Rethink Your Mirror or Smash It Like the Patriarchy?

There are three mirrors in my home: two framed by medicine cabinets and one full-length on the back of a bathroom door. I infrequently look in the full-length, but my therapist suggested I needed to do it more as a form of practicing body acceptance.

Yet I want to smash all mirrors (aside from being superstitious). They just create worry for problems with my body I didn’t know were problems until someone told me they were.

So, I ask you: Do we need to rethink our relationships with mirrors? Instead of thinking of them as gateways to what others see, how do we make them tools to appreciate what we see?

Does a Mirror Control You?

“Diet culture keeps women fighting the mirror instead of facing the world.” – Happy Healthy Hans

Social expectations for women’s bodies is a form of social control designed to keep women from focusing on their true power. Agree or disagree?

(By the way, when I searched for images to use for this, I used the built-in tool for stock images and searched “mirror.” Every image I saw was of a woman. What’s that tell you?)

How Your Body Suffers Injustices

While our society can make recommendations for what is supposedly best for our bodies, we still have bodily autonomy. We still get to decide what “best” truly means. This, however, is where the injustices come in.

Where Body Injustice Shows Up

CW: Violence, assault, sexual abuse, bodily harm, death

Think back to those large social structures like government, law enforcement, and health care.

Politicians make laws telling us what we can and cannot do with our bodies, and courts frequently strike those down. Sometimes, political decisions lead to human rights violations like forced sterilizations. And sometimes, the medical industry itself does not provide informed consent and uses human bodies as experiments.

And we’d like to think this isn’t happening close to home (I’m speaking to my fellow Iowans here), but it does.

Moreover, medicine is not advanced enough to cope with one fact: All bodies are different. The history of medical care is founded upon the White male body as the default. Not only is that inaccurate, it costs people their health, time, money, and lives. That is injustice.

That’s not even all of it. I haven’t even talked about these industries: food, beauty, fashion, technology, fitness, finance, environment, and more. Most social structures have something to say about our bodies without taking into account the truth that they aren’t prepared to deal with how different our bodies are.

My Point . . .

What I want is to advocate for respecting the differences between informed recommendations, generalized suggestions, and force. Thanks to social power, it’s understandable to want to influence behavior for the sake of a healthier populace. We want folks to stop smoking, to stop drinking to excess, and to avoid anything that creates harm. However, we may not always understand what is best for a person especially when our knowledge on what creates harm is still evolving. After all, medicinal marijuana is almost mainstream while some politicians are fearmongering against it (and mind you, I’m not even that interested in weed in any sense, but come on).

Body justice allows room for bodies to be different, to be respected, and to be honored. It allows us to look at our bodies with compassion rather than social expectations thrust upon us. Instead of certain body types being the default of what’s considered healthy, large social structures can adapt to the realities that some bodies need what others don’t. Body justice changes how we see food, exercise, reproductive rights, disabilities, trans rights, sexuality, and mental health. And maybe we could be less stuck on models that simply do not work like dieting, gender binaries, and outdated laws.

In short, tons of industries are making billions on what they tell us our bodies need without knowing anything about who we are, our genetic make up, or our desires. Instead of tailoring to us, they try to manipulate our desires to fit what they’re selling. I’m saying, “That’s enough.”

Your Mini-Sociology Lesson on Body Justice

If you’re looking for justice for your body, you might be confused or not care about how sociology relates, but stick with me. It’s the foundation of all things body justice.

Your Body and Sociology

As you probably know (but I never assume), sociology is the study of how external forces influence our behavior. It runs parallel (and often perpendicular) to psychology, which examines internal behavioral influences. That aside, sociology analyzes large social structures like religion and politics as well as small groups like our peers and relationships. Both large structures and small groups influence how we see things and how we behave. Especially in America, we like to think we’re individuals with uninfluenced free will. This, however, is not the case. Just think of the last time you quoted a movie, show, or song.

Exactly.

The Princess Bride references FTW. Source: http://gph.is/2ge45zr

The U.S. and Sociology and Health

Now, if structures like religion, politics, education, business, and so on influence our thinking and behavior, that includes our bodies. Public health is a thing. It’s the reason the CDC, AMA, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services exist. There’s no shortage of organizations and governments working with human bodies. These groups guide health with recommendations and limitations. They shape laws, public opinion, media stories, which means they also shape thinking and behavior. They are our overlords, like it or not.

My references are always dated because I’m old. Source: http://gph.is/1Nm2LaB

Example: Oh, It’s Still a Pandemic

Case in point: COVID-19. We relied on social health structures to inform, protect, and help us. We’re depending upon the social structures of public health to work together to distribute the vaccine. Some of us are vaccinated, some aren’t, some hope to be, some don’t.

Need a visual of how this flows throughout our society? Here you are!

Years of study paying off in this graphic. Source: Me.

This whole flow is called the macrosociology-microsociology link, which is a fancy way of saying large structures and small groups and individuals influence one another (despite the arrows on the graphic, this flow does go both directions). Neat, huh? It’s proof that we influence society, and society influences us. And yes, if you want to make butterfly effect references, feel free. That’s right on target.

But of course, there will always be a group of people who are unwilling (and some unable) to follow social recommendations. That said, their thinking and behavior changes as well. They go from not talking about something like COVID-19 to talking about it to actively opposing the recommendations. Sometimes, they protest. In this case, some protest, specifically, the right to make choices for their own bodies.

Sound familiar?

So, What?

What’s this mean for body justice? It means bodies have social power. Large social structures cannot operate without power, and they know our bodies have power, so they try to control that power. However, because our bodies are ours, that means WE have the power. And tomorrow, I’ll get into your body’s power, how you can use it, and how you can stop others from using it without your permission.

Is Body Justice a Thing?

Are you thinking, “Is body justice even a thing?” To which I say, “kinda.” Body justice is about reclamation to me, and I want to explore that.

Usually, we see these terms, and each offers great help to those of us with body image struggles:

  • Body positivity: Feeling good about our bodies no matter what
  • Body neutrality: Feeling neither good nor bad about our bodies
  • Body acceptance: Understanding our bodies and letting them be what they are
  • Body tolerance: Accepting that our bodies are what they are, and while we may not feel enthusiastic, we’ve at least made peace

The body positivity movement started with Black women, but it has become co-opted by White women, specifically, influencers who are often silent about racism or do not credit the origins of the movement. The body positive posts of Black and Brown women are often overrun with hateful comments. There’s also something infuriating about watching thin women arch their backs to look fat or posting photos of their rolls when they’re sitting and so on. It’s not that these women lack their own, legitimate body issues, and my goal is not to shame them. Instead, it’s to point out how the movement is used to ignore the Black women and fat women who started it. It’s more a condemnation of the way social media works, pits women against one another, and encourages those who meet a certain aesthetic to misappropriate others’ bodies. After all, I don’t have to arch my back to get a belly or bend over for rolls. But if I post those truths, I always run the risk of getting fatphobic hatred.

My actual, unedited, poorly lit fatness without any editing or touch-up to my spotty, flawed skin.

I don’t know how we got to the point where we have to reclaim body positivity, an effort designed to reclaim our bodies, but we’re now reclaiming the reclaimed in the name of body justice.

What are your thoughts on this?

I’ll be exploring more of what body justice means to me tomorrow, and I’ll look at the sociology behind it all.

What Is Body Justice?

I’m taking this week to talk about my business pivot into body justice, so it’s a little less formal and more writing to think out loud content. That said, I would LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE your feedback on this!

Body Justice

Social justice is a massive topic, and I knew going into it that it was too big a scope for my business. But I wasn’t sure what part of social justice was right for me. I want to leave the door open for discussing race, but I don’t want to be pigeonholed into that because too many people are quick to relegate Brown and Black folks to only talking about race. I want to be an advocate for people with disabilities, but I’m not qualified to teach others on it, and I don’t think it’s my place or story to tell. I have a lot to say about religion, education, politics, and economics and how they influence social expectations, but obviously, there’s a lot there.

What I noticed was a consistent interest in bodies for me. I don’t like how religion drives social demands over our bodies. I loathe how politicians think they have any right to supersede our relationships with our physicians, and I hate how physicians refuse to understand how we know our bodies better than they do. We need our bodies to work in this capitalism economy, but that doesn’t mean employers have say over our bodies even if they provide us health insurance, yet that doesn’t stop them. We have bodily autonomy, and I want to fight for reminding everyone of that.

Hence, body justice.

However . . . the biggest use of body justice I’ve seen so far is, of course, diet culture-loving fitness junkies. So, I’m taking it for my uses.

I’ll take the week to explore some ideas within body justice, so I hope you’ll join me in thinking out loud!

Exit mobile version