Saturday, January 28, 2012

X is Hotter Than Y: Your Attitude is Wrong and You Should Shut Up

Let's talk for a minute about body autonomy, and the attitude that some of you seem to hold that other people, specifically women*, do not have it. The idea that a woman's body, when posted online (with or without her permission) or simply existing in a public space, is up for critique and scrutiny, is perpetuated in several memes that have been floating around the internet lately, specifically those of the "when did this become hotter than this" variety.

Despite the fact that I think most of us can agree that these memes are trite, hackneyed, and violently stupid (and yet I saw plenty of people posting them unironically), they are indicative of a greater problem for which there is less outcry: the obscenely pervasive mindset of "I see a woman. Her body exists for my critique and/or pleasure. If her appearance is not to my taste, she should be ridiculed."

Why is this a problem, you might ask? After all, it is in most humans' interest to select someone they find physically attractive to mate with, therefore they should be able to express whether or not they find someone attractive. Sure, fair enough. But here's the thing you need to understand: none of these people are even remotely interested in mating with you anyway. You're talking to a picture in a magazine, or a person on TV, or, at best, a stranger's photo you reblogged. I can assure you that they don't give a shit about your opinion of their hairstyle.

Try this: the next time you are about to post someone else's photo to your Facebook profile or Tumblr (with or without "witty" commentary), ask yourself the following question: did this person alter (or not alter) their body, put on this outfit, do their hair and/or make-up in this fashion, and pose in this way with you specifically in mind, and then email the photo to your personal email address with a note requesting you to publicly express your opinion on their attractiveness? If the answer is no, take your hand off the share button and keep your mouth shut.

"But Ariel," you might say, "I'm not one of those people telling women that they need to lose weight or wear make-up or have plastic surgery in order to be pretty! I prefer girls who are natural!" That's nice, and by all means feel free to date people who suit your tastes (whatever the fuck "natural" even means in so far as referring to humans.) But you need to understand that telling someone they are unnatural or unattractive because they in some way fit the standards of American beauty you seek to subvert (whether they are doing so intentionally or not) is still an attempt to exercise control over someone else's body.

While I understand that the concept behind posting photos of very thin women, with captions implying that they are unattractive and likely suffering from the mental illness known as anorexia nervosa, is to point out that America has a diseased standard of beauty that can lead to self harm, and that no woman should feel pressure to starve herself or get surgery for the sake of thinness if she doesn't want to, the real message these memes are providing is actually every bit as sinister as the one it claims to go against. There is little (if any) difference between a magazine saying a woman should be thin in order to be healthy and attractive, and you saying a woman should be "curvy" in order to be healthy and attractive. (Nevermind that both "ideals" ignore and demonize fat people.)

People's bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and body shape or size is not necessarily indicative of health, nor should someone's health (especially a stranger's) be any of your fucking business. (Also, the trope of "healthy = attractive" is some serious bullshit, and abhorrently offensive to people who are disabled and/or have a chronic illness.) True, no one should ever feel bad for being who they are, nor feel pressure to conform to other's beauty standards, but this is not the way to deal with those issues. All you're basically saying is, "Don't conform to those beauty standards! Conform to these beauty standards!"

To put it succinctly, insulting or deriding as ugly/fake/desperate someone who is thin, or someone who has had surgery, body modifications, is wearing a lot of make-up, or does not otherwise conform to what you find attractive is shit. When I put on an outfit, make-up, or alter my body, even if it is something very extreme, I am not doing so to win your approval, nor am I doing so because I think that is what you or anyone else should be doing with your body. I'm doing it because I own this meatsack, and I will do what I please with it. Some random asshole not finding me sexually attractive is of absolutely zero consequence to me. Mine and other people's bodies don't exist for the sake of pleasing the eyes of others at all hours of every day. They exist for the same reason your body exists: to house and protect their organs, convert food into energy, and provide various other functions necessary for survival.

Oh, and just to preemptively strike down one of the "arguments" commonly used in defense of these repulsive actions: "well if she didn't want my opinion, why did she put the photo online?" Again, the likelihood that the photo in question was posted for you is so small as to be immeasurable by any modern science. This mindset is disturbingly similar to, "if she didn't want to be harassed and judged for her appearance, why did she go outside?" Photos are a large part of how we communicate online; it is fairly likely there is a photo or two online of every single person reading this. Most people do not post photos online with the intention of receiving harassment and ridicule.

*I refer to women and use female pronouns in this entry because the overwhelming majority of examples of this issue I have seen are directed towards cis-women. I do not intend to offend or erase anyone who does not fit this profile. I also refer to America because that's where I live and have the most experience from. This problem certainly extends farther than the US.

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