Botox, Bingeing, Bullying and Breast-Ironing: We Must Stop the War on Women's Bodies
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Inclusivity and accountability of this kind are daunting, without a doubt, but there’s simply no other moral way. Whether a privileged American college student is riding soul-deadening waves of bingeing and purging or a poor South African girl is saving her rands for skin-lightening cream or a Japanese teenager is begging her parents for plastic surgery—there is suffering. These are not necessarily equal oppressions; there is no need to set up a hierarchy. All we need to know and to grow mutually outraged by is that all of this pain exists—personally and politically.
Shifting the public perception is crucial, which is part of why it’s imperative that the composition of the movement reflects the new visual culture we want to see in the world. And even more, it’s not just that the issues and activists need to be varied; the leaders must represent a wide range of humanity. Let’s be real: the thought leaders of the body image conversation have been too homogeneous for too long. I include myself in that pool. With great respect for my predecessors—authors and activists like Susie Orbach, Naomi Wolf, Jean Kilbourne, and so many others—I do believe that it is time to genuinely honor the voices and perspectives of a diversity of women by giving up the mic, reaching out of our comfort zones to reach beyond the “usual suspects” for collaborators, finding resources to support the work of a diversity of body advocates.
Imagination may just be the key to our liberation. Marian Wright Edeleman has said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” I think she’s partly right. Certainly, part of what stands between us and the culture that we want to live in, the culture that respects and even celebrates the true diversity of bodies, is a failure of the imagination. We’ve never lived in that kind of place, we’ve never had the privilege of witnessing that kind of world. Everyone alive today was born at a time when the exploitation of women’s bodies globally was rampant, fat talk was obsequious, and eating disorders epidemic. It is simply what we’ve known.
And that’s why, it’s not just about being savvier, more vocal consumers, it’s not just about protesting or online organizing, it’s not just about educating the next generation of girls in media literacy, although it is about all of those things…it’s about actually envisioning and embodying another world.
We’ve never seen it, so as Marion Wright Edelman tells us, it’s very difficult to have faith that we might actually have it. But I think finally—with all of these new tools at our fingertips, with these demographic shifts catapulting women into positions of power and transforming the hearts and minds of boys and men, with this momentum all over the world and a new global consciousness about the range of issues we face—we just might become what we have never seen. We just might become a culture that refuses to profit off of women’s bodies, making them sick, and instead respects, cares for, and celebrates them.
We just might become what we have never seen. How miraculous is that?
Courtney E. Martin is a writer, teacher, and speaker living in Brooklyn. She was the Summit Coordinator for the Endangered Species Summit in New York City last month and is part of an ongoing international campaign of the same name. She is also the author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women and Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists . You can read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.