Over-baring

Since I’ve got back from the Middle East, I’ve been struggling a bit over what to say about the current slew of female celebrities getting their kit off, Because They Can, in various publications. I rather enjoyed being in a culture where both men and women cover up out of respect for each other, and started to think a lot about why we are so hellbent in the west on getting so much of our flesh out in public.

I’ve already said what I think about ‘The Fappening’, and 4Chan’s privacy violation against female celebrities, in my blog post In Support of J-Law. Everyone has the right to take nude pictures of themselves and a right to keep them private. But in the last fortnight, we’ve had two women (weirdly both of them with the initials KK), both at massively opposing ends of the bodily spectrum, determined to bare all in the name of womanhood and freedom of self-expression.

Why?

Firstly Keira Knightley appeared in Interview magazine, photographed by Patrick Demarchelier, in a series of images in which her body remains unmanipulated by the media. No photoshop, no cleavage enhancement, just as she is. Then Kim Kardashian appeared in Paper magazine, in a series of oiled-up nekkid shots that were intended to ‘break the internet’. Which they almost did, especially with the ensuing parody versions.

I happen to think that both of these women are remarkably beautiful in remarkably opposing ways. I think it’s a shame that Kim has clearly decided to enhance her best-known feature with surgery, but as someone with a pair of womanly hips and a small waist, I feel like this is a world where I can finally get them out with pride. And then Keira – seemingly no work done there, but she is campaigning against the ‘digital surgery’ that often makes her more acceptably womanly on film posters or in fashion features. One woman is flaunting her curves in extreme public displays, the other campaigning against the faking of curves whenever she is put on public display.

Interesting, isn’t it?

It’s also made me think about Lena Dunham, and her ‘I’ve got my body out and I don’t care if you don’t approve of it’ scenes in the TV series Girls. Her physically and digitally unenhanced body, seen in a number of nude scenes in the show, has attracted a raft of criticism from men and women alike, but that’s her point. Why should she look like Kim or Keira when she is really Lena? And who is dictating these rules?

In many ways I applaud all of these women for putting it out there – Kim looks gloriously (and uncharacteristically) happy in her images; Keira is poutingly defiant, and Lena acts care-free and unconscious of society’s disapproving gaze. Well done, you, I think, but then wondering why the hell they had to go that far to make their points. I’ve often laughed with guy-friends about their tick-box lists of female celebrity tits and ass – how the urge to see every hot woman naked in order to ‘tick them off the list’ became a thing that they did, consciously or unconsciously. It’s the infantile thing that Seth Macfarlane’s ill-advised Oscars song, We Saw Your Boobs, seemed to sum up perfectly, to the horror of the women in the audience.

Did these women bare all just to finally get the guys, and the media, off their backs? Once they’ve bared everything, does it mean they’ll be hounded less by the 4chans of this world, who’ve already moved on to the next starlet? What is it about the forced uncovering of women that makes female celebrities decide to do it themselves, so that they can control the outcome? Is it empowering or is it the ultimate sacrificial gift to the media that is hounding them already?

I realise I’m asking lots of questions here and not really answering them. I do think that there is great power in remaining clothed, in holding something back from the world (but only when that holding back is unenforced). I’m clearly part of a zeitgeist for women who are ‘baring all’ in terms of their experience (including Lena Dunham) but is that really the best thing to do? I have already said that part of the reason I am putting it all out there is because no one will be able to use anything against me in the future. There are no secrets for them to pounce on. Isn’t that what Kim, Keira and Lena are doing? All of us are owning our bodies and our lives but in the process we are letting everyone else have a piece of them too. It appears to be the domain of the modern woman. I’m all for having a voice that is heard, but are we saying too much?

It’s interesting that in the same period as the double KK bare-all, Nick Jonas, the erstwhile virginal member of the pop group the Jonas Brothers, did a Wahlberg-alike photoshoot for Flaunt magazine in his pants. The story registered as a medium-sized blip on the radar of various gay and women’s interest websites, and yeah, I had a look. He’s hot. But he’s one guy in a sea of a bajillion women doing this sort of shoot every day, for lads’ mags, for Page 3, for the latest ‘it’ magazine that promises them not to enhance their boobs and make nudity ‘arty’. We’ve moved on from Jonas already. Who cares if a guy takes his top off?

For women, holding back and wearing more might be the ultimate empowering thing to do with just a glimpse of a bared shoulder or ankle, but would you do that if you knew that your private bare-all photos made for your partner were likely to be posted online the very next day, rendering your peekaboo clothed pictures ridiculous? If you knew that the latest celeb magazine was going to show a range of high-definition images of you in a bikini on your holiday on its front page, and a close-up of your face without makeup, would you grin and bear it or rush out a series of naked, no makeup shots taken by a top photographer for a cool magazine?

I think I’d want to own my own images if I knew that these were the rules of the game, so I can’t blame the two KKs for doing what they’re doing. Kim K knows that her greatest social currency is her body and she is setting the bar higher and higher for how much she’ll show us, and how far she’ll go to enhance it. Many will say that they’re not interested in her antics, but I bet they have a good look before dismissing them.

As I write this piece, Gemma Collins, ‘star’ of reality TV show The Only Way is Essex, leaves the I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here jungle to a tidal wave of fat-shaming tweets. When the ‘bikini shower scene’ becomes a woman’s main social currency on TV, and she’s pitted against ex-model and lads’ mag favourite Melanie Sykes, I’d be out of there too.

 

Advertisements

Epiphany

It happened on a beach in Bodrum, Turkey, three weeks ago.

I’d been to the same hotel twice before (I love it, mainly because it’s mostly Turks, it’s childfree, and it has a cute little water-taxi to take you in to town) but right before those holidays, I’d worked hard to get my ‘bikini body’. I’d gone into a near-panic if my weight, a few weeks before each holiday, wasn’t at the target I’d set myself and arranged to immediately go on some food group-avoiding diet plan to get there. I’d then congratulate myself on hitting the target and feel ready to hit the beach.

But this time I’d done the exact opposite.

Believe me, it’s taken me a long time to get to a place where I even wear a bikini in public. Throughout my teens and twenties I had dreadful body-image problems, so much so that I’ve never learned to swim. The pool was a scary place where I felt completely exposed. It stemmed from having a curvy-hipped (otherwise known as pear-shaped but I’m rebranding it) body and wanting to be a ballet dancer. My ballet teacher made comments about my bottom half being a ‘problem’ for ballet and so the dysmorphia was born. I would look in the mirror and see terrible things, when in fact, I have the supposed ideal hip-waist ratio of 0.7. But I thought I looked hideous, and only began to think I looked ‘alright’ in my late twenties. I remember the day when I wore a short(ish) skirt with thick black tights IN PUBLIC for the first time. I cried with shame at the bus stop (I did!), but strangely, nothing happened. No one screamed in horror, apart from me, inwardly. My friends encouraged me to stop wearing huge clothes to hide myself, and the new me was born.

Or was she?

In my thirties, I started doing the fad-diet thing. I began running and did the Atkins diet, closely followed by Dukan, and pretty much didn’t eat complex carbs for a decade. Yes, I lost loads of weight, yes, I gained new-found energy and confidence, but I still didn’t feel bikini-great. Not until a game-changing moment in Bermuda.

I was with my ex-husband, and I asked him to take a picture of me in my bikini on the beach, just standing there, no special angles, no flattering pose. I remember saying, ‘I look quite nice’ when I saw the picture. I saw a very pale, but shapely figure standing a bit awkwardly, wearing an unattractive baseball cap. But I liked what I saw. I began to quite like my body.

After that you couldn’t get me out of bikinis, but before each holiday I was determined to control my weight so my curvy hips didn’t look too curvy and my stomach stayed flat. Until this year, that is. In the spring, I had tried the Fast Diet and it just succeeded in making me feel miserable and making me look older. I was heartily sick of cutting out major food groups and yearned for a normal relationship with food where I wasn’t starving myself one day and bingeing the next. I suddenly thought – why don’t I just do that? Stop all The Nonsense and see what happens.

I did it. Weirdly, I had no pre-holiday weight panic this time. I tried beach wear on before I packed just to check I didn’t look like a bean bag. Nope. I looked like a nice curvy woman in beach wear.

And then I saw the Turkish ladies on the beach. Many shapes and sizes surrounded me on loungers but they were mostly curvy. And they looked happy, with ice creams in their hands and adoring partners rubbing sun-tan cream into their ‘wobbly’ bodies. I learned about the Turkish love of the ‘kalça’ – everything between the waist and thigh area – from a guy who clearly liked mine. There were a couple of Dutch and Belgian women there – they were clearly where I had been in terms of the Dieting Decade and looked older and strained next to the Turks. And, well, next to me, really.

Since I’ve stopped The Nonsense, I’ve slept better, looked younger and felt happier. And much sexier. It’s like the gloom has lifted and all is clear. None of us need to do this to ourselves. Women I consider to be incredible in their personal and professional lives have admitted to me that they’re following some kind of mega-control diet like I was, like not eating in the daytime, or restricting their daily calorie intake to near-starvation levels. Why are we doing this??!! I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that my insomnia disappeared completely when I stopped restricting certain foods. I was sleepless for the whole of the Dieting Decade and probably not functioning as well as I could in my daily life.

When I stand in front of the mirror now I see someone different to the person standing there twenty years ago, but she was probably there back then. I just couldn’t see her. When I see a self-conscious curvy young woman on the street I want to go up to her and tell her she looks lovely, or at least I hope someone is telling her that. If I see an older, hollowed-out woman on the Tube I want to say ‘stop controlling it all – let it go, you’ll feel stronger.’ But it’s so much easier said than done, shedding that urge to control our bodies. After all, it’s taken me about twenty-five years to get there.

Most of all I want to say to any woman who is worrying about what she’ll look like on the beach, put your bikini on and get someone you trust to take a picture of you in it. Look at it. Objectively. Look how womanly you are, whether you’re apple-, pear- or pomegranate-shaped, stick-thin, fleshy or somewhere in the middle. Most guys I know can’t understand why we put ourselves through all the pain of constant body control. They like our fleshy, curvy bits (or whatever bits take their fancy) and don’t really get why we don’t. They stand by while we put ourselves through the self-imposed regime, watching us go crazy whilst they tuck into a bacon sandwich.

Ooh now that’s a thought. And I’m going to have white bread too.

Lisa

Some articles you might like to read:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jenny-trout/i-wore-a-bikini-and-nothing-happened_b_5546206.html

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jun/30/unspeakable-things-laurie-penny-book-extract

http://sploid.gizmodo.com/what-if-classic-paintings-were-photoshopped-like-todays-1578775305

http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/Magazine/article1452100.ece

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/08/11/wilderness-festival-body-image-lucy-mangan-poorna-bell_n_5666366.html

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/oct/14/women-body-image-anxiety-improve-body-confidence?CMP=fb_gu

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/nov/08/feel-guilty-but-hate-my-body-feminist-confesses