Getting rid of the Shame and the Shit – Thoughts on Beauty, Power, Attractiveness II

this text’s full of shit ‚n shame and it makes me sick. don‘t expect sparkly unicorns. (but they will follow soon).

The concepts of ‚beauty‘ and ‚attractiveness‘ are cornerstones to (sexual) power dynamics between males* and females*.
How does the usage of these concepts contribute to sexist power structures?
Let’s see:

Where do ‚beauty‘ and ‚attractiveness‘ differ from each other?
In my connotation, ‚beauty‘ is mostly applied as a female* quality, whereas men* are rather characterized as ‚attractive‘ than ‚beautiful‘.
‚Beauty‘ in this understanding seems to be something ‚visible‘, something you can catch into a picture – it is about looks. Which means it is enough to look at someone to tell if s.he is ‚beautiful‘. The ‚object‘ it_herself stays passive.
The concept of ‚attractiveness‘ however involves interaction – it includes not only the looks of the body, but body performance, actions and reactions in social interaction (being charming, being polite, being funny, being witty, acting appropriate/eager/courages/interesting…), it includes behaviour and opinions. In short: ‚attractiveness‘ means presenting yourself as interesting plus just the right portion of showing interest. In my view this is a much broader and more dynamic concept than ‚beauty‘, allowing far more variety/individuality.

Of course not one of them is supposed to be 100% male* or female* – but it’s hard to deny the existing gender bias in this complementary concepts of ‚how to get attention from the other sex‘.
This is of course a very heteronormative principle – it is fundamentally linked with the implication of heterosexuality and the organisation of reproduction (wife, husband, children…).
Putting it in other words: the male*-associated concept of ‚attractiveness‘ is more likely to present the person ‚as a whole‘, whereas the female*-associated ‚beauty‘ tends to reduce them to their surface.

These perceptions don‘t only work for others, but are connected to the self understanding/self-image as well. I hate to write this, but socialization tends to teach boys* to see themselves as a ‚whole person‘/'in one piece‘ (like children do until they unlearn it, I suppose), whereas girls* in a way are taught to distinguish between their personality and their body. I know this sounds weird; but growing up and everything you do, you think, you feel, you touch, … being yourself, part of the ‚unity You‘ – and later on noticing people start treating you as an object, not looking at you but looking at your body, without getting in touch with ‚you‘ in any way … well, how can this not be disturbing at all?!
This is where you learn to see the voyeuristic gaze in other peoples eyes_minds; this is how you internalise that others will check your looks and judge you as beautiful or not and therefore as worth less or more.

You‘ll not be surprised to hear that from my experience lots of minds and bodies of those addressed as females* have taken damage from that, in one or the other way. Well, the ones pressured to perform MASCULINITY are most probably affected negatively as well, but not quite in the same way.

Reminder: None of this is deterministic! People are not machines and influences differ, strategies of coping differ, people are not affected by these things all the same way, nor do they ‚turn out‘ to be the same. People are very different from each other in any aspects and can resist in uncountable ways. I‘m digging up this shit to look where it comes from – this is just exploring the structures that keep people from being free from oppression and (self-) hate. Look for the source of the shit to get rid of it!

So, ‚beauty‘. Aiming for beauty means accepting standards/measurement/being judged. Aiming for beauty needs you to internalise this voyeuristic gaze. Aiming for beauty requires you to look at yourself ‚from the outside‘, pretending to see yourself from another person’s view (unconsciously thought of as ‚the male* gaze‘ – heteronormative fundaments, remember?) – this forces you to ’split‘ yourself into your personality and your body_looks. It might sound insane, but it’s just an unconscious process that logically follows onto this requirements, isn‘t it?

Looking at things that closely, we need to acknowledge that aiming for beauty takes quite some effort (and I haven‘t even mentioned choosing clothing, applying makeup, doing hair, shaving regularly, diet control, doing sports, etc.).

So where does that discipline come from?
How does it work – without even noticing the amount of effort that was brought up?
Of course habits and internalisations are a main deal: just do it, don‘t think about it. But the most powerful mean of disciplining seems to me to be shame. It is used to regulate others, to punish them for ‚wrong‘ behaviour, it can be used as an offence to control others. But shame works as well as an quite efficient method of self-defence in regard to self-control. By avoiding situations/behaviour others might make us feel ashamed about, we discipline ourselves and ‚follow the rules‘: Shame works in favour of the social order. Knowing and fearing the voyeuristic gaze, trying to fulfil ‚beauty standards‘ is most promising for being ’safe‘. Failing to ‚pass‘ this gaze evokes shame – and might easily be associated with social, verbal and physical attacks.
Body shaming and the fear of having that body hurt are not unlinked concerns. Our bodies are part of ourselves, we live in and depend on them – if they are hurt, we are hurt. If the body additionally is a ‚basic resource‘ for recognition, if (as with the voyeuristic gaze) people tend to see only our body – than disgracing that body affects our social status, our safe ground, what we (socially) are to others; to put it exaggeratedly: it can mean social death. And since social death takes all social protection with it, this threatens nothing less than existence.
If you allow ‚beauty‘ to be a cornerstone of social existence – than body shaming can (and will eventually) tear this existence apart.

Since we thought of heterosexual behaviour and body shaming, we might go on to draw some conclusions on sexuality.
If ‚attractiveness‘ is seen as an interactive, more wholistic concept associated with masculinity and ‚beauty‘ as a rather superficial, passive concept associated with femininity [all of this sounds awful miserable but I can‘t stop seeing this everywhere…] … this corresponds obviously with patterns of ‚hitting on‘ someone respectively ‚present yourself and wait to be chosen‘. Yuck! Regarding this very-uncomfortable-but-still-not-vanished patterns of gendered flirting strategies and adding the horrifying-but-daily-practiced body shaming on females* … it seems almost unlikely for females* to frankly express sexual desires or fantasies without a doubt (may it be verbal or nonverbal).
Communication about sexuality in general and own sexual desires in particular is hard enough (I think there is still lots of work to do in education and daily communication); but based on fear of attacks on the own body (in whatever way) and feeling ‚guilty‘ for being ‚demanding‘ makes things even worse.
Which is such a pity and huge loss!
Because confident, sensitive, acceptive, … communication about sexuality and sexual desires can avoid wrong assumptions and thereby avoid things that better not happen – as well as missed opportunities for things that shall happen. Sexuality, as an very intense experience of physical existence, as being ‚one‘ with your body, as a trustful, intimate, respect- and joyful way of getting in touch with someone – can help us a lot to get rid of the shit.

The first step to get rid of the shame and the damage might be to identify it as what it is; to see the powerful moments of resistance and joy; for many of us it took a huge burden off our shoulders to start talking about body and sexual issues with (at first hand) our female* friends with similar experiences. But we needn‘t stop there, we dare claim to get comfortable talking about these things with our male* friends, too, claiming their support, responsibility and empathy.
It’s about creating awareness of the on-going shit and the big successes (that have or will come): Jumping naked into lakes. Changing clothes within the room, not in the bathroom. Wearing whatever we like and feeling amazing. Hitting on someone we like. Expressing our sexual desires. Kick ass.

… This turned out to be a lot of words. But the more I am told to be just a functioning body, the more I refuse to be quiet, the more I will speak up and let my words as well as my body talk back. I write my body back into my words, I reunite in paper and pen.

I dig up this shit
to throw it on flowers as fertiliser
or back to the assholes
where shit belongs.