Hello Endangered Bodies Readers! :)
I am sure that many of you noticed that all of our articles have been posted almost incognito, as the person posting has been largely invisible in an effort to give full credit and shine to the individual writers. I am going to try do things a little bit differently, just so that you as the readers can feel the humanness in our blog and so you have some indication of who you are hearing from --because, after all, humanity, our feelings as humans, and our connection and compassion for each other is what drives our core strive for equality here at Endangered Bodies. So first off, I’m going to introduce myself and then I want to tell you about the terrific text featured this week. My name is Shayna. I am the editor of the Endangered Bodies New York (EBNYC) Blog and I will sometimes contribute my own writing as well. Among many things, I am a feminist, not a ‘feminist lite’ or a ‘sometimes feminist with exceptions’ but a feminist who finds relevance and importance in the Suffragette movement, Second Wave feminism, and Third Wave Trans-/Queer theories/politics/experiences. Every moment of my day is propelled by what these things mean for how I live. This may sound exhausting, it’s not; it is liberating, empowering, challenging, and true. Living this way has allowed me to consider us all as equals which has given me the capability to open up to learn fascinating life lessons from people of all ages, races, classes, sexualities, and genders during everyday conversations. There is never a mundane moment. Contrary to pop belief being a feminist does not exempt me from participating in stereotypically “feminine” activities such as being obsessed with styling my hair, painting my nails, or having fun getting dressed. Instead, these things have become materials that I use to construct my world. Anthropologist and Gender Studies scholar and professor Lila Abu-Lughod said that Islamic women’s Burqas can be seen as “mobile homes”. That when inside their burqas wearers can feel a sense of comfort because it is as if the qualities that help the wearers feel most safe and content when they are in the safe space of their homes is carried with them in their burqa –made even more secure because the outside world cannot penetrate inside. Therefore judgement from the outside remains reserved to criticism of her travelling house. I fashion myself in a similar way, it is my protection and safe space. While I am acutely aware of how I may be perceived, I find it amusing because that judgement no longer impacts whether or not I feel like I have to do anything. Fashion and Gender & Sexuality pervade my lifestyle, my career choices and my field of research which has landed me this amazing opportunity at EBNYC. I have told you these things about myself in the hopes that you will get a sense of who I am and you may get to know more about my peaks and low points through my writing on the blog. More so, I hope that by giving you a glimpse into me, you will feel more comfortable to let me get to know you as well. Through comments, sharing, and especially if you feel inspired to contribute writing or any form of work that you feel our community with receive. I hope to hear from you soon and thank you for joining and sharing these conversations.
This week’s article is by Jessica Anderson who is a pre-med student, feminist and body positivity activist in New York City. Her article is beautiful for the way she begins to search for a deeper understanding of what body positivity means and how this nuanced definition will allow body positivity to become a state of mind beyond being an ideological passing trend. I was very excited about Anderson’s work because she really encourages us all to reclaim ourselves by reclaiming this definition. Please read it below and let Jessica and us know your thoughts! Thank you Jessica, and I hope you all enjoy it!! :)
 Abu-Lughod, Lila. “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism & its Others.” American Anthropologist 104 (3): 785
Who’s Going to Rebrand Body Positivity?
How can a community reclaim the narrative and save a movement from being sold as a commodity?
If upping my media literacy game has taught me one thing, it’s that anything can be used to sell a product. Take a look inside Bitch Media co-founder, Andi Zeisler’s latest book “We Were Feminists Once”, and you’ll find countless examples of the appropriation of the feminist movement to sell products. Brands have used the movement for women’s liberation to sell everything from cars, to cigarettes, and perfume. Especially today, feminism remains a major brand asset while activists fight to reclaim what being a feminist really means. But what does being a feminist really mean?
Feminism doesn’t want to tell you there’s one right way to be a women, so there’s probably not one right way to be a feminist. But that opening — the inability to to clearly convey to the public through media what a feminist definitely is — leaves a major vulnerability for brands to come in and exploit for their own monetary benefit. A back and forth proceeds, between activists and large companies, over who’s going to decide what parts of feminism get to stay, and what parts have to go in order to sell to a broader audience.
While feminism has been in this tug of war battle with the mainstream media for some time, another movement, dear to my heart, seems to be engaged in the same front. The movement is Body Positivity. Popular culture has recently embraced ideas of body positivity. This is promising, but also alarming. From Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, to Lane Bryant’s #PlusIsEqual, to the more recent H&M’s She’s A Lady ad video, it’s clear that body positivity sells — but what version of it?
Unfortunately the version of body positivity that sells, is similar to the version of feminism that sells. It’s usually watered down and then stripped of any of it’s more politically contentious ideals. In body positivity, this means a version that continues to reinforce, even if subtly, the positioning of thin bodies as more valuable than fat bodies, white bodies as more valuable than brown bodies, and the wealthy as more valuable than the poor. These brands only bother themselves with a small sliver of what body positivity is. They present a version that has only a fraction of the substance, but with very broad appeal.
Companies benefit from this exclusion. They present a version of the movement that addresses body insecurities that almost all people experience and can relate to. They promote healthy body image and more inclusive beauty ideals — which are very important parts of body positivity — but are certainly not the only parts, nor are they the most radical. Companies, by depicting body positivity in this way, and failing to clarify their position on other aspects, are able to sell the “idea of body positivity” without actually being very body positive. Just take a look at how Lane Bryant continues to market their clothes as “slimming” despite their latest slogans championing healthy body image, or how Dove’s commercials depict mostly pretty white women below a size 12. But for the starkest contrast yet, take a look at how women are treated at the factories where H&M’s clothes are made.
Yes, body positivity can certainly help people learn to love and accept their bodies, but when we see how easily that version of body positivity can be appropriated to brand products that further marginalize many people, we should ask ourselves — is this all that our movement is supposed to be? While conversations regarding body positivity often start with what bodies look like — they probably shouldn’t end there. The conversations should include some context for the many ways in which bodies need to be liberated in our world. In order to encourage that continued conversation, about how body positivity fits into the larger picture of inequality, we have to hold people and brands accountable to a more complex and nuanced idea of what body positivity is. For that reason, I strongly believe that you and I, the people passionately involved in body positive activism, need to be the ones to rebrand body positivity — before giant corporations do it for us.
I’m not suggesting we write some 10 commandments that everyone adheres to, but I do think we need to call on the community to collectively elevate the conversations about body positivity, so that people early on in their exploration of this movement have easy access to understanding the many ways that body positivity intersects not only with body image, but with fatness, disability, race, abortion, eating disorders, medical care, sexuality, gender identity — the list could go on forever. To care about or work in body positivity, you do not have to be an expert on all of these things, but you should certainly know that they’re there. Before calling yourself a body positive yoga teacher, dietitian, blogger, fashion designer, or body positive anything you should have a basic understanding of how complex the movement is and be able to use language that reflects a level of respect for all of those complexities.
Let’s start by admitting how much we don’t know. I’ll be the first one — I know almost nothing. As a white, thin, cisgender woman this is especially true for me. But I come into this work as a student —everyday I learn a bit more, I read something, I reach out to new people, and I work towards being better in my activism. Let’s ask the same of the community we’re a part of, especially those of us who are thin, white, or more privileged allies. We need to do this before the movement of body positivity is completely co-opted by large companies that want to sell a very small and sad version of what body positivity could be.