I have been thinking lately in the female body: object of foreign narratives and appropriations to their geography
Who decides what is right to say about a woman’s body? The correct answer is the most logical: The same woman who has something to say, of course. But things are not like that in real life. In everyday life, women still do not have the right to create and elaborate on a rhetoric about our own bodies. Rather, it is still subject to the rhetoric of others.
Rhetoric of Oppression
To speak of rhetoric, in this case, is to speak of the discourses, narratives and representations that dominate the bodies of women. In general, these rhetorics say that if a woman exposes any of the parts of her body that are considered sexually attractive, it is because she seeks sex. If she is covered, she is a modest and timid woman. A woman wearing a suit is considered “fit”, while another wearing a miniskirt is an easy girl in search of “action”. A woman who covers her breasts is a serious woman. A woman who does not, is not and has to endure the “compliments.”
Why? Who defines this?
The truth is that, even after many years of struggle, even though women have gained recognition of many of our rights, we still cannot speak of ourselves in the real terms we would like. We still do not have the right to dress as we want without being labeled or receiving social judgments about intentions, lifestyle and options, according to how many yards of cloth we choose to cover ourselves with or not.
The Body as a Foreigner
The rhetoric of oppression turns our bodies into strangers– they not only divide us into saints and sinners. In addition, they program us to reject our corporeality so that we feel ashamed of their fluids– to hide it when it is striking, to suffocate it in the abjection and to violate it with girdles, injections, diets, several plastics. Anyway, to hate our bodies cordially.
What is the problem with the skin, with the nakedness, with the scars, fat and sagged zones? In my opinion, it is related to the cultural conception of the body of the woman as object functional to patriarchy whose primordial mission is, first and foremost, to always look young, beautiful, turgid and available. That which does not please the “other dominant” body is shamed. We women have to look at our bodies in order to see what it is about them that doesn’t please our master and to feel shame in our bodies’ functions, sensations, capacity for pleasure and political potential.
If we hate our bodies, it will be harder to claim them as our own and easier to accept violence against them.
This system needs us to hate ourselves. This way it is easier to control us. The self-esteem of the body is political. It triggers processes of autonomy, of the narratives of corporeality. It is a focus of resistance to patriarchy and creates space to build new stories about our bodies and own them.
The Body is Political
The problem is not with the body itself, but with its quality of political territory. By this I mean that what concerns the Patriarchy and the powers that benefit from it, is not that we have breasts, uteri or vaginas, but what that means– the problem is to declare that we do not “have” bodies but WE ARE bodies that completely BELONG to us in a society where the State, the Media, the Institutions and the androcentric Religion tell us that we have a FOREIGN body that should be controlled, should be the property of motherhood, heteronormativity, the health system, science, marriage and gender policy.
A woman making decisions, building herself, with enough courage to assume who she is, discarding the conventions and permissions of others in order to define herself, talking through her body as much as she desires to, without giving explanations to anyone, is a problem for a culture based on mechanisms of hegemonic suppression and domination.
For years I wanted to be thin, to feel pretty and be accepted. Two years ago this assumed belief that I needed to be thin to be pretty so I can be accepted enabled painful abuse. I let the abuse go on because I thought I didn’t deserve better. I am a chubby girl you know, so any kind of attention, even if is the wrong one, was something for which to be grateful. That’s what I was groomed to believe during decades of acculturation.
Since I came to South Africa this second time around, I started to explore the surroundings by myself. Seeing ladies in all shapes and shades, occupying public spaces proudly, led me to discover that the concepts of “too much” or “too little” are constructed and forced on us but don’t exist as facts. I knew this, but I haven’t owned it.
Same with my body. I knew I had one, but I haven’t owned it. This summer, after 20 years, I came back to the beach in a swimsuit to swim; a pleasure that I had denied to myself because I thought I didn’t have right to, since I supposedly did not have the “right size” body for a bikini.
I decided to quit my everlasting, never-met promise of starting the next diet on the next Monday. Instead, I began to talk with my body– rather, to listen to my body, to be kind with myself, to tell myself how much I love me; to congratulate myself for my achievements and to put boundaries around other people’s fuckery. And as long my relationship with my body changes, my link with myself, others and the world, changes. As long these changes happen with no suffering, no rush from my part, I feel the layers of that traumatic rhetoric of oppression falling little by little.
I don’t want to be thin anymore. I want to be grateful.
The claiming of our bodies as political territory is central. When I say this I am not talking only about sexuality and the decisions that concern it. I mean that our whole life passes through our body: sensual pleasure, pain, hunger, but also ideas, time, rights, laws and religion. Everything happens in the body. No person has yet experienced anything outside the human body. Everything, even the dreams or visions we have, we experience in our bodies. Owning our bodies is owning out lives. A lively life is a talking body.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente works in community development, gender equality, and communication for social change. She has led initiatives for women’s empowerment in Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Morocco, and South Africa. As a Gender Justice advocate with a broad scope of interests, she is a social and digital entrepreneur committed to the strengthening of grass roots organizations and the development of an independent pathway of thinking, research, and academic writing around Gender, Politics, and Religion. Loyal lover of books, cats and spicy chai.