Since I am not a) a trans person and therefore b) not every single trans person, I don’t know whether this is everyone’s experience. However, I had a conversation with a friend today who identifies as genderqueer. She said two things about body image that I found very striking:
1. She would love to be skinnier, because it would make her look more androgynous.
2. She does not identify with her boobs.
First of all, I want to thank her for opening up about a personal issue that I never hear discussed. It’s hard to share your personal experience with an unknown audience that might not be receptive. I’d like to make two separate points.
First, my feminist worldview provides me with both an eye to look out for issues that disproportionately affect women, and therefore, a vocabulary that limits me to talking about the world in terms of men vs. women, ignoring the experiences of people outside the binary.
I have never claimed that men are not affected by society’s fat hatred. A common trope is that men want to bulk up in order to fit the masculine beauty ideal, but there are plenty of men out there who are losing or trying to lose weight. But I do think that women are disproportionately affected by the fat stigma. Women’s bodies tend to be curvier, softer, tend to store fat more easily. Women are also more bombarded with beauty-related information and are under more pressure to conform to a beauty standard.
I can trace society’s association between androgyny and thinness – men’s bodies, though not necessarily thin, have neither big boobs nor hips. Have you spotted this androgynous young hipster?
|(Credit to iloveyounonetheless.wordpress.com)|
|(Courtesy of qwear.com)|
Maybe this one?
You just do you, Patti Smith. No matter what I love you forever.
But just as there are men of all shapes and sizes, there are androgynous people of all shapes and sizes, too, who are constantly forced to navigate through a world of people who don’t understand their gender identity and will never be able to “read” them the way they feel.
And my friend’s point shows this blogger that all people, not just people who identify as women, experience a pressure to look thin. For all kinds of reasons.
The second point – the feeling of not identifying with her boobs – felt more personal to me. I believe she was referring to her confusion at seeing her boobs in the mirror, and her aversion to being reminded of their existence. (And it ties in with wanting to be skinnier – a skinnier body means less boobs.)
The experiences of the gender-variant are tough to fathom. The gender binary is even more deeply ingrained into society than fat hatred. Every single piece of clothing, every job, toy, and emotion in this world is gendered.
|(Thank you, socimages)|
But I will be so presumptuous to say that I can relate with the feeling of being confused by the body I see in the mirror. Both gender-variant people looking for people of their gender, and women trying to escape the stigmatization of fat, don’t see bodies that look like theirs in magazines, movies, and other media. Of course, gender-variant people have gender issues to think about in addition to their body issues. But when I look in the mirror, I am confused that my body is not thinner.
These forms of media reinforce the idea that women’s bodies that aren’t thin don’t exist, unless they belong to a wacky aunt. Mainstream main characters don’t have paunchy little bellies or uneven breasts or big calves. Women in advertisements have perfectly glowing skin, delicately curving backs, narrow shoulders.
Then the ads target me. Everything about me that is different is an imperfection. Newspaper articles come out with tips on getting a flat stomach. Eating certain superfoods will make my legs more shapely.
And then, we talk, talk, talk about it, silently comparing our bodies to each others’ and trying to one-up each other with our own body-related complaints.