Tuesday, January 8, 2013

In which I think about bodies

My colleague has an eight-year-old daughter who worries about having fat thighs.

Let's pause to contemplate this.  She's eight.  She's active--she rides her bike and hikes with her dad--and she's skinny.  And so what if she wasn't skinny... (a) that would be fine and (b) she's eight.

This kid isn't a woman yet, won't be for years, and she's already dealing with the pernicious body-consciousness that women face.  She knows the standard, and she knows she doesn't measure up.

What she doesn't know yet is that it's a fucked-up standard, and that no one measures up.  The most beautiful women in the world don't even measure up.  Tabloid headlines find imperfections in Jennifer Lawrence, Michelle Obama, Jennifer Lopez.  How's a kid supposed to read that?

I really want to fight this standard.  I want beauty to not even be a standard.  I want beauty to be a grace note, something we can enjoy and celebrate, but not a job we have to do, not a price of entry.

How does this tie into writing?  I think it goes along with committing to diversity in general.  Speculative fiction, like romance, has a lot of examples of princessy female characters whose worth is partly situated in their beauty, and while I don't at all want people to stop writing beauty if that's what moves them, I feel a need to go out of my way to write characters whose relationship with beauty is complicated.

I don't want to forget that beauty can't be separated from sex and class and race and every other axis of oppression.  I don't want to forget that beauty and its lack can both be used as weapons, especially against women.

And I don't ever, ever want to leave a kid feeling like there's something wrong with her thighs.

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