Women’s bodies, Men’s bodies

Ampersand of Alas, A Blog dropped by to comment on the snappy comeback post we made on Thursday.

What strikes me is the internalized self-hatred which we deflect onto people like us. One one level, this story is about “people like us,” i.e., fat people criticizing other fat people. However, since this was an interaction between a man and a woman, more is happening here. Displaced self-hatred enables some men to distance themselves from their own bodies, and put everything they feel about their bodies onto women. It used to be effortless for men to do this, because their bodies were generally beyond contemplation. Recently, men’s bodies are becoming commercialized by the beauty industry and therefore increasingly criticized, and many men are experiencing a profound loss of body privilege. Another way to say this is that men’s body knowledge is being “feminized.” In nine years of workshops and slide shows on “Familiar Men”, I’ve listened to many men talk about the ways in which they hate their bodies, and I’ve come to realize just how devastating this is for them.

As men are being made more and more aware of the ways their bodies fail to match a mythical perfection, one thing that can happen is that some men’s criticisms of women’s bodies can become angrier and more explicit. In this way, the world works to keep us from forming the cross-gender and so many other alliances that can help to create change.


6 thoughts on “Women’s bodies, Men’s bodies

  1. An alternative view –

    – in which I don’t speak for men in general, fat men in general, or, generally, anyone but me –

    I can only say that this feels wrong to me. Men’s bodies have been fetishized for quite some time, but differently: the fetishizing of men’s bodies is called (or is at least related to) “sports.” Well before the recent incursion of the beauty/salon/etc. industry, men have been given (subtly and overtly) the message that we are supposed to be “buff,” strong and sleek and all that.

    Remember those Charles Atlas ads about the 98# weakling on the beach? That’s what those are all about – look at those ads, back in the ’50s and, I suspect, earlier: they’re full of photos of male models whose bodies are every bit as unrealistic (though perhaps less unhealthy) than the models in fashion ads.

    Bringing up the Charles Atlas ads may sound like I’m cherrypicking, but I’m not. They’re emblematic, not isolated. In popular culture, fat men are sinister, humorous, or both: from Sidney Greenstreet to Jackie Gleason, fat men are not boon companions, not people you want to have at your side in a fight, probably not to be trusted.

    As a fat man in modern society I have repeatedly received the clear message: because I am fat, I must be lazy. If I were not lazy, I would work out and be buff. QED.

    All that said: I’m not here to quarrel, nor even to deny that “fat is a feminist issue” – though I think that’s an unnatural and unnecessary limiting of the scope of the issue, clearly there is some reality to the statement; the way fat women are treated is different from the way fat men are treated. (Both receive contempt, but the contempt for fat women is frequently disguised as pity, and in any case the quality of the contempt is generally quite different.) Just to say, well, there’s more to the story than fat men unloading their selfloathing on women.

  2. What you are saying is that the more aware men become of their own bodies, the less tolerant they will become of women’s.

    I am not sure that this follows. I think that the acceptance of one’s own body leads to the acceptance of others. But I am not sure the move from body obliviousness to body awareness (and the subsequent fault finding,) in any way changes the standards one has for the opposite gender. What is the female perspective? Do women who spend an hour each day putting on their makeup want their men to do the same?

  3. One more linky-comment… I’m not sure if this qualifies as discussion, but I love Naked Jen‘s blog for her photos of herself exuberant and naked in the oddest situations. Her blog does a lot to make nakedness and bodies beautiful and “normalized”… At times she’s photoshopped her naked self into Minnie Mouse’s bedroom or the White House lawn and other times she’s just naked somewhere.

    I find that I “read” the being-naked differently when the naked person’s words or voice is there with the images.

  4. I have had an incredibly unique experience when it comes to body image. Reading these blogs has forced me to do some self analysis and I´d love to share. I see beauty in others very easily. I thank Sally for that. Sally is one of my mothers and probably the most enlightened woman I know when it comes to body image. Like Laurie, she finds beauty in life. As a child I was endowed by her with that gift. I am an incredibly aesthetic person. For me beauty is the emotions created within me; compassion desire and empathy ebb through my brain when I see. When I see what I interpret as beautiful a flood of emotion inundates my brain with a sense of mystery in how I was so deeply touched. I have found beauty in a thought, a drop of rain and a photograph. The greatest beauty I see is life. I look at myself in the mirror and I see a beautiful skinny boy who is growing too quickly into an ugly man. Before I was six I watched very little television and was virtually unexposed to popular notions of beauty. I remember being much more comfortable with my body. As a child I was comfortable being naked, sleeping in the same bed and bathing with my family. These are all incredibly natural things. I have immaculate trust and compassion for my mothers because they always made me comfortable with myself. Acceptance is one of the greatest messages one can learn.
    In elementary school everything changed. I was exposed to teasing for the first time. When ones life has been sheltered from all of the wrongs in society and they are instantly exposed to all of the worst of them the effects can be traumatic. I became incredibly defensive and violent and slowly conformed to negative beliefs rejecting my mothers and accepting peer culture. I was in therapy for my violence but anger was never the root of my problems. My core beliefs had been made wrong and my childhood innocence was destroyed. Since admitting this to myself I have tried to work back to my original beliefs and I have also fallen in love with my mothers for a second time. Most people in society are exposed to terrible wrongs and cannot cope with them because they can´t remember a time when they knew and felt what was true and right. I freed myself from basic insecure beliefs that I have been feeling for years when I realized I was incredibly insecure. I could compare my insecure self to my ideal self as a child. I worked to accept myself like my parents had originally accepted me and I slowly began the process of change. I still deal with issues that society forces me to deal with. I still have an inherent repulsion to skinniness because of all the self loathing built up over the years but I am dealing with it. My ideal beautiful woman is probably considered 20 to 30 pounds overweight by the rest of society which I think is somewhat caused by my own self loathing or maybe an oedipal complex. I am glad I often let the true vision of beauty transcend my critiquing eye which was only created with the destruction of this part of my innocence. What one sees should never be critiqued but accepted. Acceptance of reality is beauty to me. I will continue to try to root out societal lies whether they pertain to body consciousness or any other issue. I now feel that in every person I can find incredible beauty as my mother does. I hope that the next time you look at someone and make a critique ask if its really your voice that is critiquing the person and maybe you will see another layer of beauty.

  5. In general, I would say that men’s bodies are not attractive – whereas women’s bodies are beautiful – both in the best of condition.

    Men’s genitals are absurd – but a woman’s breasts and genitils are lovely.

    Men think that a large penis is the thing that will give a woman pleasure. From my experience, the penis is what gives them pleasure, but their tongues are what give women pleasure.

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