We were there – at Momentum – to talk about sex and body image online, and our panel was what Hanne called a confetti conversation: we threw a bunch of bright and diverse but related ideas up in the air and watched them float around the room.
Therese spoke about how online spaces are often the only place where you can find fat bodies being publicly sexual in a way that is depicted as good and desirable and sexy. I spoke about the privilege that I enjoy when I write about body image, and how I have sometimes failed to properly acknowledge and understand that privilege. I’m a white, cis and able-bodied woman who is relatively slender, and the body I was born into affords me a lot of privilege. And I talked about how the feminist blogosphere, an online space, is one of the only places where I’ve been able to have thoughtful, measured and productive conversations about those failures and about that privilege more generally. (And, as I said on Saturday, talking and writing about your own privilege is hard, and I’m fairly sure I will screw up at some point in the following few hundred words. If I do, please tell me so – constructively, if you can manage it).
When Hanne got up to speak, she gifted the room with what I honestly think is a world-changing piece of wisdom, a quote from the performer and writer Glenn Marla: “There is no wrong way to have a body.”
Hanne wrote about this last year, in a fit of frustration over the refrain that “real women have curves,” and the post was incredibly popular, for obvious reasons:
Real women are fat. And thin. And both, and neither, and otherwise. Doesn’t make them any less real.
There is a phrase I wish I could engrave upon the hearts of every single person, everywhere in the world, and it is this sentence which comes from the genius lips of the grand and eloquent Mr. Glenn Marla: There is no wrong way to have a body.
I’m going to say it again because it’s important: There is no wrong way to have a body.
And if your moral compass points in any way, shape, or form to equality, you need to get this through your thick skull and stop with the “real women are like such-and-so” crap.
You are not the authority on what “real” human beings are, and who qualifies as “real” and on what basis. All human beings are real.
Like I said, it’s a world-changing – and at the very least, a life-changing – idea.
Hanne talked on Saturday about the ubiquity of hating our bodies. Of how everyone does it. How, as Courtney wrote, it’s “the new normalcy.” I’m paraphrasing, but Hanne said, “I have yet to meet a cisgender woman who does not have some idea of what it feels like to look in the mirror and hate her body, end of story, thank you and goodnight.”
And of course, it’s not just cisgender women, it’s everyone. Obviously, our hatred of our bodies will be heavily influenced by the constraints societies puts on our bodies. There is a difference between hating your body as a white cisgender woman who wishes she had less cellulite and hating your body as a transgender woman of colour who lives in fear that someone else could use their “panic” about your body as an excuse to hurt or even kill you.
We all experience this self-loathing on a spectrum, and where we sit on the spectrum has as much to do with what we think about ourselves as it does to do with what the dominant culture tells us – and other people – about us. Even among cisgender, white, able-bodied women, there is a spectrum. Some of those women will look in the mirror once in a while, see cellulite on their thighs, and hate it for an hour. Others will starve themselves for years on end. Some, like a woman Hanne told us about on Saturday, will grant themselves permission to commit suicide if they haven’t achieved the body they want by the time they turn thirty.
What I want to propose is a spin on Mr. Marla’s invaluable piece of wisdom: There is no right way to hate your body.
There is no right way to hate your body. There is no way for hating your body to be productive. There is no way for hating your body to be healthy. No one should ever have to do it. There is no kind of hating a body that is more acceptable or inevitable than any other kind.
There is no right way to hate your body. It doesn’t matter where you sit on that spectrum. It’s a shitty spectrum to sit on, and no one should have to sit on it. Yes, I enjoy an enormous amount of privilege in this white, cisgender, able-bodied, athletic body of mine, but there are still days when I hate it, and that should not be so. I can only imagine what it feels like for people who don’t enjoy this kind of privilege. This is a shitty spectrum to sit on, no matter where you sit.
There is no right way to hate your body, and everyone’s suffering counts. Even if you enjoy an enormous amount of privilege, your suffering counts. Obviously, we should focus our attention on those whose needs are the most dire, those who are the most severely and violently affected by that hatred. That aforementioned white cisgender woman worrying about her cellulite has a less urgent need than the aforementioned transgender woman of colour.
But just as all human beings are real whether they have curves or not, all the pain people feel when they hate their own bodies is real, whether those bodies are privileged or not. There is no right way to hate your body. None of it is acceptable. And if our moral compasses points in any way, shape, or form to equality, we have to remember that in a world where hating your body is ubiquitous, we all experience that hatred. We all experience it differently and to different degrees, but we all sit on this shitty spectrum.
We all sit on this spectrum. We are all capable, then, of empathizing with other people who sit on it with us. And I’m of the belief that empathy is the most powerful force in the world. Which means I believe that every single one of us has the means to possess the most powerful force in the world. We all – thanks to the royally fucked up culture in which we live – know what it feels like to hate the bodies we live in.
Where there is universal suffering, there can also be universal empathy. We are all capable of empathy. And we are all capable of mobilizing that empathy to break down the prejudices and structures that put in danger the most marginalized people on this shitty, shitty spectrum.