I waist train. With a corset.
I follow A Girl’s Guide to Taking Over the World on Facebook… a self proclaimed page for female revolutionaries. For the most part, this page posts agreeably feminist content. A current post, for instance, is a roundtable discussion on decolonizing sexualities. Awesome!
A few days ago, however, they posted this article about Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, Present and Myself, a book about woman who finds wearing a corset to be uplifting, empowering, and an expression of her feminism. The linked article about the book is, try though it might, a pathetic book review and a shitty addition to feminist discourse which sparked even more shitty discourse on the Girl’s Guide page and post.
I don’t believe anyone involved in any feminist community claims that they have all answers (if they do, I think that’s a tell-tell sign for tyranny and impending bully systems (read: internalized misogyny) so you better run for the hills or duck and cover). Feminism is a dialogue, it’s a global conversation among people who want to fight systems of oppression. What a feat! But we’re all trying in our own ways to make the world better…at least, we hope.
Why, then, are an overwhelming amount of comments on this post discrediting the book’s author’s feminism and doing so through judgement on her looks, her relationship with her husband, her assumed self-worth and body image?
"Her arms look thinner in the corset photo. Hmm, magic corset?"
"To each his own but she shoulda just lost weight"
Take a look at the original article. The entire grounds for this conversation is started over a piece that is riddled with oppressive language, full of body-shaming and beauty standards. Even as you make it through to the finish line you have to pass bullshit content like links for “5 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT HIGH HEELS” and a quiz for “What’s your body type?”. We’re setting ourselves up for failure this way.
I get it. We need to be critical of our choices and more importantly, our reasons for our choices and understanding of their effects/affects. We need to acknowledge when our behaviors are/can be problematic and find ways of either owning it, changing it, or changing the system by which the problems are contrived and constructed to begin with.
And then there are comments I wish I could have detached from the thread so that those individuals and I could have serious conversations.
Comments like these:
“choice isnt really choice in a society that violently discourages women away from possessing bodies like her before picture. sure these choices can be respected but lets be critical here.”
YES! Yes, let’s be critical here. Not of this woman and her singular action but of a society that continually marginalizes women’s efforts to have agency and autonomy over their bodies and then how her individual actions relate to that.
Based upon our society’s value structure of hegemony and gender, I think that it’s safe to say that femininity and practices, behaviors, conditions, states, etc therein associated are devalued. From this, the alternatives are seen as superior conditions based solely upon the power structure at play.
For the time being, let’s stay completely within the (bullshit) gender binary. Institutional and systemic oppression are manifested in our daily, individual lives in insidious behaviors that support, validate, and perpetuate the value system- women earning less, devaluing of industries that are deemed feminine (care giving, education- especially early childhood development and education, and even the arts). Underneath all that is a substructure that holds hands with hegemonic masculinity making a gross and destructive power-couple: emphasized femininity. Together these things systemically reduce all things feminine down to a diminutive place of no value till we take up no space, engage in behavior that places value on being negligible and having no voice. We modify our bodies with paint, razors, and hunger. We smile without showing teeth and when we laugh we cover our mouths with our hands.
Of course behaviors derived from this system need to be checked. We need to be critical. We need to know that body hair is natural. That vaginas come in all shapes, sizes, and colors yes, each one smells different. And that it is not a bad thing to crave pleasure- in any regard.
So perhaps being a feminist and choosing to shave is a complex issue. I definitely think it is. I think that being a feminist and existing in a world that is holding on to a binary so tightly it feels like vice grip or a choke hold is always going to be complex and we should never try to simplify our existences and experiences. When you simplify, your options are limited and you can be left choosing this…or that. I think we’re already trying to break out of that kind of system.
So let’s open this up a bit. Fuck the gender binary.
Under this premise, I’d like to argue that shaming a woman, womyn, grrrl, man, boi, or person for consciously choosing a gendered behavior is a form of internalized misogyny. Leg shaving started with the advent of shorter skirts. Women’s legs were always kept private or secret in Eurocentric society. Now that white faces have colonized the world’s markets and governments, they had to have a say in sexuality and gender identity. Shaving kept us in check, self-monitored. Don’t go crazy, adhere to a predictable doctrine.
I raise this question: is the same said for nonbinary people who choose to shave their body hair? No? Why? Because we, as feminists don’t want to perpetuate the oppression. That’s why. Is it not truth that shaving is oppressive? Is it not truth that shaving one’s legs is deemed as feminine? Let’s not be reductionists in the fight for liberation. It is a choice. The behavior alone is not inherently oppressive. The system attached to the reasoning behind it has the potential to be…or to not be.
It’s the same that can be said for those who shame others for undergoing cosmetic surgery that is inline with their respective assumed “bodiedness”. It’s as if one goes out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Corseting has a history. Contemporary corsetry is not immune to the evils that plague a sexist society. Just like with all other aspects of body-postivity, it has been fetishized. We should not let that stop us from understanding any and all possibilities that participating in this can be- and is- a form of self-expression, an act of body positivity and self love. Argue contrariwise and you’re implying that alternative body modifications are also contrariwise. Corseting is less invasive than piercings, less painful that tattoos and not permanent. Safe corsetry,while it can have an affect on muscle development- as can be said for weight training- muscles atrophy if left alone. I am sitting in my corset presently. It’s double steel-bonned and an appropriate size for my natural body. Of course it falls inline with an aesthetic. You can look at me and see that I also fall in line with that aesthetic. Are you going to shame me for it?My next corset will be custom made and less for the waist training and more for maintaining. I can eat, drink, play, dance, and sleep in this corset.
Before you assume anything about me or my corsetting or my feminism, let’s talk.
These discussions need to happen more often and with vigor.
This is important.