all bodies are real bodies

Every so often, when talking with a customer about the DVDs, I’ll get this question: “do you have anything with women with real bodies?” And I have to say that it kind of yanks my chain. Ren has an interesting post on this at Feministe, which is what sparked this for me today.

First off, I want to honor what I think is the real question: what movies feature non-surgically altered women? I 100% support people speaking their desires and asking for what they want. I 100% recognize that there are plenty of people who prefer to see women in porn without breast implants, or with pubic hair, or whatever. That’s great and there are plenty of movies for folks with those preferences.

Second, I think it’s totally fine to question/critique/discuss how limited and limiting definitions of beauty trap all of us. That-which-is-considered-attractiveâ„¢ causes untold harm to everyone, especially women who try to force themselves into a mold that doesn’t fit. Given that pretty much every image we see in the media these days has been digitally altered, I really value the process of seeing past the packaging and discovering ways to not let it skew our self-perceptions. Personally, I find that not reading magazines full of unrealistic or literally impossible photos has done wonders for my ability to perceive the beauty that exists in every person I see. I highly recommend trying it, although your mileage may vary.

At the same time, what bugs me about the “real bodies” questions is that everyone’s body is a “real body”. There’s no such thing as a fake body- there’s only different degrees of body modification and we all do it.

Think you don’t have any body modifications? Do you have any piercings (yes, ear piercings count!) How about tattoos? Pins or rods in your skeleton to help you heal after an injury? Do you shave, wax, or tweeze any hair anywhere on your body? How about dyeing or cutting your hair? That’s a modification, too. Do you wear makeup? Eyeglasses or contact lenses? Have you ever had a mole removed? Those are all body modifications. And every body that I’ve ever seen has been modified to one degree or another.

Of course, some of them are temporary and others are more or less permanent. Some are easy to do and others require some help, such as those that require surgery. Some of them are for cosmetic reasons, others for medical reasons, and still others for both (such as glasses, which may be medically necessary but the frames are chosen in order to look good). And some of them fit within a given culture’s definition of acceptable body modifications and others don’t.

In all of this, whatever the reason for a particular modification, whether it’s to look a certain way, to help your body after an injury, or to make it easier to move through the world, none of them makes your body “fake.” Every body is a real body.

Even so, I do think that it’s worth exploring why some people choose to modify their bodies in the way that they do. The cultural pressure that we all face to look a certain way weighs on all of us. And in particular, the pressure that most women in US culture face to fit a particular mold has devastating consequences. So yes, we can question and challenge that. But once we start labeling some people as having “fake bodies”, we deny them their full humanity and that is a very steep, very slippery slope. Because that often leads to ascribing moral judgments to people because of how we judge their bodies. And in my experience, that quickly ends up in reinforcing the either/or, good/bad model that causes so much harm.

If we want to be sex-positive, then we need to honor both the real bodies that we each have AND the fact that we are each attracted to different types of bodies. We need to have room to question the messages that we receive about bodies AND honor each person’s autonomy to make  decisions about their own. And we need to stop using words like “fake” when we talk about very real, very human bodies,

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Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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