Thursday, August 23, 2007

Beauty Standards and Shaming...

Ren, of Renegade Evolution (not so much safe for work. Unless you work in a place that's totally cool with blogs about sex and sex work. In which case, I guess that it is safe for work.) is guest blogging over at feministe, and has a post up called Something I Never Really Understood..., wherein she discusses body acceptance. In particular, she's wondering what it really means, and if many feminists are only willing to accept women's bodies if they meet some kind of particular feminist ideal- not shaving, not wearing makeup, not dressing in certain ways.

Often times being thin, via nature or diet or time in a gym is thought of something horrible. The intelligence of women who wear make up or get any sort of cosmetic surgery is guestioned, and often they are made fun of. Women who enage in any sort of “Patriarchy Approved” grooming or body ritual, well, when they admit it, they appologize for it. They are appologetic or ashamed of being thin, or wearing eyeliner, or having blonde hair...

... It seems like an odd sort of backlash to what was supposed to be a mode of thought that would make women more comfortable in their own skins, no matter their shape, size, mode of dress, or alterations. One can read feminist lit of all types, from books to blogs, and see this odd backlash, feminist people calling women bimbos, porno barbies, sticks; women disdaining their own natural attributes that fall within the realms of conventional beauty, things such as being tall, or thin, or curvy or blonde…


I don't know how common this is, in general, but I know that I've noticed it on occasion. I've seen threads about lipstick, makeup, high-heels, etc. end up becoming quite heated, as some people take hard-line stances about them. I've seen people essentially say "You're not really a feminist if you wear heels/lipstick" or whatever the topic of choice is. And, let's be honest, there are big taboos against breast enlargement in a some feminist circles. I'd have guessed that this was a minority position- the way that I generally think people being criticized for working out or being thin tends to be a minority situation- but I also realize that, as a guy, I'm not in the best position to notice these sorts of criticisms.

Still, Ren's question is an interesting one to me, because I don't think that there's a good response, necessarily. The problem is between dealing with individual choices, and the social implications that those choices can have.

Here's what I mean: I'm a huge supporter of people exercising their personal autonomy. I think that you should have the right to do just about whatever you want to your own body. If you want to be thin, be thin. If you want to be fat, be fat. If you want to dye your hair purple and wear nothing but yellow polka dots, I say go for it.

Some people want to be as "natural" as they can be- they don't want to shave or get cosmetic surgery. They want to leave their body as it developed. I think that's great, and I don't think that they should be judged poorly for it. On the other hand, some people take great pleasure in having total control over their bodies. They like to be able to sculpt themselves and know that their physical presentation is exactly as they want it to be. I think that's great, too. And, of course, a lot of people fall somewhere in the middle.

So, when it comes to any particular individual, I think that body modification is totally fine. I get the impression that this is a minority view. In abstract, I don't see anything wrong with breast enlargement over any other form of elective, cosmetic surgery. Sure, not necessary, but, then, neither are lots of the other forms of body modification people get. In abstract, what's the difference between a boob job and, say, getting lots of piercings, or tattoos, or teeth bleaching, or hair dying, or braces, or, or, or...

All of those things are surgeries or alterations people get to change their physical appearance in ways that they control. Don't like that bump on your nose from when you broke it when you were twelve? Get a nose job and fix it. Don't like that you have to wear glasses? Get lasered. Get a navel piercing. It's a way of exhibiting control over your body, which, I think, can be a perfectly healthy and understandable desire to have. We don't think twice when someone wants to get her teeth straightened.

Ultimately, I think that all of those things should be left up to the individual to decide. It's not my place to tell another person that she should or shouldn't alter her body in some way that doesn't effect me.

Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal or abstract world. We live in a very real world where we don't make our choices in a vacuum, and that's where I think the disagreement/trouble comes in, and where I think Ren is finding people's comments troubling and/or confusing. In a world where women are constantly bombarded with images and messages telling them that they're not good enough, and that they'd be more attractive if they shed a few pounds and had bigger, perkier breasts, and if they wore the right foundation, and had longer lashes... well... I can see why some people start to have concerns.

And I understand that and think it's totally fair, too. If you've got a system that really pushes women to feel like shit about how they look naturally, then you're going to have a system that pushes women get bodily alterations done. Socialization is powerful, and it's hard to know how much it effects women's choices when it comes to these things. How many women would cover their faces in makeup if it weren't for the social pressure to do so?

So, of course, it's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. If you don't shave or wear makeup, you get criticized for it. You're breaking a social taboo, and people will look and question and prod and poke. If you do, you're capitulating to harmful social pressures that demand women look a certain way.

So, how do we come to a place where women who want to modify their bodies or wear makeup or wear certain clothing get the respect that they deserve, but where other women can feel free to criticize the system that reinforces the notion that real women dress or act or look a certain way? How do we avoid criticizing any particular woman for getting a breast enlargement while still fighting the system that tries to tell women that their breasts aren't good enough?

I think that's precisely how, though. I think it's entirely possible to say that the system is screwed, without attacking any particular woman. If a woman says that she did X, Y, or Z because she wanted to, I think that's fair. If a woman says she's considered the implications of an action, and has decided to go ahead with it, that's good enough for me. I don't think it's my place to question any particular person's feminist credentials based on whether she's wearing red lipstick or high-heels.

So: to answer Ren's post: I think that it comes from being troubled and concerned with the systemic problems, and attacking the women that are seen as perpetuating them. I think that it's very easy, when you're trying to fight a systemic problem, to end up hitting individuals sometimes. I'm not suggesting that it's nice or right to do so, but I think that it's understandable that it happens. If you're trying to fight a big problem, and you see someone that is reinforcing that very problem, frustration or imprecise language can create a situation where you end up lashing out at an individual.

Still, like I said, I don't know how pervasive this problem is, though. For my money, I'd have guessed that it was more likely that feminists feel guilty or troubled by their own wearing of makeup or concern with beauty than for them to be criticized by other feminists for it. I'd love to hear other people's experiences wit this though.

18 comments:

Cara said...

I'm going to be upfront and say that I am opposed to cosmetic surgery-- particularly breast enlargements, because they are female-specific and because they cause the most medical problems. The rest of my issues with cosmetic surgery are purely theoretical. Simply, I don't think that we're going to get anywhere regarding body image and creating a society in which women's natural bodies are appreciated and equally valued if we continue to have a cosmetic surgery industry, and if modifying your body to fit an arbitrary beauty aesthetic accepted.

With regards to lesser modifications, I think that the vast majority of women engage in one type or another. The problem here, I think, is getting people to realize that criticizing the action-- wearing lipstick or high heels, for example-- is not the same as criticizing the person. I don't have anything against women wearing heels. I don't harbor any harsh feelings towards them or secretly judge them. But I do hate the patriarchal culture that encourages women to engage in an arbitrary beauty standard that is objectifying, bad for their health and uncomfortable. No matter how clearly you state that, though, someone is going to be offended and feel like their choice to wear high heels is being criticized. Then they're likely to say something like "isn't feminism all about choice?" I agree that one has the right to wear heels and no feel guilty about it, but I do not believe that feminism is "all about choice."

And that's why I don't see a conflict of interest with my feminism and my opposition to cosmetic surgery. Feminism is about providing women with more healthy options and giving them the same opportunities in life that men have, and I believe that cosmetic surgery doesn't come even close to doing either of those things.

Michael said...

I think the most important part of these discussions is to consider rationality, and to assume most women make rational choices in most situations. A patriarchal system doesn't function by convincing people to go against their own self-interest, but instead so warping social pressures that dangerous or unpleasant activities ARE the self-interested pattern. Particularly in the short-term, and it's a luxury to be able to consider the long-term.

Therefore, breast enlargements, makeup, high heels, the rest: there are very specific rewards for doing all of these things, and it's very reasonable for most women to accept those rewards over the discomfort created by the procedures. And the punishments are severe, too.

Similar pressures, rewards, and punishments exist around the veil and the burkha, too, for what that's worth. Rational actors, with choices constrained by an oppressive system.

In any case, I don't think that it is currently reasonable to expect a 'strike' against these patriarchal practices, which is why some things need to be the result of a slow culture change (high heels) and others of political actions (regulating-to-banning breast implants)

Nique said...

I have experienced both sides of this double-edged sword. I wouldn't say that I've been critisized for engaging in patriarchy approved beauty rituals (I shave my legs and sometimes wear heels) but I have felt pressure not to do such things because of my feminist ideals. So yes, that pressure is mostly self-inflicted. But I have been teased and mocked for fitting into a beauty standard. I am naturally blond and thin and have taken shit for it. I've been treated like an idiot just for being blond and I've been called "skinny bitch" by women struggling with their weight. My coworkers tend to say things like "real women have curves" and I have to gently point out that not all real women are naturally curvy. I am no less female for being flat-chested. I understand my coworkers say these things in a defensive way, they are full-figured and are battling against the pressure to be thin but it is still insulting to be told I'm not a real woman just because I don't need to wear a bra.
I have also felt pressure from these same women for not being feminine enough. I don't wear makeup and sometimes I dare to wear flats in the office. Nothing has ever been said explicitely but I feel extrme pressure from my female bosses to conform to a feminine ideal. There seems to be an assumption that dressing "professionally" means dressing in a female-stereotype kind of way. Makeup and heels are encouraged.

I agree with cara on the plastic surgery front. While I'm not against body modification and agree that everyone should do what they want with their body, there is a difference between getting a tattoo or piercing and getting breast implants. Tattoos are subversive and an expression of individuality whereas plastic surgery is done to conform to a norm, it is done to suppress one's individuality.

... I have more to say but I've ranted long enough.

Anonymous said...

Here are my two cents on boob jobs:

I'm pretty sure no feminist would have a problem with a woman getting a breast reduction surgery. The only people I know who have had reduction surgery have done so for health reasons (my back hurts) or gender reasons (I want to transition), but it's within the realm of possibility that a woman would have breast reduction surgery just because having smaller breasts would make her happier for purely aesthetic reasons.

If it's ok to shrink your boobs, I don't know why it shouldn't be ok to grow your boobs. The problem is that to do so carries a very specific meaning in the culture in which we live. To illustrate the unavoidable impact our culture has on the decisions we make and how they're interpreted, let me use an example from India:

Dowries are illegal in India, but they continue to be expected from the parents of the bride at the time of her marriage. ('Cos women are so invaluable that you have to pay men to marry them. :P) To get around the legal problems, parents of the groom hedge and negotiate for wedding presents and gifts 'for the daughter' that will actually be for the husband.

And indeed, there is nothing wrong with the idea of giving gifts, or giving wedding presents, or parents of marriage-ees giving wedding presents to their kids, or even the woman's parents making a larger contribution, especially if they so desire/it is within their means. But when it happens in India, you would be very hard-pressed to say "oh, her parents just /wanted/ to give her these very expensive presents", even though the exact same action would not at all carry the same social baggage or likely intent if it happened in a non-Indian wedding in the US.

So no, I don't think there is anything wrong with breast enlargements in the abstract (except that I really am sick of this consumerist buy-a-body approach to appearance, but that's a different rant), but it's difficult to impossible to divorce an individual instance of breast enlargement from the context in which it's happening.

And even if the context makes it a symptom of evil, I don't pick on women who do it. There are so many areas where society is b0rked, and I'd rather just address those than judge/alienate women who are probably just responding to said b0rked society.

Roy said...

Tattoos are subversive and an expression of individuality whereas plastic surgery is done to conform to a norm, it is done to suppress one's individuality.

This is a tangent, but... I don't know... I'll agree that tattoos are different from breast enlargement in that they're not really gender specific, and there aren't really any major side effects to getting them... but do you really think that, in this day and age, it's still subversive? That it's still a mark of individuality? I'd guess that around half of the people I know under 30 and over 18 have tattoos. I can't think of anyone I know who has had breast enlargement.

And I do know women who've gotten their ears pierced because "it's what women do", and not because they particularly wanted to wear earrings.

Nique said...

Yes, I do believe that it is still subversive to get a tattoo. Body art sends a different message than female specific beauty rituals, or plastic surgery. And a facial piercing is still not as socially acceptable as pierced ears. (So yes, the location of the piercing makes a huge difference).
True, for the younger generation tattoos are no big deal, and there are plenty of people who get generic flash tattoos that are not really an expression of individuality so much as an expression of conformity to that particular culture but yes, I think in many circles, tattoos are still subversive.
Again, location plays a part. Getting a butterfly on your lower back is a cliche but getting tribal art on your face is something else altogether.

My tattoos are acceptable in the office where I work only to a point. When we have board meetings or events I must hide them out of respect for the higher ups. I have a male coworkers who is fully sleeved and he always wears long sleeved shirts to hide his tats even on the hottest of days. Sure it's all well and good to be tattoed at a rock concert but the corporate world is the patriarchal world and no, tats are not approved of.

I fully believe my tattoos send a message about me that is quite different from the message makeup sends, even though tats are just permanent ornamentation.
I have nothing against makeup but most people wear it to conform to beauty standards whereas most people who are serious about body mod do it to express a different beauty ideal, one that is not established by the patriarchy.

Plastic surgery is a form of body mod but surgeries like liposuction and breast augmentation are about trying to look like the airbrushed models in magazines whereas cranial spikes or ear stretchings are about trying to look different, it is about expressing the inside on the outside and it is not patriarchy-approved.
(Once a man actually asked me if I was worried about finding a husband, because what if he didn't approve of my tats? He went on to say he would never "let" his wife get tattooed. Yeah, there was no point in continuing that conversation)

Nique said...

Oh, and btw, let me just point out that I have NO problem with anyone doing anything to their own body. If someone wants to squeeze into a corset and wear 5 inch heels and fake lashes and get breast implants and hair extensions and whatever else I fully support their right to do it, no matter what message they may or may not be sending.
Feminism IS about choice.

Roy said...

I get where you're coming from on choice, Nique. I'm going to stick to the tangent for a moment. =P

I agree that location means a lot. Some facial piercings are still subversive, but, what about say, a tiny stud in the nose? Not really, I think. People older than, say, 30 or 35 might raise an eyebrow, but I don't know anyone who is still shocked by a nose stud. And a lower back tattoo is practically obligatory for college age women these days.

I feel like, when you're talking full sleaves, you're talking about an extreme. A woman getting implants like Dolly Parton isn't socially acceptable, either. That kind of extreme body modification is still going to draw criticism. Now that I'm thinking about it- if someone goes to that kind of extreme- getting implants that are so dramatic that they're almost a parody... is that subversive?

Huh.

I don't know. I'm not sure how I feel about this. I agree that our general beauty standards are very much gendered and are determined by patriarchical structures- but I'm not quite convinced that sub-cultural beauty standards are really that different, or that they're not just as much influenced by social standards- just a sub-culture's social standards, instead of the wider society's standards.

A lot of these subcultural standards start when we're just kids- think about the cliques from your school days. Sure, we shift and change as we get older, but more often than not, people who are into tattoos and piercings when they're older started down that road when they were younger. You get involved in a certain subculture when you're in school, and maybe you stay with it or maybe you "grow out of it", but there's definitely pressure to conform to nonconformity there, too. When I was more into the metal scene, there were definitely expectations, and social sanction if you didn't fit the image quite right. There's a "look" involved.

I'll grant that not everyone is like that, but I think that a lot of people who are getting full sleaves and getting rivets grafted... well, I'd bet that most of them are going to be involved in some way with a subculture that embraces that kind of thing, right? And I know that there are magazines and publications that glorify, encourage, and comodify those things.

I'm rambling a bit... A lot, actually. Heh. Also, making lots of wild speculation.

What do you think of the ways that some groups co-opt that kind of a focused noncomformity, by the way? I'm thinking of, say, the Suicide Girls, or any of the Tattoo magazines that really market the Sex-ay tattoos?

Also: if you don't mind my asking, what is your tattoo of?

For a guy with virgin skin, I know a lot of people with work. Hell, one of my best buddies has almost a full shirt done. He's just got to get a few small bits on his back and a tiny bit on one arm done, I think.

Nique said...

Wow, this is becoming a huge discussion.

Yes, I agree that there is a hierarchy of subversiveness when it comes to piercings. Ears are expected, nose is no big deal, eyebrow isn't that crazy, tongue has been pretty much co-opted by the frat boy subset of the patriarchy... while a big ol' spike in the middle of the forehead is still considered weird.

As I said in my previous post, the lower back tattoo thing is a cliche but that doesn't negate the power of tattoos in general or lessen the impact of a facial tattoo.
The subject of the tattoo also plays a role obviously. A rose says "hi, I lack imagination" whereas a swastika says "hi, I'm a racist asshole" and a tribal design on a white guy says "hi, I like to coopt cultures that aren't my own" and a portrait says "I love this person".
Even within the tattoo culture there is much variation.

So I agree that tats and piercings are part of a subculture(s) all their own. But this blog is about subverting the patriarchy right? And many fringe scenes, while being fully fledged subcultures are still subversive of the patriarchy. I'm not saying every single person with tattoos is completely distinct from every other tattooed person. Yes, they belong to the same group but that group isn't always the patriarchy, although sometimes it is.

Plenty of people with body mod are completely invested in the patriarchy, and plenty of subcultures have been coopted and comodified by the patriarchy and are just as damaging to women. Many fringe subcultures are most definitely not women-friendly.

So I'm not saying getting a tattoo or a weird piercing is a feminist act in and of itself, I'm just saying that for many people it is still an act of individuality, although I fully agree that for many, if not most people, immersing themselves into a subculture and getting all the accoutrement that goes with it is about belonging, not about rebelling.

I have 3 tattoos and they all depict symbols from Star Trek, the TV show.
Clearly by adorning my body with these symbols I am advertising that I belong to a group. The Trekker group, or the sci-fi group, or the nerd group or whatever. No one exists independantly of the culture(s) in which they were raised.
And heck, you could say, wait a second, Star Trek is full of sexist crap, why would a feminist get a Trek tat? But I don't think you could look at my tats and receive the same message you would from my high heels. My heels conform to the larger society's beauty standards, while my tats conform to a different beauty standard (perhaps only my own).

It's interesting that you view sleaves as extreme. I do not. So that sort of proves my point. You, as someone on the outside of the tat subculture have a particular perception of what is extreme, while someone who is in the culture has a different perception altogether.
So I don't see the link between Dolly Parton implants and sleaves. Is getting implants to the point of exageration subversive? I don't think so. Pam Anderson didn't get huge breasts to mock the patriarchy, she did it to further her playboy fueled career.

Yes, the Suicide Girls are sexifying and comodifying the "punk" subculture but that doesn't automatically make that culture patriarchy-approved. Nor are those women automatically subversive just for not being Barbie. Nor are they automatically conformist or oppressed.
Personally I don't have anything against porn, whether it be traditional or "subversive"... in theory. The porn is not the problem, the treatment of women in the industry is the problem. And the treatment of women by men who can't seperate fantasy from reality is another problem. But I don't think the Suicide Girls are harmful to the tat culture just because they are porn stars.
Besides, it's not like they invented the eroticization of body mod. Tattooing is a very erotic process and many tattoo enthuthiasts fetishise it. *cough* not that I would know anything about that *cough*


So dude, introduce me to your friend with the full shirt. He sounds hot. ;)

Roy said...

But this blog is about subverting the patriarchy right? And many fringe scenes, while being fully fledged subcultures are still subversive of the patriarchy.

Absolutely.
I'm still exploring some of this, though, and looking at how it all intersects or doesn't. And I certainly think that that tattoos can be subversive- I'm just trying to figure out how so, and when. While tattoos can be very subversive, they can, as you point out, also be very much a way of reinforcing certain concepts of masculinity and patriarchy, and some subcultures where tattoos are an important part of the group identity are also very rigidly sexist, and so I'm sort of interested in seeing how that plays out, I think. Particularly when I see how it's being coopted and commodified. I find that interesting, because it leads to more and more extreme forms of modification, as the older forms become coopted and marketed as hip and trendy. There's a reason that back tattoos are so cliche now, when once they'd have been a source of scandal. The same for nose piercings or naval piercings, right?

It's interesting that you view sleaves as extreme. I do not. So that sort of proves my point. You, as someone on the outside of the tat subculture have a particular perception of what is extreme, while someone who is in the culture has a different perception altogether.

Well, I think that it depends on which perspective you want to discuss it from, though, doesn't it? Personally I don't find a full sleave very extreme. But, then, I'm used to seeing my buddy with the full shirt, so a sleave is practically nothing. But, from a broader social perspective, I recognize that most people, or, at least, the "dominant culture" views a full sleave as extreme. You can walk into most jobs with, say, an upper arm tattoo (as a man) of a name or a heart or whatever, and people won't really be bothered. But, show up with a full sleave and people start to react, right? The same thing for piercings. I don't think anything when I see people with, say, stretched lobes or 6 or 8 piercings in one ear, but I recognize that my perception is not necessarily the standard of judgement that, say, Joe Average (whatever that is) is going to have.

My curiosity about Dolly Parton isn't about her specifically, but more generally: is it possible? Consider that makeup is generally used to reinforce beauty standards, right? But people can be subversive in their use of makeup by using it in unusual ways or by using it in extremes. Pam Anderson got implants and it helped fuel her career in a way, but, unless I'm misremembering (and given how little interest I've had in any project she's worked on, I may be), didn't she reach a point where she began to receive criticism for how "out of control" her "upgrades" had become? That is, she increased her breast-size too much?

I suspect that there probably aren't many, if any, women who are interested in increasing their bust size to the point of being subversive by having breasts that are larger than the "acceptable" size, but I guess what I'm wondering is, is that even possible? I don't know... it was, as I say, a tangent. Sometimes my questions outpace my ability to fully form them. =P

I do however, disagree with the point about Suicide Girls. I think that they're absolutely patriarchy approved. They're being marketed as "The sort of girl you wouldn't take home to mother." They're dangerous. They may not be reinforcing the same image that, say, Playboy is, but I don't think that automatically means that they aren't patriarchy approved. If they aren't, yet, I certainly feel like that's the direction it's taking. And maybe my issue here isn't strictly patriarchy on this one? I don't know- maybe it's more about the commercial exploitation and coopting of subcultures. The Hot Topicization of various groups, say?

My issue with SGs isn't that they're posing nude or that they're fetishizing tat culture- I don't care about either of those things. Nudity and fetishization don't bother me. It's that it's clearly (or, at least, seems to me) being marketed towards people who aren't a part of the subculture at all. Suicide Girls isn't being pushed towards alt-culture and tat-culture. It's being marketed towards straight white dudes as "Alt Porn". It's hard for me not to see it that way, given their partnership with Playboy and the way the merchandise is pushed on G4. I also object to the way that the site tries to present itself as being feminist, and has fostered the illusion of being "owned and run by women" when, in fact, two of the three people who own and run the site are men. And, finally, I object to the way that they claim to want to let women have control over the way their sexuality is presented, but there are a large number of complaints of models being censored, and complaints about issues regarding the control of the images.

*phew*

None of which, just to be clear, I blame on the models themselves. My issue is not with any of the Suicide Girls, but with the company itself.

Thanks for the discussion, I really appreciate it. It's been very interesting. =)

And I'd offer to introduce you to my buddy, but, alas, I'm not sure how his girlfriend would take it.

Nique said...

There are some women (quite a few actually) who have gotten implants that are insanely huge. I'd give links but I'm too lazy to go searching. In any case none of these women (that I'm aware of) do this subversively. They all market themselves as porn stars.
Did Pam Anderson get critisism for taking it too far? From who exactly? Certainly not from frat boys.

I'll agree with you on the Suicide Girls 'cause clearly you've researched them more than I have. I really don't know that much about them. Probably because I'm not the target audience!

Going back to the original topic for a bit... backlash against conforming to certain feminine ideals...
Can I just add that I don't think it's always bad to conform and that certain beauty standards are part of mating rituals. Wearing makeup to prettify oneself is a mating ritual of sorts and what's wrong with that? You could argue that it's bad because the onus is on women to please men but men prettify themselves too by shaving say or by wearing certain clothes or by erroneously believing the axe effect will work.

So... are mating rituals bad? Is there something wrong with them?

And I won't tell your friend's gf if he doesn't tell my bf. ;)

Nique said...

Ok I know everyone hates me for posting so much but one more thing to add:

Just because the SG are patriarchy approved doesn't mean all women with tats are or that punk is. While the coopting of a certain subculture may lessen the impact of the original subculture it doesn't strip it of all its power, nor of it's ability to nourish people who belong to that subculture in earnest.

Elaine Vigneault said...

"In abstract, I don't see anything wrong with breast enlargement over any other form of elective, cosmetic surgery. Sure, not necessary, but, then, neither are lots of the other forms of body modification people get. In abstract, what's the difference between a boob job and, say, getting lots of piercings, or tattoos, or teeth bleaching, or hair dying, or braces, or, or, or..."

Even in the abstract, cosmetic surgery is vastly different from the other body modifications you list.

It's one thing to stick a small piece of steel through some skin around your belly button.

It's quite another to risk your life and cut open your torso or cut off your nipples, lift up your muscles, stick a balloon of liquid inside your body, sew everything back up putting the nips in a new location, and wearing a so-tight-you-can't-breathe bandage around your chest for a week.

Roy said...

Elaine: I'm not disagreeing that breast enlargement is invasive and extreme, and I really should have picked more extreme forms of intentional body modification. There are people who intentionally remove entire digits from their hands or feet, or have their tongues split or their ears reshaped, or get metal hooks installed so they can be suspended by wires, etc. In abstract- if we remove the social forces that make breast enlargement so common in our world- I wouldn't have a problem with people getting breast enlargement, but, the, I suspect it'd be a fringe group who'd be doing it. It's invasive and extreme, but there are people who might still want to do it, because there are people who are into extreme body modification, and get inflatable bladders installed in other parts of their bodies so that they can change the shape, or who get serious brandings or scarifications.

That's what I'm talking about when I say that I don't have a problem with it in the abstract- if someone knows the risks and wants to take them, that's their business, even if I think it's extreme.

But, I freely admit, we don't live in abstract, and so those social forces exist that make breast enlargement more common than maybe it otherwise would be.

I think that goes back to the difference between being critical of the social forces at play, and being critical of the individual people- If I'm going to respect other people's personal autonomy, I have to accept that some of them are going to be interested in engaging in some pretty extreme, potentially dangerous things. I don't have to like the social forces that are at play trying to make people feel like they're flawed or need fixing, but I have to accept that some individuals might make different choices, for reasons I might not understand or agree with.

It's late... does that make any sense?

Cara said...


If it's ok to shrink your boobs, I don't know why it shouldn't be ok to grow your boobs.


Anon, I know that you're speaking in the abstract, but even in the abstract, reducing the size of your breasts does involve fairly major surgery, but the end result is removing some fatty tissue. The end result of a breast enlargement is to have a semi-permanent balloon filled with silicone or saline in your body. I think that removing a useless, expendable part of your body (unlike fingers, etc., fat grows back, though admittedly not in the same places) is not nearly as extreme as inserting a non-necessary, non-medical object completely inside a body for an indefinite period of time.

Natalia said...

Nique,

I just wanted to let you know that I've gotten similar stuff in the workplace, specifically from a couple of women who, sadly, identified as feminists (and not radical feminists either, I don't think, which is what some people assume when I tell them the story).

Now, the situation was extreme in more than one sense, it was downright abusive, and making fun of my pink shirt and "cute Eastern European shtick" was just the tip of the iceberg, so I walked away. And I'm glad I did.

Two things happened afterward, however, that truly saddened me:

I ran into an old colleague who said that the situation in that office hadn't changed, and another young woman who was hired in my place was going through the same thing. She couldn't afford to quit either.

And bringing it up with some fellow feminists resulted in a knee-jerk, "you're making it up," or "you're tarring all of feminism with the same brush" reaction. While I can understand where that's coming from, I do NOT support sweeping this stuff under the carpet.

I think it's very important not to lose sight of the fact that even something as progressive as modern-day feminist rhetoric can be co-opted by an asshole. .

assembling words to armory, she waits... said...

I also object to the way that the site tries to present itself as being feminist, and has fostered the illusion of being "owned and run by women" when, in fact, two of the three people who own and run the site are men. And, finally, I object to the way that they claim to want to let women have control over the way their sexuality is presented, but there are a large number of complaints of models being censored, and complaints about issues regarding the control of the images.

i think this info is a little old-school and outdated when it comes to sg. with the increase in complaints and press from girls a couple of years ago, i have a very hard time believing that any new suicide girl entering into a contract with the company views it as anything but an altporn dynasty and a modeling opportunity. it's a stepping stone, it's commercialized, and it's very obviously successful. i believe that when the site began, it had very real roots in a diy subculture, and missy suicide was out there to prove a point and take photos of her friends and other 'real girls.' those days are gone. does that make the site wrong? to me, absolutely not. were girls mistreated and perhaps misled? ~ i think so. when sean got involved and truly created a business, that's when trouble began. i don't think all that drama is happening anymore. there's too much press, pressure and focus on the company to allow it. frankly, it wouldn't be a prudent business move. and suicide girls is, over everything else, a corporation that's making money. that said, can suicide girls be empowering? yes. i've been on sg photo shoots, been accepted as a suicide girl. each girl chooses her set(s), chooses her photographer, chooses her poses, makeup, etc. the model selects the photos she likes and sends in only poses she wants to see on the site. each sg signs the contract knowing exactly into what venture she's entering. unless someone is being forced by another outside individual to participate, (and i've never heard of this) the power is in the hands of the model. if a suicide girl decides later she doesn't want her photos/account to be on the site, she can have herself archived. if a model wants to participate in conventions, signings, dvds, calendars, movies, etc. ~ it's all up to her.

Renegade Evolution said...

Hey-

I just wanted to stop by and say this is a really interesting post and conversation...and me, personally, I do like body modification....hell, I have implants and 13 tattoos- none of them roses-

Also, as for subversive and going against a culture, it sort of depends on the culture or subculture....in modern business day america, tattoos and other body mods (like the folks with the implanted horns, full body tats, split serpent tongues) are very much against the grain. In some subcultures though (say, feminist ones) things like implants or a nose job are, well, not at ALL common.

But like anything, any choice, sure, the choice to get any sort of body modification is not made in a vaccum, but often times there is a lot more to it than fitting into perceived body ideals or "the patriarchy made me do it".

Interesting thread though!