Recently two experiences have shook me. The first was a jovial comment a mate made about my tumblr becoming ‘pornographic’, likely because of this ‘selfie’ or maybe it was this one. The second was looking as I do in public. This isn’t some ‘realisation’ about the Madonna-whore dichotomy, that’s been there for years; rather, it’s a conclusion on my experiences, our collective society and future, and perceptions of what is acceptable behaviour, particularly towards ‘pretty’ people and ‘alternative’-looking people, whether that is punk or transgendered.
What strikes me first about this reflection is the growing confidence I have in my skin. A product of 6 years of graduate study, my formerly athletic body had gone soft. Last year, I reclaimed my body and am now returning to my former athletic state. But, this point is key: I didn’t embark on the difficult journey of weight loss during the final stages of a PhD for my ‘health’ or any of that over-inflated fitspo nonsense. I reclaimed my body because how I felt about myself and because I lost something that formerly so defined myself: strength. There was nothing wrong with my soft body; but there was something wrong with how I felt about my soft body. I felt weak.
As of late, I’ve posted some photos of myself that range in how people interpret them, from inappropriate to narcissistic. I am proud of these photos; they show and embody the strength that I’ve regained and sharing this self-discovered strength, empowers myself and others, at least that’s the theory: all bodies are beautiful. My strength embodies my pride, honesty, openness, understanding, and, most of all, confidence.
What strikes me second about my reflection is twofold. Firstly, society doesn’t want ‘pretty’ or ‘confident’ people, or at least, society doesn’t want confident people to know they are pretty, nor do they want pretty people to be confident, less we get it in our pretty/confident heads that we deserve respect. Secondly, if you are construed as pretty or alternative-looking, society feels entitled to an opinion about you. I know this because of how I observe people reacting to me and anyone who defies locally-derived norms, and this is my main point, as related to the previous post on a Ted talk on sexual violence against women and speaking up.
You are NEVER permitted to pass judgement on another human being, regardless of whether you find them repulsive or beautiful, regardless of how long you have known them. And should you feel so entitled, I can only offer this: your day has come. Because ‘pretty’, ‘alternative’, and formerly weak people - especially women, trans, and nonbinary - are becoming stronger. We are, collectively, regaining our strength. We see your dumbfounded, open-mouthed stares, and it fuels our confidence that we deserve respect. Each disrespectful snigger actually empowers us to fight back and fight harder each time.
If you feel so entitled to stare at me/others, to comment on my/our appearance - whether you ‘like my tats’ or wonder aloud ‘what possible job could a person who looks like that have’ - prepare for the backlash, which won’t arrive in clenched fists or bitter words, but with the organic power of confidence, as harnessed from years of judgement.
There is nothing about the way that I, or any other human being, look(s) that enables you to stare, touch, or comment on any of the choices we have made in expressing ourselves. The sooner the majority recognise that judging is an outdated defence mechanism, the sooner we all, collectively, save ourselves from ourselves.