Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Reclaiming our Bodies: A Call to Action

Feminism is, at the very basic, the advocacy for women’s rights in regard to social, economic and political equality to men. However, it has always included so much more. Historically, it has been an extremely important liberation crusade for all races, classes, genders and sexes. This monumental movement has been the workhorse for so much wonderful change that has occurred, however, there is still work to do. It is here that I see a loud call-to-action for my generation. We didn’t fight decades for the 19th Amendment to grant women the right to vote or stand up with Sojourner Truth for black liberation, but there are still battles to be won. Our cause is not over. As women, in order to continue our progression, we have to unify together, especially on causes that affect other women, our mothers, our sisters, our friends, our daughters, our nieces, the most.

Sexual objectification occurs whenever a person is viewed, evaluated, reduced to, and/or treated by others as merely a body, and has been identified as especially harmful to women.” (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) Though both women and men suffer from sexual objectification on a regular basis, women’s bodies, of all races and classes, take the forefront in the media and bare the most abuse. The psychological harm that follows as a consequence to such abuse is undeniable and intensely damaging. But it doesn’t stop there. As women are continually subject to sexual objectification, they begin to engage in their own sort of abuse. Self-objectification is the psychological process that occurs when women internalize the objectifying perspective of an observer in regards to their bodies and become chronic “self-monitors” of their own physical appearance. (Calogero, R. M., Davis, W. N., & Thompson, J. K, 2005) This can lead to psychologically distancing themselves from their bodies, negative attitudes and experiences with their bodies, and furthermore, body shame, anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction and disordered eating. (Calogero, R. M., 2005)

How can we stand by and watch these consequences unfold? How can we do nothing to change it? “Making matters worse, the mass media’s proliferation of sexualized images of the female body is fast and thorough. Confrontations with these images, then, are virtually unavoidable in American culture. In sum, the sexual objectification of the female body has clearly permeated our culture milieu; it is likely to affect most girls and women to some degree, no matter who their actual social contacts may be.” (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) These are issues that affect all of us.

Eliminating both sexual and self-objectification is no small fete, but it can be done. Collectively, we have to demand respect from others as well as respect ourselves. One person cannot make the change; it has to be a united front, a unified effort to stop our society from engaging in and glorifying these degrading acts of emotional violence.

Body shaming is the abhorrent and disgusting “trend” to have surfaced in the last couple years and focuses on making people feel bad about their bodies. Once again, women seem to be the main target, despite race, sexual orientation or class. Whether it’s about their dress size, chest size, height or quality of their looks, women are being attacked daily. “The negative emotion of shame occurs when people evaluate themselves relative to some internalized or cultural ideal and come up short…shame generates an intense desire to hide, to escape to painful gaze of others, or to disappear, alongside feelings of worthlessness and powerlessness.” (Fredrickson & Roberts, 2007)

“Shaming” is everywhere and it needs to stop. We have allowed this to go on for too long. We cannot afford to continue to let ourselves and other women be subject to such harmful acts. We have to stand up for ourselves. We are not worthless and we are not powerless. We can change the world so that the next generation, our daughters and nieces don’t grow up hating their bodies. We can do that for them. We can make a difference. We can reclaim our bodies.

And it starts with each of us. Instead of focusing so much energy on negative and hurtful campaigns, we should be actively engaged in lifting each other up, not tearing each other down. There is so much untapped power in positivity if we only lay down our weapons of hate.

As Julia Serano wrote in Whipping Girl (2007), “it is downright sexist…to require [us] to live up to certain societally dictated ideals regarding appearance”. People should be accepted based on who they are as individuals, not how they stack up against what our society or culture deems as “acceptable”; furthering this action will only lead to more harm. We are who we are and we should own that. We have merit in who we are, not just our bodies, but our hearts and our minds. We should revel in our individuality, not hide from it. We should love our bodies, not hate them. There are reciprocal affects when we empower those around us, for we will also empower ourselves.

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