Tag Archives: body image
Bakker forgets the barriers to exercise that some people encounter. Due to the construction going on, I cannot take walks on grounds unaccompanied anymore. I cannot navigate the busy gym during fitness class. If I want to bike, I need to go on a tandem. I cannot participate in my institution’s running therapy program. None of this is due to anxiety. All of it is due to my disabilities, and the barriers to access that stand in the way.
Body shame is a great tool of kyriarchy and we often get it from our mothers first, as we learn how bodies can be reduced to a collection of parts and how those parts can be ranked in order of acceptability. Thighs and bums, boobs and upper arms, back-fat and belly-rolls can all be prodded and critiqued, despaired over, disparaged, loathed. This is often a social activity, too. Who doesn’t love normalising misogyny over a cup of tea and a (low calorie) biscuit while the kids play in the next room?
As I mentioned earlier, I have “good days” and “bad days.” On bad days, it becomes more difficult to manage my autism, while on good days I make use of a variety of strategies that make it difficult for most people who know me to guess that I am in any way different. In this post, I will describe the techniques I use on my good days, of which today was one. I remind you that my form of Asperger’s is pretty severe, which means that not everybody who has it needs to go through a similar routine.
there are so many times when i feel deep resentment for the mobility that (most) nondisabled people our age have. not physical mobility as in moving your arms, but the privilege of being able to move through the world so easily. never having to ask permission. never being dependent on access their support systems provide. never worrying about where they will stay, how they will get around, or who will hire them if they need cash.
After a year-long consultative effort, the WHO document proposes 16 recommendations on how to improve the recruitment and retention of health workers in underserved areas. You can see what they are at the bottom of this post (only one of the recommendations relates to financial incentives).
Finally, this week — September 13-19th — is National Invisible Illness Awareness Week in the U.S. You can find out more by visiting the NIIAW website.
A reader wrote in to Emily Yoffe at Dear Prudence this week with the following:
My 7-year-old daughter is smart, pretty, and fun. Her father is of Hispanic descent, and he’s gorgeous, but he has a lot of thick, black body hair—including a “unibrow,” which he’s plucked since he was a teenager. Our daughter has inherited his thick, dark hair and my fair skin, and I’m shocked to see that her coarse eyebrows are starting to grow together—downy hairs are appearing across the bridge of her nose. She is beautiful, but her eyebrows bother me. Her 10-year-old cousin has a shockingly thick unibrow, and she came home in tears because her classmates teased her. She took a razor to her face and ended up cutting herself badly. I don’t want any of this to happen to my daughter, but I’m disgusted with myself for having such a reaction to a few stray hairs. Showing my daughter pictures of Frida Kahlo and talking to her about inner beauty will be worse than a lie, since I’m obviously bothered by her eyebrows! I’ve been tempted to look into electrolysis down the road, but what kind of maternal instinct is that?
Given that we live in a culture that views body hair on women as one of the most atrocious aesthetic offenses ever, it’s not terribly surprising that Mom has internalised harmful attitudes about body hair, and I commend her for recognising the social pressures influencing the way she’s viewing her daughter’s eyebrows. She also raises a really important point; as much as we talk about body positivity and acceptance, young girls with bodies that don’t meet society’s standards are still abused for it, and sometimes they injure (or kill themselves) in pursuit of beauty. Mom clearly feels conflicted here. She obviously wants to protect her daughter, while also addressing the oppressive beauty standards that surround her daughter’s body and the way she feels about her daughter’s looks. This is a tough letter to answer.
So, how did Yoffe respond?
Of course it’s superficial to worry over a few hairs. But humans are very superficial; in this country alone, we spend billions trying to either remove hair or grow it. Given the hirsute dynasties from which my daughter is descended, when I first held my darling in my arms and gazed on her mass of black hair, I whispered to her, “Don’t worry, baby girl, I will take care of you when the time comes to get some of your hair removed.” When I allowed her to get her eyebrows waxed the first time (she had been begging), it was a bonding experience to hold her hand while the deed was done. But she was a teenager by then, and, as you say, your daughter is only 7 years old. Right now the incipient unibrow is visible only to the close observer, or as T.S. Eliot wrote, “But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!” But the trajectory of her cousin is a warning. If your child has an easily fixed cosmetic problem, it’s best to avoid her wanting to take a razor to her face. Fortunately, today a little girl with a brow like Bert the Muppet can have it transformed almost instantly into something more like Brooke Shields. This article describes the growing trend for getting young girls with moustaches and heavy brows zapped with a cosmetic laser. I suggest for now that you stop counting hairs and relax. As the brow fills in, or she starts complaining that other kids comment on it, you can say that she has eyebrows just like Daddy. Explain that he takes some of his out with a tweezer, but you’re going to do something better for her that will mean the extra hair is gone for a long time or maybe forever. It’s OK, Mom, that you want a clear path for your daughter’s inner beauty to shine.
‘I really feel ya! My daughter has gross body hair too! Good thing we have lasers now, isn’t it!’
You know, I read that article at the Times too, and what I got out of it was not ‘hooray!’ but rather ‘wow, this is really awful, that social pressures about beauty and acceptable bodies are leading girls to get cosmetic procedures to modify themselves at younger and younger ages.’ The whole ‘Skin Deep’ series is a deeply disturbing look at the way our society views women and girls.
Why is Daughter’s hair a ‘problem,’ Prudie? Why is your entire response framed as ‘don’t worry, there’s an easy fix for this’? Why is there absolutely nothing in it about adult women who choose to wear their body hair as is? About letting Daughter make her own choices about her body hair? Why is it assumed that of course Daughter will want to wax her eyebrows when she’s older? Isn’t that basically setting her up to hate her body? Won’t she be getting enough of those messages from the people outside her home? Her mom obviously wants to be supportive of her, and clearly wants to counter some of these attitudes.
You know, I have a mustache. It’s pretty fine, so you probably wouldn’t notice it unless you were in one on one conversation with me. I like my mustache, and I pretty much always have. In fact, sometimes I wish it were thicker. Sure, I got shit for it when I was younger, but I just quoted Rita Mae Brown: ‘I like my mustache! It makes me look distinguished.’ I probably came home upset a few times, and my dad didn’t say ‘you know, I shave my face, but I can do something better for you and get it lasered off.’ He said ‘fuck ’em.’
Now, I’m not saying Mom has to take that particular approach, but it would be awfully nice if Prudence hadn’t jumped right to body hatred; why not talk about Frida Kahlo, who made amazing art and wrote great things about her relationship with her body? Why not present other models of women accepting their body hair, and why not talk about how social attitudes lead to a stigma about thick eyebrows on women? Yes, a young girl who is being tormented for having thick eyebrows probably will want to remove them, and I certainly don’t blame her for that, but when the conversation at home starts with ‘we can fix it!’ and a reinforcement of harmful beauty standards, how is that good for her? My father was able to have a conversation with me at age seven about the social attitudes surrounding definitions of beauty, after all, and he made it clear he’d support me either way.
These are complicated things to navigate. There are lots of adult women who do not like their body hair, for a wide variety of reasons, and who choose to remove it, also for a wide variety of reasons. This letter troubles me because I feel like Prudence is completely discounting the idea that maybe Daughter should be raised with an open mind so that she can make decisions about her own body. Fighting oppressive beauty standards happens on a lot of fronts, and one of them should be in conversations with young women and girls.
Submissions for advice columns you’d like to see deconstructed (or celebrated) are always welcome: meloukhia at disabledfeminists dot com
If you are born differently abled, the state of your body is absolutely normal to you but if you come to this identity after being fully abled, it is a loss. I think that it is important to acknowledge this for exactly what it is. I have had doctors tell me that this is not healthy or normal. I have been encouraged to medicate myself into a false state of happiness. Being sad makes people uncomfortable and to own this sadness as completely as I do, even more so.
The woman that I was four years ago is gone forever. The woman that I thought that I would become ten years from now will never appear. This is a loss and it is traumatic. I have only lost one person in this life who was close to me and dealing with this disabled identity is very much the same sort of feeling. It is natural to mourn and this does not mean that you do not accept or love your new identity; it means that the person you were before was also of value.
Do not start with ‘but she’s not mad, she’s autistic’. This is not the moment for comparing isms and/or deciding that neurological disabilities deserve more or less stigma than psychiatric ones. For the moment, please, let’s lump them all in the same category, under ‘things causing one to be locked in a loony bin so that no one has to see us’.
This episode disrespects people like Amanda. Do not argue that it’s different because this is a special *space* madness that doesn’t follow the normal rules of psychiatry or neurology. It’s not, it’s playing on the same tropes human beings have been playing with since madness was *invented*. They made it a special space madness so they had an excuse to drag out those tropes and wallow in them without conflicting with contemporary knowledge of the realities of mental illness, post-traumatic stress, etc.
With this Steam-Powered Prosthetic Arm, I Could Be As Strong as… A Normal Person [Note: This post has some problematic content, such as using the term “wheelchair bound”, but overall I think it’s interesting and worth reading.]
Steampunk, as we all are aware, draws its inspiration from the Victorian era, which, for all its accomplishments, wasn’t very good to people with disabilities. Halifax, where I live, has a few Heritage Houses, many of which were built during the era, and it doesn’t take much to see that most of them are wheelchair-inaccessible. By and large, disability issues fall off the steampunk radar. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any steampunks with disabilities. Out of curiousity, I put out feelers on Brass Goggles.
In fact, there are quite a few, and disabilities don’t really stop anybdy — Mark F. has been living with chronic muscle and join pain for 30 years (plus osteoarthritis; we should note that for many, it’s never just one illness, but a whole clusterfuck of problems which exacerbate each other), and yet has managed to refurbish an entire work cubicle, among other projects. Many other steampunks with disabilities also involve themselves with the physical side of steampunk: DIY, costuming, conventioneering.
*WARNINGS apply to this post – descriptions of assault and abuse of people with disabilities, including sexual abuse*
In the news:
In an eleventh-hour intervention, Alan Johnson told MPs that he had “stopped the clock” on proceedings to give Mr McKinnon’s lawyers time to consider medical reports and make legal representations.
Mr McKinnon, 43, from Wood Green, North London, suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. He says that his hacking of Pentagon computers was nothing more than him searching for reports of UFO sightings.
Feel free to send me anything you think I’d like to look at to firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m writing this four days before you’ll see it. (I write most of my posts from the past, due to my schedule.) I mention this so people know that I’m not ignoring recent posts, I’m just not seeing them yet.
Disability & Desire: The Dance of the Heart – This is a pointer link. The actual article is PDF.
From the article:
In 1996, at the age of 24, I found myself in hospital, with empty walls and broken dreams colouring my days. My partner at the time, Janine Clayton, and I were caught up in local taxi violence in Cape Town, South Africa, with members of rival taxi organisations firing at each other. The driver of the taxi we were in died, and my spine was severed by a bullet. My body told me long before doctors had the courage to admit it. I was paralysed from the chest down. During those endless afternoons with little else than my mind to entertain me, I contemplated the extent of my loss. Perhaps what struck me deepest at the time was my conviction that I would never be desired or loved again. I felt that my body had become damaged goods, my sexuality erased.
As time went by, I began to dismantle my perceptions by analsying their origins. I recognised that my mental picture of a person with a disability was that of someone in need of care, someone to be pitied, someone who certainly had no real claim to love or any kind of fulfilling life. The basis of my beliefs was largely informed by society’s consensus on people with disabilities … these were people who were mostly invisible, unless as beggars on the street or patients
What matters, then, is what you do with what you call facts, experiences, truths and ideas. It’s how you handle your perspectives on gender, race, ethnicity, class, and disability. It’s the way that you align the facts (or not) with societal preconceptions about those who are somehow “different.”
It doesn’t matter whether or not you, personally, don’t share the stigmatizing impulses that lead to discrimination and hatred; members of your audience most certainly do. As an artist/performer/writer/…, you have a responsibility to treat those facts in such a way that you don’t perpetuate the beliefs that enable harm. You might even take on the responsibility to change the way that people think and act. Or, then again, perhaps not.
We would never expect the average able bodied person to push themselves to the point of pain to participate in a public event. Whether I am watching my son play hockey or considering taking my boys to the Santa Claus parade, I must consider how much pain I am able to live with to participate. Differently abled parents are no different than able bodied parents. We want to be a part of our children’s lives and yet the barriers that exist often make this impossible.
Those that parent with a disability also bear the social stigma of being unfit. Social services has intervened on many occasions because of questions about our ability to parent. Disablism in this case is supported by concern for the children. It never occurs to many, that if the world were more accessible, that there would be no reason for concern. The fault is not with the body in question but with the makeup of the world.
Friday morning the group I was with wound up discussing a scenario of tension between the demands of being healthy and the desire to live life. I’d love to have both good health and the ability to pattern my life in the manner I want. I don’t. (And I would argue that none of us really do.) I live in a body that will experience pain if I try to do too much. I consider myself lucky to know about where that line lies. And sometimes I choose to push and bring extra pain meds. And sometimes I choose not to push and to be pain free. There’s no magic formula. I try to balance the life I want against what I expect the physical costs of extreme activity to be.
I’d like to present some links that could be useful further reading on these topics….
The first one is from The Perorations of Lady Bracknell. She addresses some really common misconceptions about the social and medical models. Her article is useful for people new to these ideas, many people not new to them, and especially anyone who has ever believed that the social model means impairments don’t cause problems on their own, or that the medical model is the model that good medical professionals ought to use. The link is Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.
Then there’s some things by a writer named Cal Montgomery. She’s cognitively and physically disabled, but has been pressured by physically disabled people to pass as purely physically disabled (the same thing happens to me sometimes). She frequently criticizes the entire concept of “invisible disability”, saying that it makes it sound like the “invisibility” is happening as a trait of the disabled person rather than a lack of understanding in the particular observer. I see very few other people tackling that idea and I think she’s absolutely correct. She talks about it in a lot of places, but her two best articles on the topic are A Hard Look At Invisible Disability and Tangled in the Invisibility Cloak.
I’ve been challenged enough (told I’m making crap up, basically) when I say that autistic people who can pass for non-autistic are usually visible if you understand what to look for, that at one point I got fed up when writing a post that dealt with that, and wrote up a detailed description of precisely what combinations of things are visible to me that are invisible to people who have no idea what to look for. (I then got criticized for writing a “DIY autie-spotting guide”, but that was absolutely not my intention. I was just trying to be concrete about something to avoid being accused of lying.) For people who have trouble imagining how something could be invisible to them but visible to people who know what to look for, this post I wrote might be useful. (Note that I use a lot of terms in it to refer to other people’s perceptions, that I would never use myself.)
If you have links you think are relevant, don’t hesitate to email me: email@example.com Please note my schedule means I may not see your email for a few days.
this is new to me. this idea that i should love my body. not hate it.
it’s funny, because i was about to say “this isn’t a post about body image.” but it is, isn’t it?
let’s cut to the point. i’m not talking about beauty standards.
i’m talking about my body. this physical thing.
i need to stop hating that physical thing.
it works differently. it doesn’t work like your body.
but that doesn’t make it bad.
this is hard to grasp. i don’t like this idea.
but maybe it’s better that i respect my body, and how it functions, than malign it, and Other it, and see myself as working against it.
maybe i need to see my body as that physical thing that is trying to help me be everything i want to be.
maybe i need to understand that i just have to interact differently with my body to accomplish that.
and that is not bad. that doesn’t make me Less Than. that doesn’t even make me different — or it shouldn’t, anyway.
maybe the problem is that i have been so indoctrinated into this culture that i can’t even see myself as just being – it’s always how different i am from the “normal” “healthy” body.
you know what, dammit, my body is “healthy.” my body is damn well fucking “normal” for me. when i understand how to work with it? i live a pretty damn nice life.
but the culture i live in doesn’t allow for that view. the culture i live in says that my body is not only different, but different in a bad way, because it doesn’t let me live my life like a normal person does.
i have a lot to work on, here.
revelation: i wouldn’t have such a hard fucking time learning how to work with my body if my culture hadn’t taught me to expect to be The Norm. if my culture hadn’t taught me that if you look like you’re fully-abled, then you must be. if my culture hadn’t taught me that if it doesn’t show up in the bloodwork or the ultrasound then it doesn’t exist. if my culture hadn’t taught me that my pain is simply pathology. if my culture hadn’t taught me about welfare queens and “milking the system.” if my culture hadn’t taught me that disability is both scary and pathetic.
…maybe i just need to understand that this is how my body works and damn it all, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that — the fact that there is anything “wrong” is a sign of a fucked up culture — not of a fucked up body.
…the person who believes ‘I will be real when I am normal’ will always be almost a person, but will never make it all the way.
We have been told all our lives that to be accepted, to be successful, to be a whole person, we have to be “normal.”
And so we strive to change ourselves such that we resemble normalcy.
But it is a rare bird that can adapt itself to living in the water — or fish that can adapt itself to fly.1
Respect your body and your mind. They operate how they operate, and there is no need to change that, not for anyone’s sake. It is not a deficiency. It does not make you lesser. It is not deviancy. It is what you are, and it is good for you.
People on the outside will be uncomfortable with the implications of such a weird and different body (mind) being a good thing, because we have all been indoctrinated into the cult of dominance, where what dominates is Good and Right, and anything that is not the same is Bad and Wrong. It manifests itself in so many different ways even for the same differences. But that is the root of it.
To outsiders, the idea that what you are is definitionally good, because it is good for you, a different person, is disturbing. To outsiders, it says that then, what they are must be bad. And those who think that way will therefore reject you as a person, differences and all.
But there is a different way. There is a way built, fundamentally, on respect. On allowing one another to be what we are, and finding joy in what results. On knowing that when a person falters trying to live in this society, it should not be chalked up to the fact that they are different, but to the fact that society has failed to plan for anything but the dominant, and will then fail in trying to accommodate anything else.
It rests on, again, seeing a person and thinking not: burden, but: potential.
On seeing that person, and recognizing them as a person.
We should all be prepared to accommodate differences, even when it means a change or an extra effort. We should be prepared for this, because we expect as much already from those we are failing to accommodate. We already expect them to change their very being to be able to accommodate how we operate. So we should not protest when we are called upon to open our minds, to change how we think, to change what we do. After all, at least we are not being asked to change what we are.
- I hesitated with this metaphor. I was afraid of the implications. The usual stuff, that pwd are of an entirely different species, that pwd are animals, that pwd are at base un-understandable and therefore nobody should even try. (”We are nearer still when we know we don’t have to understand somebody to know he is real.”) But at the same time, I don’t want to shy away from the implication that we are not all the same. That is what we are pushing to accept. Everyone approaches the world in hir own way, and that is ok, and we don’t all have to come from the same place to be able to travel together. ↩
Perhaps this is the wrong question. Instead, I propose: What is there to heal?
Healing is the process of a body, having been injured in some way, doing what it takes to restore itself to normalcy. Merriam-Webster says, specifically, “to make sound or whole” and “to restore to original purity or integrity.”
Take note of the words I have highlighted. What are they saying?
This cultural idea of healing, applied to a person’s spirit rather than body, draws upon the idea of an abnormal body being made “normal.” It assumes that any person not normal should be made normal.
But there are all sorts of bodies in this world. Bodies with broken bones, broken skin, disfigured limbs, faces, with cuts and gashes and wounds, missing limbs, missing organs, organs which work in abnormal ways — according to our cultural norms.
And, much the same, there are all sorts of people in this world. People who have survived assault and abuse, been subject to violence, faced trauma, been manipulated or neglected, dealt with addictions, lost loved ones. People who have experienced any number of things which cause them significant distress.
These people are expected to “heal” from their experience. They go through a modest amount of time processing the event emotionally and then return to normal.
But why should they be made normal?
Why should any broken person be pushed and pressured into a form which does not fit?
Why is it that a person who is anything other than normal is therefore less than whole?
Why can’t a person simply be who they are, even if they are injured or broken or disfigured, and still be considered a whole person?
Any person who has faced trauma will need to find ways to process their trauma, ways to cope, ways to live with what has changed in their life. But that person should not have to push hirself to go back to how things once were — or to make things resemble what they are for a person who has not faced that trauma. Things may be different. There is not only one way to live a life. There are many. And perhaps you will settle into a different one — one which works better for who you are now — which may not have worked for who you were before. And that way is no less right.
What do you do when life changes? You adapt. You make things fit you. You don’t make you fit everything else.
It’s ok to be broken. Being broken does not make you less than whole. It makes you different. And that’s ok.