the forced sexualisation that comes from being a confident woman unafraid to bare her face, and her body, to the world.
This is it for me, I want to be able to inspire and be inspired by other women, I want us to get away from the idea that our bodies are in constant need of improvement. I want us to love our bodies, and my extension ourselves. And I want to be able to do it free of objectification by men.
So no, I can not celebrate that Sports Illustrated cover, and no, I cannot agree that nudity is empowering, but it is important for us women to see realistic bodies in order to have realistic expectations of our own.