Confessions Three: Exposure and Expression (Part Two)

So, I spent a good while thinking about this topic, how women present themselves in social media and whether I thought showing skin was radically feminist, or the internalization of misogyny.

Could it be possibly both?

Just as a disclaimer, how a woman chooses to express herself is her choice and I totally support that, above all.  When I see a hoop dancer on Instagram in booty shorts, I’m not judging her choice of clothes because I’m too busy admiring her hoop dance.  I just remember being mildly shocked when I first came across this phenomenon, and I wondered, despite my self-declared open-mindedness, why?

I never feel like a woman is “asking for it” whether she is in a string bikini purchasing batteries at Walmart or walking downtown at night.  Above all else, this is my firm and unshakeable belief.  I just wanted to state that clearly, in case I appear too judgemental of others.  A woman is a human full of ideas, thoughts, emotions before anything else and we should always be treated as such no matter what we are wearing.

Nor do I think myself intellectually superior because I choose not to hoop in my underwhoopies.

Yet, I hoop in my sports bra and post it to Instagram (which some might think a 40-something year old woman should not do), and I often get sidelong glances for walking downtown in my leggings.  Yes, I  have legs!  Unbelievable!  Some women have legs.  Shocking stuff.

This is my point.  I consider myself to be a feminist.  However, I wanted to examine this issue a bit more deeply for myself than dismissing it thus: “Whatever people want to do, if it’s not hurting anyone, is just great!”

To be honest, I am finding my answer harder to express than my question.  Here it goes:

I think this issue is less about women themselves and more about the ideas about women in any given society.  Whether it’s the Canadian conservative government trying to ban women from wearing the niqab at the citizenship ceremony, or the judgements that arise from how a woman presents herself in social media, it’s less about the cloth trappings and more about the controlling of women.  The irony is, whether it’s the niqab or the using of scantily-clad women to sell beer,  both are expressions of patriarchy imposed upon the female body and therefore both shape society’s perceptions of women.

Yet, when women try to claim these physical expressions for themselves, it becomes a social, political, and moral outrage.

This, I understand now, is why I have some messed up beliefs about when and how I thought it okay to expose whatever body part, and when and how contradictory, nae, hypocritical, these now self-imposed regulations were.

All my life I have been delivered contradictory and hypocritical messages about my body, and as a result, I have internalized these messages into a bizarre set of rules about when and how I should express my physical self.  These rules do not make any reasonable sense; for example, hooping in a bikini on the beach versus hooping in your underwear in your living room.  Is there a difference, really?  I mean, really?  The same way rules around what a woman shouldn’t wear because she is a certain age or size are equally illogical.

To end, perhaps a woman hula hooping in her underwear and posting it on social media is a most radical act against patriarchy.  So is the woman insisting on wearing her niqab at her citizenship ceremony.  For some reason, it has been deemed okay if women are wearing these clothing options as an expression of patriarchy, but as soon as they are choosing them for themselves it becomes problematic.  Women are told to be modest, but if we choose it for ourselves we are prudes.  We are told to be sexy, but if we choose it ourselves we are slutty.  We are told we should look like a certain physical standard and wear certain clothes, but when we choose that standard for ourselves, we are hostages of a patriarchal Stockholm Syndrome.

Society has made it almost impossible for women to be perceived as independent thinkers.

In these times, rejecting these double standards and  reclaiming our physical self expression is a rebellious thing, indeed.

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Confessions Two: Exposure and Expression (Part 1)

About a year and a half ago, I joined Instagram.  My main motivation was the “Trump your Cat” movement where people were brushing their kitties then putting the loose fur on their heads in a haphazard toupee.

I have a ginger tabby, and as a result, I thought he would be a suitable candidate for presidency.  Orange-ish toupee?  Check!  Clearly, an unattractive hair piece is all it takes  to run a campaign?  Certainly, my cat would do a better job than Trump?

That’s when I thought Trump was some kind of weird joke.  I don’t think I would subject my cat to this humiliation now given the current reality of the situation.

Original Donald Trump Cat Toupee
Not my cat

Anyway, as I perused Instagram, I discovered not only was it populated by many, many cats, but many, many hula hoopers as well!  Cats and hoops! Well, I’ll be!  For me that was an addictive combo and I quickly became hooked.

Like everything in this rapidlychangingtechnologicalworld (yes, that phrase has now become a word in its own right), people feel strongly about social media exposure.  Some people–and not just older generations, but the younger ones as well–think people post too much, give out tmi, expose too much flesh, use too many filters–the list of criticisms go on and on.  Quite often I hear these comments directed at how women present themselves in social media.  Maybe men are criticized too, but because I am a woman perhaps I notice this more with women.

Awhile ago, one of the Kardashians posted a selfie of her naked body’s reflection in a mirror, her middle finger defiantly pricked up, with a comment along the lines as, “I love my body for all its imperfections so eff you world.”  I don’t follow the goings on of this family at all, but I reacted strongly (internally) to this image.

First,  I doubted the authenticity of her statement.  She seems pretty proud of her body, and it seems to be a beauty ideal most of us don’t share.  I mean, how extreme are those curves?!  I’m sure she spends a lot, a lot, of time and money on her body and has the luxury to rid herself of perceived imperfections and to cultivate a form that represents the epitome of physical female beauty.  Flat tummy, large breasts, perky bum, toned thighs:  she’s shaped like a babe from a Conan the Barbarian comic book.  I felt her statement to be false and grandoise.

And her vapid expression annoys me, to be honest.  Does she ever say anything worthwhile?  (I wouldn’t know, since I don’t follow her goings on).

You see, I originate from a school of feminism where I think women should be celebrated for their thoughts and not their bodies.  However, I also applaud burlesque dancing and how much of contemporary feminism involves a woman’s freedom to love and express her physicality and sexuality.  Yet, If burlesque is considered more of an art form that embraces all body types, conversely I have frequented and performed in strip clubs (not as a stripper, but as a hooper for a cancer research fundraiser) and I am not offended by them in the least.  Stripping, one might argue, is sex in its most base expression.  And yet, I had to add the caveat “not as a stripper but as a hooper” because although I support women in their occupational choices, I fear being morally judged, myself.  It was for cancer research, after all.

This Kardashian post, to me, seemed like an ego-driven attention seeking action… But, oh oh, double standard alert!!!  How is what she is doing any different than a burlesque dancer doing a strip tease for an audience, or me posting three hooping videos back to back on Instagram, wearing nothing but leggings and a sports bra?  Are we not all seeking some sort of attention?  Is it because she is a Kardashian that I automatically reject anything she does as worthwhile?  Is it her celebrity I find offensive, or her act?

If I had a daughter, I would want to raise her to be a combination of her intellect, her emotions, her passions, not as an expression of her body, but of her mind.  But then, where does her body come into it?

All of this really made me question how I felt about how women presented themselves in social media.  There are a lot of hoopers on Instagram who like to hoop in their underwear.  Bums are in style.  I enjoy a good bum, myself.  However, my initial reaction was to question why do these lovely young women feel the need to dance in their underwear?  Don’t they want to be appreciated for their skills rather than their skin?  Are they trying to garner some sort of extra attention, clicks, likes, followers?

My judgements were quickly challenged when I realized I had certain situations and contexts where being scantily clad while hooping were, for me, morally acceptable.

For example, hooping in your bikini on the beach=OK.

If that bikini went up your butt=cue mild outrage.

Hooping in your briefs and t-shirt although said hooper is actually more covered than in a bikini=mild outrage.

What was with these weird  and arbitrary compartments in which I placed my morality?

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I’m okay with vintage boobies, but what about modern bum bums?

I am realizing I will need to do a part two on this discussion, but I will end it for the time being with the above image, which I love, of a Ziegfeld Girl holding a hoop.  I love the Ziegfeld dancer portraits by photographer Alfred Cheney Johnston.  How do I reconcile this image within my compartmentalized morality?

To be continued…