Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Body Shame versus The Slut Shame

"I told you these breast-implanted women were a fucking nuisance to more than just the radiologist looking for cancer on a mammogram," I swivel around in my chair to see if Belinda is listening to me.

She isn't.

I will never get her to the gym now.

We are at our respective computers reading the same news item regarding a porno-programmed Play Mate human-hybrid: Part skin and bones, part plastic and wax, part adipose tissue, part botulism – spreading the unattractive contents of her cadaver brain for all to witness. No one wants to see that, Dani Mathers. No one. You've confused body parts. Stick with what you know. You hit below the belt with a body shame and I'll throw my hat in with a slut shame. It's a give and take, rolling with the punches. Life is a fight. We're living in a ring.

Belinda is also confused, rendering her momentarily speechless, which isn't unusual when a girl's illusions are shattered or worst fears realized. Although she once rated and compared herselef in a depressingly negative light with all the magazine-beautiful girls as much as anyone else born into a world that wrapped you in pink and stuck a bow on your head like a foregone conclusion, Belinda has learned to suppress and detach from such critical thoughts about both herself and others.

She adopts the stance of a hopeless believer in the innate goodness of humankind, despite extraordinary evidence to the contrary, and gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. She, for example, does not want to judge another woman's choice, whether saline or silicone, if that's what it takes to prevent a body dysmorphic sufferer from killing herself. All of us, i.e. the physically imperfect, have to find ways to cope under the magnifying glass of the "male gaze" and the scrutiny of female insecurity. To each her own. Diversity. Do not judge.

It's a generous worldview, but not exactly a realistic one, which I sometimes feel the need to point out. It, however, takes a great deal of effort on my part to break through Belinda's carefully constructed blindness and denial. She never at first wants to believe malicious gossip is true or that a monstrous pair of tits is fake. It just seems so dishonest to her and therefore defies what she has chosen to believe. Besides, there have always been well-endowed women, she argues.

She herself had a breast reduction and cannot for the life of her imagine why anyone, barring a psychiatric problem, would intentionally have her normally proportioned breasts inflated to a back-breaking, logic-defying tourist attraction from which no one can look away. I tell her I think that's the point.

Initially, upon reading how Dani Mathers invaded an unsuspecting woman's privacy by publicly and viciously body-shaming her, it seems counter-intuitive that a surgically-augmented ditz skilled in the selfie and other mentally taxing activities such as removing her clothes, a woman who makes a living off the easily exploitable rape fantasies of delusional men, would reveal the flabby, unexercised parts of herself to a viral audience. A neglected mind is an ugly thing.

But of course the aesthetically unappealing human brain with its capacity for higher cognitive functioning is a pointless vestigial organ to a person whose conditioning has her convinced she actually wants to transform herself into an intellectually-stunted sex object. One who speaks in vacuous Playboy sound bites meant to milk the oozing bodily fluids of a multitude of spasmodic men with back hair and a wallet  all the Zika-carrying semen, blood-tinged chlamydia mucus,  gonorrhea pus, saliva, nose snot, masturbatory sweat and laboured mouth-breathing a young businesswoman who went to the trouble of a 33 Double D could ever hope for. But never mind, no penis-holding man worth his genital wart was interested in your brain or character anyway.

It turns out a person, male or female, does not necessarily have to be wise to make big money. If reality TV, internet pornography, the cult of celebrity and the financial crisis of 2008 have taught us anything, it's that.  You only have to be an unscrupulous asshole with ambition, an opportunity, and a willingness to prostitute your dignity for a price. 

If you're female, that indignity includes having your chest stuffed like an overfed, hormone-injected factory chicken kept in a tiny, cramped cage and raised purely for slaughter, as well as later mastication, with a preference for genetically mutated breast meat. 

Now, I'm not sure if you can call the smug malice of an adult woman in a pair of infantile bunny ears, who conforms to an objectified ideal that fuels sexual assault and reinforces internalized misogyny, while simultaneously proclaiming she's a "rebel" news exactly, so much as confirmation of what Belinda, in spite of her rose-colored glasses, already suspected and what I already consciously knew.

Apparently, like many if not all women socialized through the ages in a sexist world obsessed with the physical appearance and sexual viability of every female born, Belinda's "spectacles"  do come off, regardless of her aforementioned wall of denial, and despite confidence in every other sphere of existence, when her own body image is the object of consideration. 

It's challenging enough keeping internal criticism at bay, even with a wall, without adding the external pressure of a gym full of what Belinda suspects are impossibly gorgeous, and therefore cruel, people looking down their perfectly symmetrical noses at her. 

As for me, I was not in denial that people like Mathers existed in the world, particularly in a gym, but was trying to keep this knowledge from Belinda in the hopes of one day convincing her to go to a spin class with me. The class, though, is held in a gym, which Belinda sees as a meat market she vows to never set foot in, whatever I plead. She does not have any desire to feel like a piece of meat, thank you very much, especially a piece of meat that might be judged as undesirable for consumption.


"Don't be ridiculous," I lie to her, "no one is looking at anyone. You go for health reasons, that's all. No one cares what you look like, they're too busy working out. Besides, every body type, shape and size is at the gym. Everyone is made to feel welcome".

Belinda eyes me doubtfully. "Aren't there mirrors everywhere? I don't want to be looking at myself, never mind have anyone else look at me!"

I again tell her she's being ridiculous; she's beautiful and has nothing to worry about. But the truth is that there are indeed mirrors everywhere and it is indeed traumatizing for a girl with body image issues, whether real or perceived. I would rather not go there myself, but it's the only place that offers spin classes, the one indoor workout I enjoy that doesn't require skilled coordination or excessive socialization and isn't boring. Even so, I'd prefer if Belinda went with me to share in the burden of humiliation, again whether the reasons for that feeling of humiliation are based in reality or not.

I hate drawing attention to myself as it is without going to a gym. And as it happens, most of the time I attend one of these spin classes, I do draw attention to myself by being late. 

My tardiness is disruptive and causes everyone to stare with disapproval. To make matters worse, there's usually something wrong with the bike I'm left with, such as a squeaky wheel or a seat that's stuck and won't adjust, and this too is disruptive as the music is turned down and everyone looks around to see who has the squeaky wheel this time. It's me. It's always me. Why even question it?

I've also been known to fall off the bike in the process of getting on or off it, and it isn't uncommon for me to whack my head on the handlebars or drop my water bottle and splash water everywhere. 

Once, the pedal broke right off just as I was standing up, causing injury, excruciating pain and more disruption. Another time, I did the entire class with my t-shirt on inside out without realizing it, and I'm pretty sure the trio of fit, young women, who frequent the same class without breaking a sweat, all of them appropriately tattooed like cattle with an owner and g-stringed like strippers with a UTI, think I am mentally challenged. 

They, for instance, will turn during one of my signature disruptions and with the furrowed brow of pseudo-sympathy marring their otherwise lovely features, watch as I fumble around only to get my foot stuck in the pedal strap and fall over.

On occasion, the most compassionate of the three will be so moved by the pitiful sight of me that she will rush to my aid. Her charitable act of the day. She might, for example, notice me struggling with the lever to adjust my seat and take it upon herself to save me from further embarrassment. 

She'll ask if I need help in the carefully enunciated words one uses when attempting to communicate with the hard-of-hearing or the cognitively impaired. Then without waiting for my answer, which would be a resounding no, please stop noticing me, she takes over. 

I awkwardly stand there feeling like an idiot until she successfully works the lever and the seat is adjusted. It's not adjusted to the height I want, but now I feel like I'll hurt her feelings if I redo what she just did. She seems so pleased with herself for helping me, the invalid. So whatever, let's just get this hell over with. I don't like hurting people's feelings if I can help it. If you're an unapologetic, sadistic asshole, that's a different story. 

Superficial women consumed not only with their own appearances, but with deriding the appearance of those society deems cosmetically "less fortunate" or somehow morally flawed and deserving of scorn in the case of weight gain, aren't necessarily thoughtless assholes like Dani Mathers; they are products of a culture that commodifies the female body and socializes girls to be predominantly outward-focused at the expense of developing other meaningful aspects of personhood, such as mind, inner strength, integrity, spirit and soul.

Until you have some awareness of the cultural, religious and other forces that shape your thinking, however, it's difficult to undergo the kind of paradigm shift that would prevent you in the first place from snapping an unsolicited picture of a naked woman in the shower and then sharing it on social media for widespread ridicule, possibly jeopardizing said woman's safety and sense of self-worth.

I don't know if the mass of public outrage, job loss and possible criminal charges Mathers faces for what she did is enough to shift her thinking and behavior. But it's doubtful that a pornographic model who boasts of being a "sexual deviant" as if it's a noteworthy accomplishment is going to be shifting anything but some paying man's scrotum.