Category Archives: Familiar Men

Body Oppression Teach-In/Santa Rosa, California

Debbie says

On Monday, November 16, at 7:00 p.m., Laurie and I will be the featured speakers at a body oppression teach-in sponsored by Occupy Sonoma County. If you are anywhere near Santa Rosa, California, please join us at the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County,  467 Sebastopol Avenue. (Donation requested.)

Here’s an (unpublished) article I wrote to offer some context for the teach-in:

nude from Women En Large

Perhaps the only thing that all human beings have in common is that each and every one of us lives in a body. Until the bioengineers figure out a way to upload our brains into the cloud, that’s going to stay true.

So what is “body oppression”?

If you are treated less well than other people because of something about your body, that’s body oppression. If a store detective follows you around because your skin is darker, and/or you are younger, that’s body oppression. If you can’t get into a building because your wheelchair doesn’t climb stairs, that’s body oppression. If your doctor makes assumptions about your health based on your size, that’s body oppression. And if you learn to shame yourself because of the body you live in, that’s internalized body oppression.

In other words, body oppression is everywhere. Almost all of us know what it feels like to be oppressed because of our bodies, and most of us know what it feels like to internalize that oppression and blame ourselves.

Resistance to body oppression is both individual and collective, both private and organized; however it forms, it always relies on each of us learning to accept our own bodies, live in our own skin. The cosmetics manufacturers and the beauty corporations have co-opted this message into “Love Your Body,” but Laurie and I are working towards something much richer, more complex, and more powerful than a smooth skin campaign.

nude from Familiar Men

Working with Laurie’s stunning black-and-white photographic images of bodies – fat female bodies, male bodies, bodies of women who live in Japan – and with accompanying text which encourages the viewer not to trivialize those images. We don’t want the portraits of fat women to be simplified to “yes, those bodies were beautiful in another time,” so we provide text that demonstrates her as powerful in the tradition of fat liberation.

Resisting body oppression as an individual isn’t (necessarily) about loving your body; that’s great if it happens. It’s about the right to look in the mirror and see what you see, not what the world tells you to see. It’s about making the invisible visible.

Michelle, who blogs as The Fat Nutritionist, said it perfectly:

We need to be allowed to see ourselves as human, at any size, and to see ourselves represented alongside other humans. We need to be able to share our images in public, if we want, and push the recognition of our humanity. Mostly, we need to be allowed to have images of ourselves imbedded in our brains, alongside everyone else. When we see nothing but images of people who don’t look like us celebrated and represented by our own culture, little by little, it degrades our sense of being human. It is a form of systemic emotional abuse.

 Resisting body oppression collectively is about working together, about learning to notice who is being oppressed and who is oppressing, about fighting back, about demanding that every single one of us is treated respectfully and fairly. Over the last few decades, body image activists working together have changed the kinds of clothes that are available, the quality of medical information, the laws about seat belt extenders on airplanes, and much more. There’s so much more to change that sometimes we forget how far we’ve come.

Building collective resistance can only be done by adding more and more individuals to the group. The one thing that makes the invisible visible better than a photograph is a living, breathing person. Each victim of body oppression (fat, dark-skinned, disabled, or any or all of the above) who asserts their right to live fully is a harbinger of the world we all want to live in. Each ally who supports us is a bulwark of the effort.

Come talk with us at the teach-in. Uploading into the cloud isn’t happening any time soon; as long as we all have bodies, let’s learn to live in them well and to fight for what we deserve.


Across from Picasso

Laurie says:

I have posted before about my photographs in the exhibition “No Museum No Life?” at the Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.  (The work was chosen from the collections of five Japanese National Museums of  Art.)  Having four photographs from Women En Large and Familiar Men included is really an honor.

I’ve been told by my friend Becky, who visited the exhibition, that my photographs are hung next to Edward Weston and across from Picasso.  And I understand that two quotes from Women En Large and Familiar Men, one from Debbie and one from Jonathan Katz, are used to context the Nude/Naked theme.

I’ll be able to see for myself next month, when I fly to Japan to visit the museum, and see people I’ve worked with and photographed in Tokyo, the Kansai and Okinawa.

A little while ago, I received a copy of the show’s catalog.  The curators wrote essays about the concepts around which the show is organized.  My work is in the “Naked/Nude” section of the exhibition.  The curator Masuda Tomohiro wrote this in the catalogue about the art.  I have rarely received a more thoughtful or perceptive appreciation of my photographs.


The term “nude” embodies an ideal of well-balanced physical beauty based on an ancient Greek concept that rose to prominence in the Renaissance period. In Europe and modern and contemporary Japan, which was influenced by European values, depictions of nudes remained a central part of art for many years. In order to convey this fact, we have taken as many nudes as we could from the collections and displayed them in this room. Our real bodies, however, are very different from the statuesque forms depicted during the Renaissance. If the idealized nude was, as it were, a fictitious body, its opposite is our real naked bodies. You might say that the history of modern art is a history of rehabilitating the nude. Gustave Courbet’s Sleeping Nude is a suitable work to express this tendency. Though the composition itself is reminiscent of Renaissance painting, the picture shows a woman sleeping in a room in a slovenly position. The window in the background suggests that someone might be peeping at her. Here, the repressed desire to look at a nude is clearly expressed.

Since the people who painted nudes were often men and the people who were being painted were often women, these works frequently have been subjected to criticism on the grounds of gender bias. With this in mind, let us consider some nudes by the female artists Ogura Yuki and Laurie Toby Edison. The latter in particular extols the beauty of exposed bodies in a way that was never attempted in the past. When the beauty of a body is captured in its natural form, it becomes difficult to differentiate between naked and nude. The difference is based on complicity between the artist’s desire and the viewer’s desire to look and share aesthetic values with each other.

I’m really excited to be going to see it!