Well, now... this thread is really interesting. Lauren, over at feministe, posted about a series of photos of female body builders, and how she found them interesting because, in her words:
It’s interesting to me that many female body builders who work on attaining what are considered masculine traits play up their feminine characteristics, perhaps to counteract the kind of physique that is usually culturally marked male, sometimes to an extreme that appears to be a conscious genderfuck. Whatever the case, the human body is so, so cool.
Which, hell yes! The human body is really cool. I'm constantly fascinated by the ways that our bodies move and grow, by the infinite variety of shapes and sizes of our parts and wholes, by the uncountable variations that all of our parts come in. It's really amazing to me.
But, that's not the bit that rocked my brain this morning. The bit that blew my mind was the comments that Lauren's post prompted from a lot of people. The very first comment in response to her post was about how "disgusting" the women look, and how the commenter simply doesn't "find that type of body attractive at all". I'm not going to do a count, but a surprisingly high number out of the 53 responses are echoing that basic sentiment--that each of these women is a "representation of grotesquerie".
There were, thankfully, a number of people who stepped up to point out that criticisms of these women as unattractive misses the point, and that those kinds of comments were, to say the least, not cool. But, that being said, it still seems like one of those times where an awful lot of people engaged in some pretty shitty behavior without really taking the time to analyze it or learn from it.
I don't know why I'm surprised that these sorts of blow-ups still happen. Honestly, I guess I'm not surprised at all. I've written about it too many times and seen it come up too many times for it to really be surprisng.
So, get out your broken records: It doesn't matter if you find those women attractive or not. They're very likely not doing it for you. That you find body building "grotesque" is completely beside, behind, or even miles away from the point. Nobody gives a shit that you find it disgusting. If you find it disgusting? Don't do it. Nobody is trying to make you become or date a body builder--certainly, nobody writing at Feministe is.
When you start talking about women's bodies with terms like "disgusting" "grotesquerie" "disfiguring" or disturbing", you're engaging in exactly the kind of body shaming that a lot of us have been fighting against. So, thanks for that. A woman who can bench 450 lbs without breaking a sweat is no less deserving of respect than a woman who weighs 450 lbs. It's one thing to question the social forces that lead us to view our bodies in various ways. It's quite another to look at pictures of particular women and proclaim them gross.
And the conversation is almost exactly like the typical fat shaming thread. If we remove the specific references, it's practically a MadLib:
"Hey, look at these pictures of women X who break the typical beauty mold. This is interesting."
"Oh my God. Those women are gross. I don't find them attractive."
"Yeah, they're nasty. And also, they're damaging their health because Y."
"You'd have to be dumb to think that these women are attractive or healthy, because Z"
It's the same pattern over and over and over.
And it's completely bunk.
So, here's my advice: If you find yourself on a feminist thread--or, hell, anywhere else, for that matter--about women's bodies, and you're thinking of posting a response that consists of or is related to "Wow, that's gross/ugly/nasty/disgusting", take a moment and
Don't do it. Just don't. Because the odds are really good that what you're about to do is make some ignorant, superficial insult about another woman's body. A woman that you probably don't know, will probably never know, and about whom you're probably woefully uneducated about. You're thinking about posting how unhealthy she probably is? And about how your disgust is justified because you're really concerned about the health implications? Yeah, that's bullshit. You're more than likely not her doctor, so you're really not in a position to give her health advice.
Maybe you're actually interested in and concerned about a larger social issue? Maybe you're concerned about ways that the commercial cosmetics market and the entertainment industry push a certain beauty ideal? Maybe you're worried about systemic problems that involve body dismorphic disorders? Maybe you're genuinely concerned about the ways that we view our bodies? That's great! Channel that interest and make a difference. But, remember that slamming and insulting and mocking a particular woman or a group of them is not the way to do that. That's not helping--that's adding to the problem. You want to talk about the larger issues, do that. But don't throw those women under the bus in the process.
If you can't talk about about the ways that our society idealizes unrealistic body types without calling another woman "gross" or "disgusting", then you're doing it wrong, and you should take a minute to figure out why.