Desirable, Pretty to Look At, Predictable and Safe

tumblr_mlxtx81uDa1qbe95zo1_500When you are a mother, sooner or later you must deal with body issues. I’ve been spending part of my life thinking and writing about them, so for me it’s no big deal, but raising a daughter surely challenges your system of references about beauty standards and what is considered socially acceptable/accepted.

This evening I was sitting in the bathroom while B was playing in the bath tub; we were chatting and she asked me some questions. She’s 5 years old and at the moment she’s kind of obsessed with breasts and body hair. She loves my bras: she sees one around probably once a week (I don’t wear it very often) and she knows all their colours. She seems to have the urgency to know when she’ll have “real” breasts, and I can see she likes the idea, probably because she links them to being an adult. Tonight she asked me about body hair: she wanted to know when hair will grow on her, and I realized she was asking me that because she wanted to have it, probably – again – because body hair is something that most adults have [1]. Then she asked me about my choice not to shave parts of my body and I explained my point of view. “What should I do with my hair when I’m an adult?”, she asked me and – bam! – I stood there for a moment, hesitating. “You’ll do what you think is better for you, not what you think is better for others”, I replied, wondering if those words were really expressing my thoughts.

When I was in my pre-teens and teenage years, I hated my body hair, but I hated waxing and painful epilation even more. I hated my hairy arms and some rare hairs on my fingers, not to mention the hair growing along linea alba, legs and armpits. I spent years eliminating hair with shaving creams (ugh, I hated their chemical smell!) and razor, and hating even more (and hiding) the hair I didn’t feel like removing (on my belly, hands and arms). Did I feel more beautiful, more accepted by my classmates or a better person? Not at all, but the simple idea of being less hairy made me feel less freakish. Years have passed since then and life has taught me that self-confidence doesn’t come from the amount of hair you have on your body or from the amount of hair that you remove from it. Being free to decide what is best for you seems an unattainable goal for most women and this can be applied to all the fields where women should be the only ones to take a decision – abortion, birth control, education, being a single mother, breastfeeding and more. Being hairy or not should not depend on social influences, but unfortunately we know it does. This is what I’m worried about when it comes to B: will she decide for herself or will she be influenced by what others think is right for her? Some may consider it a trivial thing, but I think it’s not, because I can see how stifling society can be about body image. What is the image of the socially accepted woman presented by the media? Always young, slim, kind, submissive, ready to take care of old people and children, flirty, sexy, hyperactive, with no body hair (the porn-star model rules) or white hair. I don’t feel that condemning what people want to do to their bodies is right; of course I often criticise those who change their face features with implants or Botox, but who am I to condemn their choices? At the same time, this world would be a happy place if people stopped modifying their bodies because that’s what they’re supposed to do or because anybody else is doing it. What is good or right for others is not necessarily the same for you, but are our minds free enough to discern the difference?

I know B will have to deal with this image and she will surely wonder which road to take. I feel it’s my duty to show her you can be happy even if your body doesn’t conform to the rule (I think I’m an excellent example of this ;)) and I hope this will help her to go through the path of building her own body image. I would hate to see her suffer because she thinks she’s not “right”, but I guess that’s one of the trials that life puts in our path. The (mental) freedom of a person and his/her self-assurance is a long and sometimes painful process, but maybe knowing it’s your right to have more than one option can help.

[1] Here you can read an excellent consideration on the same theme.

Source.

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10 comments

  1. I agree, being exposed to different ways of thinking is the key. Focussing on body hair, you picked a perfect example. A young woman nowadays may be led to think that shaving one’s pubes is a nearly compulsory routine, which I find amusing because even when I was young that wasn’t an issue, and any classic example of nude photography from the 20s to the 80s can show different kinds of body beauty (same goes for the weight issue).

    1. You’re right: when we were young it wasn’t an issue at all. It’s true that beauty standards (what is considered ordinary or common) change, but I personally don’t approve of total body waxing or Brazilian waxing because it’s something I would never do. I support my choice but what is important – I think – is making B aware of the fact that she has a choice just like anyone else. The point is that the media dictatorship is so extensive and subtle that we are hardly aware of it. I wouldn’t want her to believe that the only way of being a woman is by respecting those standards.

    1. I’m appalled. I’ve seen other teasing/over-sexualized campaigns of American Apparel, but this is disgusting. Women are portrayed mostly pantiless, because they’re just baits/sex toys for men, right? These images perfectly sum up the worst stereotypes on women. I wonder why women still buy AA clothes. I would totally boycott the brand for this reason.

  2. Yes, I know, who likes this, one wonders. But sadly, many boys grow up learning to objectify women. I feel sad for both girls and boys. Right now, there is a huge facebook-campagne in Sweden about the sexist view on women. It all started with someone poiting out that facebook is blocking images of anatomically correct drawings of the vagina, but fb does allow a lot of sexist photos of women, bad jokes about women etc. So now, there is a kind of uprising, questioning this. I hope it raises more awareness and that it makes more young (or not so young) girls find there strength to question the sexist image of women. Right now, the people behind who started this campagne are translating the message to English, so it’s spreading. Yay!

    1. I’m glad an awareness campaign has started in Sweden (thanks for the link!), but I’m sad because I thought your country was more respectful of women. In Italy sexist jokes and sexism in general are more than tolerated, but I’ve realized such an attitude towards women and their objectification in the media is a problem larger than expected. The Swedish campaign, which starts from Facebook images and advertising pics, perfectly explains the situation. Facebook policy, in particular, is disgusting: it promptly removes pics of women breastfeeding babies, for example, but seems to be not so swift in removing posts and pictures which instigate and justifies violence against women and slut shaming. And what is worse, many people (especially youngsters) don’t have the critical tools to understand that this is bad and disturbing.

  3. Se la natura c ha riempito di peli un motivo c sarà …
    Ovvietà a parte sono disgustata da American Apparel,non che non mi fossi già accorta della cosa ma il post segnalato qui sopra…accidenti.
    A.

    1. Esatto. I peli proteggono, da che mondo e mondo, sia uomini che animali, eppure c’è chi sostiene che peli=sporco…

      Su quella campagna di AA (e su molte altre dello stesso e di altri brand) provo un profondo disgusto. Non è neanche indignazione, ma proprio voglia di sostenere un boicottaggio in piena regola, che comunque penso esista già.

  4. As a child I used to be a bit scared by body hair and obvious physical signs of adulthood in general. I tended to prefer young, lean, androgynous people, I found them aesthetically reassuring. Later as a teenager I didn’t really hate my body hair, I would just get rid of it without giving it a second thought. I used to play tennis and I actually liked to show up on the court in a neat white outfit. A (male) friend of mine used to be quite a competitive gymnast at the time and he shaved as well.

    So it wasn’t really an issue. I was basically conforming to social expectations, true, but not specifically because I was a woman. And anyway, I had to no time to worry about body hair, I was too busy hating acne 😉

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