Recently the story of a would be Suicide Girl floated across my Facebook. For those worrying about the term Suicide Girls, it’s women who, very simply put, fight to normalize the female body and encourage body positivity through photography. The author’s story and the Facebook comments immediately highlighted a fracture in modern feminism. Because I desperately want to see women move forward together I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the perceived differences. I came to a surprising conclusion.
The core perceived conflict: female openness about our bodies vs. being taken seriously and not being sexualized/objectified.
Excluding the disturbing and visceral comments made by some which were… unconstructive, the commenters (primarily women) fell into two camps of thought:
- Women’s bodies cannot be a normal, healthy non-event unless we treat them that way. This is the psychologically relevant “use a dirty word until it gets its cleaning” defense, and it does work when used appropriately. This is the argument for photos like those in the article above.
- I want to be taken seriously as more than just a body. This is the argument against and reflects women’s hard worn patience for men who catcall, ignore the word “no”, and talk to our chests. Its a concern that photos that focus only on one piece of a woman’s body will reduce us to those parts in the eyes of men.
So here’s the thing – these two goals are actually for the most part aligned. Both camps of women want women’s bodies to be respected and normalized (not sexualized). They’re simply trying to take different paths to the same goal. Both routes there can work but I think there are some caveats.
The Suicide Girls photography treads a very fine line. It’s important to make the world accepting of different body types, tattoos, flaws and triumphs. It’s important to foster a community of strong women with self-confidence. But it’s difficult, the photos I saw on the site did at times skew towards women flaunting sexuality or show only one piece of their body, isolated from the rest. That my friends I think is the rub.
The writer of the article that sparked this had her boyfriend take her photos. He likely was supportive, kind and well-meaning. But as most artists will tell you, the photographer colors the photo. Even if it’s unintended, a sexualized undertone can sneak in because that’s an aspect of their relationship. That undertone, unravels the message.
And it’s time we recognize that we as women aren’t always helping our cause. We’re quick to comment on others, to distance ourselves, or isolate those who are bold or different. We need to open a dialogue and work together to cultivate and correct our message.
To benefit women as a whole we do need to get comfortable with our bodies and confident in the ways we speak and hold ourselves. We need to convey that to others openly and with warmth and resolve. But we need to recognize that much of the stimulus about our bodies and minds is pressed upon us by others. We need to be mindful to make our stands carefully, show women as respected, whole bodies not parts. Be mindful of the message your image conveys, is it a strong, independent women just living her life as she is? Or are you playing to a male audience?