I have about a half a post written about language and how fuzzy it is, and in particular as regards women’s bodies. I think it’s akin to the way the word ‘socialist’ and ‘liberal’ has been hijacked by the right in America. They now mean things completely divorced from the original, specific meanings of the word. I’m sure there are plenty of more Australian or general examples, but those are the two that jump out at me all the time, since I find them so jarring. Especially since we have the big-L Liberals over here.
I think mostly it’s all tied up in the weird morality games we play with bodies. Salad is ‘good’, pizza is ‘bad’. (As one Shapely Prose commenter put it ‘it’s pizza for lunch, not genocide’*) Fat doesn’t really mean fat – it means ugly, disgusting, unhealthy, unlovable, unworthy. It doesn’t refer to how much we weigh, or our mass or our hip measurements, it’s about how we look – which is why a skinny girl can say ‘omg I am so fat!’ (code: I look ugly) and in the next breath assure someone like me ‘but you’re not fat at all!’ (code: but you are perfectly attractive!).
Pretty does not mean good to look at, it means fits a certain group of characteristics such as looking innocent and pure and also probably white. Beautiful is reserved for people who are not virginal and aren’t trampy-sexy but who you’d still bang. Sexy does not refer to people that you personally would like to have sex with, it means someone who has the required body shape and has spent the enourmous amounts of time neccessary to fit patriarchal standards of feminine beauty and is wearing appropriate clothes and shoes. (Many times I catch myself thinking ‘yeah, she’s hot. I don’t find her attractive, but she’s hot. What does that even mean omg.)
And most present in the last few days, ‘flattering’ does not mean ‘makes you feel good’ or even ‘makes the most of what you’ve got’. I means ‘fools people into thinking you are closer to the ‘ideal’ figure, ie tall, thin, hourglass, than you actually are.’ Already Pretty just posted today about different body shapes and how they look great and how, sure. Minimize your hips if you want, but you don’t have to. I can wear a flowey tunic dress that doesn’t accentuate my waist, if I like. So there. I don’t care about your abitrary rules, patriarchy/whoever else would like to become involved. But likewise, there are things that other people can rock that I can’t – and that is awesome. Why shouldn’t they? Why shouldn’t we have options.
I mean, in reality we do. But how many times have you heard someone say about someone else ‘that dress is so unflattering on her?’. By which they mean, doesn’t hide her stomach, or you can’t tell that she has as much waist as she does, or it makes her boobs look MASSIVE. Well, why shouldn’t it? ‘Flattering’ should not mean ‘slimming’. We already have a word for that!
Anyway. In a completely random aside, I was reminded yesterday of the ‘Yes, we can’ mashup video. And I watched it today, and it still made me emotional and hopeful. Sure, things never turn out that neat or easy. Sure, America is fucked and K Rudd isn’t the messiah. But I dare you to listen to that speech, to watch those artists, and not feel a bit of a tear in your eye and joy in your heart. I DOUBLE DOG DARE YOU:
*I really really love Shapely Prose and the comment ecology over there. It shifted my whole view of the world I live in, and I sort of feel like it’s the centre of my part of the internet, now. If you have never read it, I genuinelly encourage you to at least go have a look – it’s not just for fatties!