Tag Archives: body image

Curls

Originally published in our Spring 2018 Reader, Dev Blair’s poem “Curls” is one of two prose poems that “tell a part of the story of a young femme wrestling with the ways in which they meet the world and the ways in which the world meets them.”

In their abstract, Blair explains that:

“In Curls, I draw parallels between my hair’s relationship to relaxers and my relationship to men, using the comparison to analyze the ways that I’ve been mistreated by the men in my life. While the terms “queer” and “non-binary” don’t feature in the poem itself, the experiences I describe within are inextricably tied to those parts of my identity, by virtue of how these things influence which men I interact with and how I am seen by them.”

If you are interested in buying a physical copy of the reader, email hoochie@bu.edu ! We are selling them for $5.


[ Content warning: for mentions of depression ]

Curls

by Dev Blair

For a long time, I didn’t quite understand the term “natural.”

See, I knew that curls grew from my scalp naturally and I also understood that I could see my curls intertwine and loc beautifully—if I ever stop tryna cop Britney’s ’‘07 hairdo every time I have a breakdown.

But what I didn’t get was how we could name our curls—something so deeply personal and meaningful—”natural,” as if to make them sound normal, mundane, or palatable.

See, I don’t want my curls to be something you can stomach, another vaguely ethnic dish for white eyes to consume.

My curls are something your combs cannot tame, your brushes cannot beat back, your razors cannot cut down.

My curls are twisted and kinky and they like to play rough.

Relaxers hide their faces in shame when they see my curls, gettin’ clowned on in their workplaces for lack of game, their own failure to play aces, ultimately to blame for their inability to run bases and tame my militant curls.

Like men disappoint me, so too do relaxers disappoint my curls. Inviting them in with promises of beauty and a future, they leave them desolate and lifeless after extracting every ounce of magic and joy from their being. Slinking down the drain, they take my curls’ hopes and dreams and parts of themselves with them.

Capitalizing on my curls’ labor and my curls’ abuse, relaxers are like men to me, suitors that preach and preen over how faithful they’ll be, only to treat our “unruliness” as a liability.

White cream slathered on black curls, like white men slobbering over black girls, suffocating them with their emotional unavailability, then leaving them a little more broken than they were found, even though it’s been years since they were chained and bound to Eurocentricity’s straight and narrow Middle Passage.

Postcolonial as in post relaxer as in post heart break post break up postmodernism, this is a poem posted like a notice on every door and Facebook wall saying that I’m better off without them. And so are my curls.

My beauty is achieved, not defaulted. My strength is earned, but not exalted unless it can be used to turn a profit.

My pretty smells of hard work and healthy routines learned from unhealthy habits and a history of hurt. My curls shine with a radiance not natural nor innate but learned from every trial that turned out to be a mistake. She must learn to love themself, because others don’t care to take the time to learn how to love me.

My curls have got it on loc because when I unlocked my heart for you, instead of with it you ran away with the key and so now only rage spills out, with no kiss to fix it or stop it up.

With each beat of my thoroughly disappointed heart, the rage rushes to my ears, breaking every part of myself I curated like fine art. As I crumble into sadness, the blood pounds with the barking madness of hell hounds bounding after their-query for you: “did it feel good to waste my time?” Before the answer can be found, my innocence dies like the Virgin Hairy, killed by sounds in my head of “you’re undesirable,” and “you’ll never marry,” and I am left limp and wet and barely recognizable.

Solange wrote a catchy song about it, so y’all get it already, right?

But see, you don’t. Because my curls are not just the feelings I wear, but the product of the pain I bear and the parts of myself I refuse to share and the things that I talk about in prayer.

I am not natural. Neither are my curls. We are more than you could ever hope to call natural—after all, what is natural about a body ravaged by the politics of desirability?

See, love is a battlefield and my body is the site of war. Y’all come into my life, fuck shit up, then call me whore so now I can’t sleep. I can’t rest or lay down and neither can my curls, and girls, that’s how we all got our razor-sharp edges-from pain so intense, we can’t even weep. That’s why I shave my head like I’m shearing a goddamn sheep, so if you want my curls, know that the price is steep. Don’t hurt me so deep that I can’t keep myself together. If you can avoid that and ease my bleeding heart, help me heal from the times I fell apart, then and only then do you deserve to look at my curls.

Hidden Noodles

by Thuy Anh Tran from Lehigh University

  Hidden Café, which was located on the lower level of building B in my high school, was an ideal place for anyone who needed an escape. This café was not recognized by my high school as an official dining hall, but it secretly opened to serve the growing demand for a small get-away. For straight A students, they came here with the hope of escaping from the cacophony in the hallway to figure out how to calculate the atomic mass of an element. For teachers, they desperately wanted to get away from all the troubles that students created. For rebels, this place was perfect for skipping classes.
  The owner of Hidden Café was Bac Huong, a middle-aged woman who was a high school teacher but then discovered that cooking was her passion. She had a small and slim figure; her short curly salt and pepper hair was meticulously hidden behind a ridiculously giant chef’s hat, and she possessed one of the most high-pitched voice you would ever hear, probably because she used to teach in many classes with sixty students. I called her “Bac,” which means aunt in Vietnamese, as my way to show my respect as well as my endearment to her. “If I had not been a teacher, I would have become a Michelin-star chef!” – Bac Huong confidently claimed. This café was opened as a result of many spontaneous moments.
  “What do you want today? Mian tiao?”
  “Yes, but it is miàn tiáo.”
  “I’m no Chinese. Wait five minutes.”
  Bac Huong enjoyed using some Chinese words that she picked up to tease me as I was a student in Chinese-English class. “Miàn tiáo” means noodles in Chinese, but it was not just any kind of noodles. It was noodles with beef jerky, sausage, mayo and ketchup. Weird. The combination of diverse ingredients could magically blend together, and it turned out to be one of the best dishes that I had ever tasted.
  I loved watching Bac Huong making noodles. The main ingredient for this dish was obviously noodles, or Hao Hao noodles, which was only ten cents. The fastest way to cook was to pour hot water into a bowl of raw noodles. Bac Huong never forgot to add some spices, some onions and especially her special sauce (soy sauce). She put a plate on top of the noodles’ bowl so that it would keep the heat inside to cook the noodles. After five minutes, she went to check on the noodles. Then, she cut some boiled sausages that she woke up at 5 a.m. every day to prepare, and added some beef jerky. On top of the noodles, she put some mayo or some ketchup, depending on her mood. This dish had such a special smell that I could immediately recognize before I even arrived at Hidden Café. Within ten minutes, Bac Huong made noodles and eagerly interrogated me about my school life.
  “How’s school?”
  “Do you get a 10 out of 10 on your Chinese quiz?”
  “How did you do on your Math test?”
  The most dreadful question was yet to come.
  “Where are your friends? Call them here.”
  I stayed silent.
  You would not think that such a simple question could hurt you internally. Little did Bac Huong know that she played many roles in my high school life: my “Bac,” my emotional counselor, my teacher and my only friend.
  Who was I in high school? I was a fat kid (yes, I use the F word). I was bullied because my body figure did not comply with the standard measurements for a normal high school girl. Who came up with that anyway?
  That day, a girl in my class who was a close friend of mine suddenly asked me to tell her my body measurements for her “research purpose,” and I was gullible enough to tell her. Classic Mean Girl’s prank.
  The next day I went to class, she greeted me with a special nickname that I would try to forget every now and then: “square” (because my height and my weight looked quite the same). Then, there were “fatty”, “pig”, “rectangle”, “girl without curves”, “fat ugly girl”,… At that moment, my body was heated up with embarrassment. I kept looking down to the floor and closed my eyes so that I could keep my tears and my anger inside.
  I was not ready to face with such a challenge as I never knew there was something called confidence. The feeling that I was missing something inside my soul which needed to be fulfilled haunted me. Later, I discovered that it was validation. There was no class that taught me how to stand up against bullies in high school, which I think it should have had. Therefore, I kept myself safe by creating my own bubble, and never dared to step outside. What choices did I have? Many, but the easiest choice was to hide myself in this little corner of the Hidden.
  How wrong I was.
  The advantage of living in a bubble was that it created a strong shield to protect me from getting hurt, but bubbles could pop at any time.
  When I left for college, I chose not to say good-bye to Bac Huong and the Hidden because I did not want that chapter of my life to end. I would never imagine how difficult it could be to give up eating those delicious noodles.
  Six o’clock. Lower Court. Located in the lower level of the University Center, which reminds me of the Hidden. Lower Court is much more crowded than the Hidden, and students come with the purpose of seeking companions, not hiding. I choose a seat at the corner of the room. I tell myself not to think about Bac Huong’s noodles but it is impossible for me to do so as in college, spaghetti with beef sauce is the closest to what I used to have in the Hidden. Right now, the cooks are busy making spaghetti, but the way they make it is far different from what Bac Huong did. Spaghetti is already cooked from the kitchen before being placed in a large tray. The sauce is separated from the spaghetti, and each person will serve themselves with the amount of sauce that they want. I am struggling to calculate how much sauce I need for one dish of spaghetti, while Bac Huong always knew exactly how much soy sauce I needed for a bowl of noodles. All the cooks are friendly, but no one can speak Chinese to tease me.
  I learned the hard way that leaving was an essential part of growing up. As I grew up from a teenager, I left my favorite teddy bear in the basement. As I grew to become an adult, I left the Hidden and my favorite noodles in Vietnam. Growing up means that we have to leave things behind so that every time we look back, we will say to ourselves: “Oh, how I miss those good old days!”
  I guess I have to grow up now. I have to grow up from Bac Huong’s noodles and start to live my life here at college.
  I realize that I am still in the process of stepping outside my bubble.

This is a repost of a story we received in December.

Beauty in Vain

By Alice Elbakian

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The above painting by John William Waterhouse is titled Vanity (1910) and, I am sure, has been the subject of many angry feminist rants. Waterhouse must have thought her intriguing or beautiful or enchanting, at least enough to want to paint and capture her. He paints her with a mirror in hand, she is dressed in white, wearing makeup, and is fixing her hair with a flower (an obvious symbol of femininity). She’s near jewelry and more background flowers, femininity all around. He seems to laud her as she lauds her femininity. None of this is problematic. Until he titles it. Vanity. He doesn’t mean furniture. It’s not a compliment. It’s the perfect example of Marilyn Frye’s double bind, and it is the earlier, Victorian version of slut shaming or duck-face-selfie shaming (I can only assume).

The subject in the painting appears to do everything she is “supposed to do” in Victorian society. She walks the walk and silences her talk. She is shrouded in femininity. She is femininity. She occupies space in a man’s world, abiding, of course, by man’s rules. She wears a sign that says “I’m not a threat”. Waterhouse presumably saw a perfect woman and wanted to paint her. But he doesn’t reward her or her perfect womanity, the very things that drew him to her. Instead he immortalizes a shameful conception of this woman. He labels his subject ‘vain’ even though if she were not doing what she is doing in the painting, he would hardly have found her muse-worthy, in fact he likely would have looked down on her. Social standards tell the subject to do one thing. She’s rewarded for this in the only way she can be – she’s objectified but even this doesn’t happen positively.

She’s given a new name. Vain. Excessively proud. Or, worthless and futile. Depending on the definition. She does what she’s told. She’s good maybe too good. A woman getting too comfortable with

herself, growing too comfortably in the skin she’s been prescribed to wear. Maybe she’s beginning to see herself, as beautiful, in that little mirror? Like a Victorian selfie. She already seems to be celebrating herself, maybe she wants to document the moment on her own, form her own conception of self, with her own eyes. With eyes that might see her the way she wants to be seen. With eyes that might know her full story. Like a selfie.

No. The moment she does this is the moment that Waterhouse captures and criticizes. In the title he returns to his role of oppressor and “looker”. Decider. He reminds the subject and every viewer that it’s offensive and devaluing for women to love themselves, to see themselves, to honor the parts of themselves that are at once most natural and contrived. Because the point isn’t just following the rules. It’s occupying the space you’re allotted in the way you’re supposed to.

Click for more about the “revolutionary potential of your own face” in relation to the selfie.

When Life Hands You Lululemon [Write a Rant on Your Feminist Blog]

I’m angry. I’m sure you’ve heard about the scandal involving Lululemon Athletica, an extremely popular yoga-inspired, athletic wear retailer. Last Spring, Lululemon had produced a batch of their supposedly magical, pricey yoga pants that were overly sheer and therefore exposing the lulubums of a select group of customers who were unlucky enough to buy pants during that time period. Lululemon recalled a portion of their pants, and we forgave them for the almost comical mishap and happily resumed downward-dogging.

In recent weeks, though, customers have been filing complaints about the quality of the pants, which have become a style statement in themselves and are worn by many for daily life, in addition to exercise. I’ve even heard people refer to “lulu”, as it’s known, as having a cult-like following. For around $100 a pair, these yoga pants are not your average pair of leggings. They are made from a special, patented fabric that breathes well and doesn’t hold onto sweat, they’re unbelievably comfortable, and have garnered a positive reputation– until now.

When asked about the sheerness of the pants and their durability, Lululemon founder Chip Wilson stated, “Frankly, some women’s bodies just actually don’t work [for the yoga pants].” He also said, “It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, and how much they use it” (qtd in HuffPost).

Dear Lululemon, I’m sorry my thighs rub together! I’m sorry your pants, which are supposed to be durable and worn for anything from traveling to running to yoga, are not made well enough to stop my “fat” thighs from wearing down the fabric of your illustrious, elitist pants. Here’s the clincher: Lululemon’s women’s sizing ranges from 2-12, and they refuse to expand their size range to include more women. I was fooled by you, Lulu. I was fooled into thinking you wanted to encourage me to exercise, to “sweat more” (one of your many slogans), to better my body but also love it at its current state for the incredible things it does for me every second of every day. I thought you had a positive outlook on health and on body image in a culture where women are constantly shamed and judged by society based on their external appearance and size. Now, I find out that you explicitly try to shame larger-bodied women by displaying sizes 10 and 12, the largest sizes in your line, in the back of the store in heaps, while the smaller sizes are obsessively folded and restocked to reflect the perfection of the smaller bodies soon to be wearing them.

Rather than manufacturing clothing for all bodies, or at least a wider range of bodies, Lululemon has decided that capping their line at size 12 will encourage people to exercise more so that they can attain that smaller size, as if wearing these pants is a reward for exercise and healthy living. Well, here’s an idea: skinniness is not equivalent to health. Just let that sink in for a minute. Bodies come in infinite varieties, and your body is not the property of other people or corporations to police. Lululemon has claimed to encourage us to “love our bodies”, with the caveat “only if you fit into our culturally-constructed mold of what a healthy body should look like.”

I’m angry. I was initiated into the cult of Lululemon a few years back, often wearing their pants for long airplane flights, cozy days in the library, yoga, or other exercise. I felt empowered wearing my tight black workout pants, and enjoyed feeling confident going to the gym sporting Lulu pants and a coordinated, flattering top. The athletic wear was expensive, but I justified that it would encourage me to exercise and I knew I would feel good doing it, like so many other Lulu-wearers. But I will no longer be buying workout apparel from Lululemon or supporting the company in any way. I’m embarrassed to still have Lululemon pants and tops in my closet, but, after much soul-searching, I will begrudgingly wear them in the interest of resourcefulness until my thick, fat, muscular thighs have worn through the fabric and I can finally burn them without feeling like I wasted $100.

Seriously… Breast Ironing? The Damnation of Women’s Bodies

Thanks to civilizeme for this link to The Frisky’s post “What the Hell is ‘Breast Ironing’?

I haven’t seen the documentary referenced, but the concept is pretty hard to stomach. By flattening a young girl’s developing nipples so she doesn’t incite men to lust, a girl is not only held responsible for men’s actions, but subject to all sorts of health problems. As Jessica Wakeman for The Frisky points out, “breast ironing” is similar to female genital mutilation. Both hold women entirely (and unfairly!) accountable for the sexual misconduct of men. Women are portrayed and treated as temptresses who distract and destroy otherwise innocent men. Subduing a woman’s “negative” sexual power is considered much more important than protecting her health or dignity. One can only imagine the shame and deep psychological damage that must come with both breast ironing and female genital mutilation. Women are taught that there is nothing positive about their bodies or sexuality – which can only perpetuate a cycle of smothering  repression.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker… DON’T make me a match!

Hoochies, I really don’t want to admit this, but I will. I watch The Millionaire Matchmaker.  Now, on many counts, this show is pretty despicable. The premise is addictive: Patti Stanger, a 3rd generation matchmaker in LA, sets up rich men through her Millionaire’s Club, the website of which looks like an advertisement for a brothel. These millionaires are allowed to handpick women who are usually a) way too nice or b) way too young.  Criticizing this show is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I’ll give you the highlights:

1)  If you want to marry a millionaire, and you’re above a size 6, good luck. Patti reserves “bigger” (i.e. a size 10) women for her “chubby chasing” clients. Now, I take offense at this on a couple of levels. First, the idea that a woman should be telling other women that they are fat and unworthy to compete for male attention is disgraceful. This kind of attitude teaches men that only the slimmest of women are worthy of love, and it teaches women that in the competition for rich men, their bodies are the greatest weapons.  Insidious female on female attack is destructive and demeaning.  If we tell men that they should only be attracted to certain body types and that the rest are undesirable, it feeds right back into a damaging sizist cycle that we need to end.

2) I guess money trumps idiot? These men are often rude, strange, misogynistic, witless and boring. And yes, many of them are pretty ugly. But millions of dollars seems to give them a free pass on many qualities one might look for in a mate. However, the few woman millionaires on the show have no such luck. They are still judged for their looks and admonished to let the man take control. It would appear that money only makes things harder for women because they have to prove that they are still “feminine.” Hoochies, I ask you: why does “feminine” have to mean docile and simpering? Unfortunately, in the Millionaire’s Club, women do not have power unless expressly allowed. In her 10 Dating Rules for Single Ladies, Stanger writes, “do not offer to outright pay for something: once a woman touches money/credit card in front of a male she becomes masculine energy, which is undesirable.” Basically, according to this line of thought, men are not attracted to women who are remotely self-sufficient – in Patti’s words, the penis will definitely not get off the couch.

3) Patti Stanger gives matchmaking a bad name. The whole point of matchmaking should be to make a match, but these women are never asked what they want in a man. Granted, it’s their choice to turn up for the vomit inducing “casting sessions” (really an appropriate name when you think about it, eh?), but the only criteria on their lists is “loaded.”  The Millionaire’s Club does not take into account what both sides are looking for, or even considers that a woman might want more than a rich husband. It is merely a vehicle for spoiled, rich and awkward men to sample the never-ending bounty of the LA babe buffet, and perpetuates the ever gaping gender divide.

“Boobquake” – Liberating or Limiting?

As most of you probably know by now, boobs can cause earthquakes. No, really. During Friday prayers in Tehran, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, a senior cleric, stated that “many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes.”

Sedighi’s claim, naturally, has brought an outcry from the feminist community. In turn, yesterday “Boobquake,” created by Jen McCreight of BlagHag, took on Sedighi’s accusation full force. The concept was simple – by wearing cleavage baring shirts, women would be able to show that breasts don’t have a great cosmic power over the earth. At first glance, Boobquake seems liberating, and clearly a deep v-neck is not going cause a natural disaster. But I have to wonder: is baring cleavage a constructive way to combat Sedighi’s claim?

I’d have to agree with Beth Mann at Salon when she writes that she “appreciate[s] McCreight’s intentions behind this; she meant it as a feminist response to a ridiculous statement. Unfortunately, it seems to be turning into something else, with many men chiming in, with their “show us your tits” camera-ready attitude.” Society is constantly telling woman that we are only as good as our bodies, whether they are baby makers or eye candy. “Boobquake”, though well-meaning, feeds right into this limiting concept.

I think that whatever you choose to wear, you should be able to feel proud and happy. If baring cleavage accomplishes that for someone, then that is terrific. But by showing a lot of boob, you are inviting people to look. I’m not saying that’s necessarily negative, but I think it’s a fact. Dressing a little more modestly is not always a bad thing; in fact, I believe that it’s ultimately more productive than a low-cut shirt. Of course, showing a little less skin has nothing to do with earthquake prevention – only with changing the dialogues from women’s bodies to women themselves. A woman does not have to resort to using her body to get attention, even if it’s to take on sexism. By fighting a ridiculous and chauvinist statement by exposing our bodies I think we ultimately miss the point. Next time, let’s lead with our minds instead of our chests.

A Lot of Big Boobs

Sheyla Hershey believes bigger breasts will reveal her inner beauty, just as a bigger telescope reveals deeper secrets of the cosmos. What drives her to pump more and more silicone into her chest? Well, she’s “got a dream inside” — a dream “to look better each day, every day,” and “it’s good when you can make your dream come true.” To that end, she’s just completed her eighth breast augmentation surgery, and now carries two record-breaking, seam-busting liters of boob goo in each exaggerated mammary.

How readily her case demands to be explained by the simplesboobst explanation: a conspiracy between superficial media culture (whose distortions of the healthy female form pollute even the youngest minds) and unscrupulous plastic surgeons(ever ready to ignore the Hippocratic oath in favor of that more fitting Greek icon, Pluto, captain of wealth and death). Whatever reasons led her to first consider chest enhancement, her motivations since have been corrupted, co-opted, by a self-image disorder. However, instead of working through the moral and medical background of Hershey’s situation, let’s instead look at the responses to her situation left by Internet users at two different but predictably similiar articles: one from ABC News and the other from the Australian paper The Daily Telegraph. First, the comments left by the largely American readers of ABC’s hard-hitting news piece:

  • “Natural is better. Scientific devices cannot make a woman more attractive. A romantic figure is defined, sleek, and smooth.”
  • “Natural of any size are great. 😉 Certainly if they’re too large a woman should consider a reduction if they’re affecting her health.”
  • “I love how this article brings out the comments from all of the large breasted readers, “I have a 36 H naturally, I am naturally a 44 DD, my size G breasts, a natural 44 DDD, and I’m a 34 G”. I love it. How do I meet you women!?!?! I love large breasted women!!!”
  • “I don’t care to see the freak show’s implant canisters, but the stock photo for this story caused me to click 🙂 niiiice” [This photo is pictured above -Eds.]
  • “I would rather see a fine looking set of long legs.”
  • “I am a male who loves breasts of any size but I don’t advocate implants and recommend that women who are too large get reductions. They should not ruin your health. All of them are fabulous in my book”
  • “If that is her in this picture then why change them. They are very nice already.”

What did Australian readers have to say?

  • “Does being fake, false and fraudulent make her a “real” woman?”
  • “Well, you’ve given her her 5mins of fame. Maybe that’s what she wanted. Maybe the best help that we can give her is to not report it.”
  • “Ridiculous. What makes her think they look better? Most people would laugh and stare, not think they look good.”
  • “What will she do and how will she cope in another 10 years or so, when her breasts flatten out and droop down to her knees ? Or maybe she doesn’t have the brains to see that far ahead?”
  • “Why would a healthy young woman push her limits on her health by enlarging her breasts to such a size. Its ugly and just plain stupid!”
  • “Well she will get into the limelight with no talent . She will need steel supports on wheels to transports these puppies”
  • “my natural E’s are plenty big enough and give me enough back pain. i couldn’t imagine having to drag something that size around – i could also think of better things to spend my money on! it is hard enough to buy a pretty E cup bra let alone FFF! what a fool!”

Don’t trust my editorial selection — follow the links above, go to the sites yourselves, and tell me if you agree with the characterization I’ve indicated here, that American readers are grotesquely pro-tit, showing little regard for the person behind the flesh, while Australians show a laudable skepticism towards both her decision to Go Big, and the media’s decision to devote attention to the topic. None of this is sufficient data from which extrapolate sweeping cultural generalizations. Instead, I’ll just close out the discussion with two observations.

One: it is better to be silent and not leave online comments, and let people wonderif you are a boob, than to leave thoughtless, misogynistic comments that prove it.

Two: while the foundational principle of liberal society is the freedom to do with our bodies what we please, regardless of how the exercise thereof may displease, discomfort, or disgust our neighbors, Sheyla Hershey is not actually exercising her freedom with this surgical obsession. No — she is powerless, clearly, to resist the compulsion to her enlarge her breast size, even so far past the point of safety. Compelled by what? By psychological and societal factors, in the absence of which, she certainly would make different decisions regarding the body it is her right to control.  This powerlessness, this debasement, is what we need to keep in mind as we consider her situation, not whether she is more attractive with or without the sacs of silicone beneath the overstretched tissues of her chest.