Two authors speak out against body shaming, the impact of social media and the importance of taking a stand
A couple of fascinating reads landed on my desk recently. Interestingly, both were about women and their bodies. One, Girl-Up is by a bestselling British feminist writer, Laura Bates, who has been making waves for standing up to sexism in modern society. The second, Milk and Honey by Indian-Canadian poet-photographer, Rupi Kaur uses poetry to highlight similar issues. Both ultimately point to the conclusion that your body is your own, and no one needs to succumb to the body shaming that’s increasingly rampant everywhere.
Intrigued, I connected with the authors for a few questions of my own. First, I asked Bates about her life’s purpose to stand up against sexism. It was all about awareness building, she replied. “Women and girls are facing sexism, harassment, discrimination and violence on a daily basis but society wants to tell us that the problem doesn’t really exist.” The modern scenario is both good (there’s rising awareness) and bad (backlashes, backward beliefs), so it’s a ‘one step forward, another step back’ kind of thing. Doesn’t social media addiction amplify the problems? It does, she agreed. “Instagram, selfies, and the media combine to create huge body image pressure for women and we hear from young girls particularly that this is a big burden. In Girl Up, I wanted to challenge the (regressive) messages. I wanted to break the link between appearance and value that’s forced upon women. Why should we be judged by what we look like? Or conditioned to judge ourselves that way?” To illustrate the fact, pardon the pun, the sketches, flow charts and Venn diagrams in her book put an explicit, if amusing twist on the objectifying of women’s body parts.
Bates writes a regular blog for The Guardian on sexism and headlines the Everyday Sexism Project, where women of all ages can record their experiences for a non-judgemental audience and find support. One 14-year-old admitted on the forum that “Every girl around me feels insecure about the way she looks. As a gymnast, I have prominent muscles – I should be proud of them, right? But….I feel my muscles make me look bulky and fat.”
Kaur has been on numerous bestseller lists too, but found overnight fame when her Instagram photo of a sleeping woman with a spot of blood depicting menstruation got taken down for being ‘risqué’. This created a social media storm, and she reposted it. “We live in a ‘modern’ world but if that means erasing images of natural body functions, we need to think about it.” Milk and Honey is a “flow of simple thoughts” on the cycle of abuse, love and heartache that is so inextricably linked to a woman’s life, expressed in simple lyricism. “In modern times, I think we need to open the door, have discussions in safe spaces about our troubles. One of the reasons we don’t is that society attaches so much shame to our actions. To avoid that shame we pretend nothing is going on in our lives.” Two voices. So apart, yet speaking the same language of womanhood.