I am writing this from my perch on the unstable and dilapidated (chuffed to have found a reason to use that word) outdoor furniture outside my Dublin bedsit. I am in full view of the front room voyeurs of my terraced street and I am in my bra and shorts that have been rolled down to reveal the paunch of my belly. Holly, you ask incredulously, this is supposed to be an informative update on activism not a raunchy Mills and Boon knock-off – cad é an scéal???
Well, as it turns out, bearing my body in what some may see as an inappropriate fashion, is not just a feminist act but an act of allyship. One way I have been trying to “show up” this week is by starting right here, in the complicated relationship I have with my body.
You see, our perceptions of body image and our obsession with diet culture were born out of racist (as well as misogynistic) evolutionary theories. Larger bodies and the notion of “fatness” were, in colonialist (ie RACIST) discourse inextricably linke with “blackness” and both have subsequently been demonised. Think of stereotypes of fatness and blackness and it’s not hard to see its ongoing ramifications today: notions of laziness, incompetency, unhealthiness, unatrractiveness. I’m not going to get into the intricacies of this now (stay tuned for all of the words next week) but what this means is that every time I declare myself “fat”; every time I criticise, cover, despise, starve or deny my body for failing to live up to a thin (most recently disguised as “fit” or “healthy”) aesthetic, I am perpetuating racism. So I’m not going to do that anymore. And part of that means changing how I see and present my body.
I am only beginning to become cognisant of the neverending list of things I do not do because I am scared of how my body will be perceived by others. Where and why and how this fear manifests is probably perfectly obvious to most people reading this but if you are one of the few not subsumed in body issues, let me break it down for you. I am either scared of judgement or scared for my own safety.
These two completely valid and sadly rational fears that are GROUNDED in real life experience, automatically exclude me from the doing and wearing of so many things. Clothing that is too tight, too short, too revealing, too ostentatious, too eccentric is barely worn around the house, let alone in public. I deny my body with jumpers or A-line skirts or long sleeves. However, in doing this, in curtailing my self-expression to pander to society’s ideas of beauty and worth, I am not just denying, ridiculing and demeaning my body; I am encouraging the demonisation and discrimination against other bodies who, either due to size, gender, skin colour, ability or ethnicity are even more marginalised, objectified, stigmatised and PRESSURISED to look a certain way than I am as a young, white woman. I am upholding a status quo that promotes systemic racism and discrimination. So, my stand is to stop disrespecting my own body and instead show it off to the world as often as possible.
Two months ago, I treated myself to a set of The Girlfriend Collective’s activewear (they are an amazing, incredible example of fashion that is sustainable, ethical and champions REAL women). A luminous purple set of sports bra and bicycle shorts. Yesterday, I wore them walking proudly (ok, not proudly, definitely petrifyingly) through Phibsborough, showing off my belly (I cannot express to you enough how this is a MASSIVE deal for me – I think I stopped wearing bikinis aged eight which is my first vivid memory of calling myself ‘fat’) and refusing to cower to the glances in my direction. This, I know, sounds frivolous but this is me showing up. Because if we all don’t start celebrating our bodies and SHOWING people that other bodies exist than the ones we see on Instagram, then we aren’t changing anything. While I am by no means large, I am not thin, and I know walking down North Circular Road yesterday there were several people who thought I didn’t have the figure to wear what I was wearing. That it was indecent. Unattractive. Unseemly.
It’s only when we see enough bodies like mine – and bodies not like mine at all – that we can begin to fight that mentality. We need to normalise ALL bodies and to stop narrowing ourselves to fit an impossible standard set by men. I absolutely loathe, despise and abominate the phrase “be the change you want to see in the world” but in this instance it’s true. If I want to see other bodies than those of the #fitspo community, then I need to start showing up. If I don’t want other little girls – or increasingly boys – growing up as I did, losing hours and days and money and energy to the clutches of diet culture, then I need to show them that real bodies exist. I am that real body. I need to start using it and embracing it. And that is why I will be walking around with no clothes on for the rest of the summer – THANK YOU.
Finally, this is an act of liberation. Because if I am too busy being preoccupied with how I look or what I’m wearing, then I’m too busy to fight racism, climate change, misogyny. My obsession with body image is actually preventing me from being an ally. So this week’s mission was to go out of my way to dismantle my inner monologue of “you’re so fat, everyone’s looking at you, does my stomach look huge in this, if I have a croissant how far must I run” and instead face the fear head on. Walking down the street in tight, figure-hugging activewear and sitting here now with paunch and rolls and muffin tops on show, is just about the scariest thing I can do. But now they’re done, they will never be so scary again. And eventually they will become normal and thus being in my body will become normal and I will – I hope – be finally freed from the 7 pound weight of that half stone I have spent the last three years feeling I should lose. Oh, and, you know, just the several hundred centuries of patriarchal oppression.
Ok this was very, very long. There’s a lot in this and I’m only scratching the surface. I feel I’ve articulated nothing that I wanted to but it’s late and I will be revisiting this theme in the coming weeks.
In the interest of brevity, here’s some other ways I’ve been standing up this week:
- CAFÉS ARE ACCEPTING KEEP CUPS AGAIN. My Bodum and I are enjoying a passionate reunion and I hope you will join us in being even more awkward in your socially distant café and start using your keep cups, jam jars, old soup containers, mugs again too! Such a small thing, such a huge difference.
- I’ve taken to picking up rubbish whenever I’m walking somewhere. Such a small thin but something I haven’t done consistently before which feels bizarre to me now. Sure, it means I have to leave the house five minutes early because Dublin is FILTHY but it is such a simple, accessible way to just be sound to Mother Earth. Also similar to my new body liberation, the true hope of this action is in the domino effect. Just as I hope seeing me, a woman tight clothing was not designed for (bar Spanx) wearing the kind of activewear associated with a Kardashian might give a stranger confidence or make them question their ideas about female bodies, so too do I hope that the many passing motorists or fellow pedestrians might be influenced into similar litter-picking in a beautiful butterfly effect. Am I naive? Is this silly? Also, have I used the right term? I’m too exhausted to Google Butterfly effect
- Still no babies, no fast fashion, no meat, hardly any dairy* – another win for the planet!!
*apart from two pizzas and x** pastries
**this could be an unknown number or it could be the roman numeral for ten – WHO KNOWS
- Watched Nova Reid’s Ted Talk on microaggressions and challenging “intention”. I have many thoughts I will share on this next week but in the meantime, just watch: it’s fifteen minutes.
- Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us with Austin Channing Brown, Again, I don’t want to just recommend these, I do want to unpack them so I hope to return to this week.
- Emailed government in Aurora, Colorado and signed a petition calling for justice following the horrendous police attack on Elijah McClain. Full details here – please support and share.
- Petitions!! Lads I keep forgetting what I’m signing but one I did sign was to oppose inhumane detention in the UK. Find out more here
- Am really trying to share more information around what’s happening in Europe both in refugee camps and in the Mediterranean. I struggle with this as I feel it makes people uncomfortable but now have decided to hell with it, I’d rather be unfollowed than complicit. Here’s one article I shared in detail on an Instagram story.
- I’ve booked my flight. I’m going back to Northern France in two weeks to volunteer for an NGO called Care4Calais. Preparations are the reason this weigh in is late. I am excited if that makes any kind of strange sense.
WHAT I AM NOT DOING
One thing I feel kind of guilty about and just wanted to share is the fact that the books I’m reading at the moment are all by white, cis-gendered men. I’ve gone from reading Karl Ove Knausgaard to Hunter S Thompson but feel I should be rereading Bernardine Evaristo and Layla F Saad. It feels strange to be reading the words of “The Man” (in every sense) but the irony of this is that I bought these books a few months ago precisely because I NEVER read male or white authors. What a time to branch out, eh?
My loves, it is late and I am exhausted and I wish you could see the muddled dissertation of notes I’ve had to delete from this post. I hope you found something in this. I hope there is something to come back to, dig into, suck a kernel of inspiration from. I hope it makes sense – I am torn between desperately wanting this to be thoughtful and articulate and the sad reality that days are still only 24 hours long. Thank you, as ever for your patience; here’s to another week of learning, challenging, fighting.