The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Posts Tagged ‘body image’

And now for feminist pornography

Posted by Nic Heath on November 24, 2009

Popular pornography is undeniably big business and, thanks to the internet, virtually ubiquitous. I mean, it isn’t something I encounter often when I’m online checking the news but if you’re halfway interested, porn is a click away.

Pete Malicki’s ‘How Liberating is Porn Really?’, published at New Matilda, sums up my thoughts pretty well about the problems in the way mainstream pornography portrays women and sexuality. He also provides a neat description of what makes your bread and butter porn, which you can read for yourself at New Matilda. The thrust of his definition hinges on the preoccupation in popular pornography with male desire and the concurrent indifference to women’s sexuality.

I recall as a teenager when the porn craze hit. Girls and boys would watch it, probably mostly a typical teen taboo-breaking exercise. Adult audiences aside, the most dangerous consequence of young people viewing mainstream porn films is that the watching often constitutes a first explicit glimpse of a sexual act. It would be impossible for a young person to be impervious to its influence; pornography sets unhealthy and unrealistic expectations for boys and girls to try to emulate in the bedroom (or wherever). I can’t imagine that sex education in schools offers a correction to this skew.

As Pete Malicki says:

“Given that porn overwhelmingly represents a version of male fantasy, female viewers will be shown what males “want” sexually. It’s pretty easy to understand why women who have been overexposed to porn might feel pressured to fit that fantasy, even without being asked to perform [such] acts.”

Behaviour isn’t all that can be affected – porn provides an aesthetic template too. Arguably the rise in labioplasty, or cosmetic labial surgery, is in some part attributable to the unrealistic “elegant-looking labia” you can see in mainstream pornography.

I suspect women who voice any opposition to popular pornography are often accused of being sexual spoilsports. Statistics show that many women watch porn, and it is possible that many of them watch your standard money shot stuff in the absence of explicit films that pay more mind to a woman’s pleasure.

Of course there is plenty of pornography out there that resists adhering just to the male gaze. In October this year the first Feminist Porn Film Award was awarded in Berlin, and you can read about the awarded film makers here, and the criteria – which include ‘no misogynistic portrayals’ and more women in production roles – here. Films that fulfill the criteria will be given a ‘PorYes’ stamp.   

It’s safe to say that watching pornography can be an ethical minefield and for those who’d like less degradation with their titillation, the PorYes seal of approval could prove helpful in finding enjoyable erotica, and the internet – often blamed for spreading misogynistic material – is the perfect vehicle for the dissemination of feminist pornography.

And I note that while the Sydney Morning Herald recently reported on the PorYes movement, Life & Style web editors stuck to house pictorial policy and used a breast-enhanced image to accompany the article.


Posted in porn | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Womens’ bodies are whale like

Posted by Cate on August 18, 2009

I was angered on Friday to receive a copy of PETA’s latest marketing campaign to turn meat eaters over to all things vegetarian…. petasavethewhales

Yes apparently womens’ bikinied bodies that don’t fit some lithe physique that’s unattainable to many are ‘whale’ like and contain ‘blubber.

Further, their press release states,

“Trying to hide your thunder thighs and balloon belly is no day at the beach,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “PETA has a free ‘Vegetarian Starter Kit’ for people who want to lose pounds while eating as much as they like.

I was vegetarian myself for 10 years during which I certainly was not able to lose pounds eating whatever I  liked. And haven’t PETA made women feel inadequate enough about their bodies with their advertisements of naked vegetarian female celebrities, usually draped with fruit or baby animals?

PETA also fail to consider the reality that many women are curvy or ‘overweight’ despite a vegetarian diet? You can eat a lot of vegan Oreos or ice cream in one sitting. They also seem keen to simply ‘guilt’ women into restricting what they eat, for weight loss instead of ethical reasons. Certainly one step towards an eating disorder for those with any propensities for such things. It reminds me of when I was at school and the participants in the World Vision 40 Hour Famine were overwhelming young girls.

Posted in body image, Politics, Women's Health | Tagged: | 20 Comments »

Travails of beauty

Posted by Nic Heath on August 6, 2009

The beauty industry, and how much money women invest in it, has popped up on my radar a couple of times recently.

‘Because I’m Worth It’, in the July 25 Good Weekend, runs through the expenditure of four women on maintaining their appearance. The article’s author, Maggie Alderson, posits that in one school of thinking, 

‘…adequate personal care is – like doing your tax return, being punctual and saying thank you – an adult responsibility.’


 ‘…leg-hair is a complex grooming issue, requiring military-precision planning to be smooth on key dates…which is why I invested serious time and money having mine permanently lasered off.’

 And final advice:

‘Choose a significant person – an ex, a work nemesis, the other woman, or the one who got away – and be exactly as gorgeous as you would like to be if you happened to run into them by chance. Every day.’

I have two major concerns with this ‘belief system’. One – the expense. Multinationals’ profits depend on women feeling insecure about their appearance. Canna Campbell spends $17754 a year on beauty, Wendi Snyder $19016, Mary Shackman $11187 and Vina Chipperfield $19090.

The second is pain and/or discomfort. Canna Campbell is my age – 28 – and has been having Botox injections for 18 months. Vina Chipperfield, 39, says:

‘I loathe having Brazilian waxes, which I get every two months. I really have to psych myself up.’

 And then, ratcheting up the pain/discomfort scale, last week ABC2 screened The Ugly Truth abut Beauty, a documentary charting journalist Kate Spicer’s dalliance with cosmetic medicine. Spicer approaches her mission with equal measures of enthusiasm and cynicism – while like many women ‘not 100% happy with her appearance’, she is not the stock-standard candidate for cosmetic medicine. In an article published in The Australian she writes:

‘Previously, I had found cosmetic surgery curious, fascinating, not for me. Instinct told me it formed the deepest, darkest recesses of the misogynistic capitalist system that is the beauty industry.’

On ABC’s site:

This film follows Kate as she immerses herself in the wide range of bizarre, radical and invasive procedures now on offer to normal women willing to undergo a gruelling quest for exquisite, youthful looks. Just how far is Kate willing to go? And will it be worth it?

With a personal interest in improving her looks and a beauty industry cynic’s interest in exploring just how easy it is to be sucked into the world of cosmetic improvement, Kate wants to find out what’s really involved in our quest to look beautiful. “I’ve got two motivations here,” says Kate. “One is can I get to look better? Can I get to look hotter? But there is a more earnest desire – to try to be the guinea pig that illustrates just how ridiculously seductive that world is”.

After a few rounds of Botox, the final procedure on Kate’s face is performed with Fraxel laser technology. It makes for singularly disturbing vision. Metal plates are put over Kate’s eyeballs, while her voiceover tells us she was so medicated that this didn’t bother her, and the rest I couldn’t tell you because I couldn’t watch it. The immediate effects were bloody; she looked as though she’d been punched in the face or worse, a number of times.

Describing a photograph taken straight after the treatment, Spicer says:

‘It’s of a glassy-eyed woman, drugged up on Xanax and morphine, with eyeballs that appear to be weeping bloody tears, her skin red, oozing and bruised, and her eyelids glossy and raw like tuna tartare.’

It wasn’t Kate Spicer’s face though that was the most affecting consequence of the procedure. In the clinic, she’s laid low. She clearly feels terrible. She speaks of feeling depressed – the woman attending to her suggests it could be from the drug cocktail she’s ingested. And yet as the doco finishes, Kate suggests she likely hasn’t had her last Botox injection.

Writer Emily Maguire, delivering her speech ‘The Accidental Feminist’ for the Pamela Denoon lecture earlier in the year, says it pretty simply. It is that women are constantly being given the message that they are not good enough just as they are. A woman needs to cleanse, pluck, tone, wax, scrub, moisturise, bleach, alter, amend, enhance etc.

Kate Spicer certainly hasn’t glamourised cosmetic surgery, but she shows how hard it is for (some) women to resist the constant pressure to look a certain way – and to go to great lengths while trying. With so much money invested in the beauty industry – made clear by the lists of products and treatments upon which Good Weekend’s four featured women spend their money – I can’t see the pressure to look younger/better/different lessen anytime soon.

Posted in Fashion | Tagged: , , , , , | 9 Comments »

“For Fuck’s Sake” Corner: Britney Spears Edition

Posted by Clem Bastow on March 5, 2009

So, I realise there are some newspapers and magazines out there that are about as right-on as a wet t-shirt contest, but that doesn’t stop me from being disappointed/angry/disbelieving at just how low they’ll stoop sometimes. As the pop-culturally-aware of you will realise, Britney Spears has just made her “proper” comeback by launching her Circus tour in New Orleans. She’s match-fit and, according to most reviews, back in fine form. So, leave it to our favourites, The Daily Mail, to come up with this single-entendre shocker:


Okay, got that? Wanna see what this hulking hambeast they’re referring to looks like? The actual picture they’re running, to illustrate said bulky bigness? From that headline, Britney must have been putting away the pecan pies, right? WRONG:


Wow – honk, honk! Move over, wide load, we’re trying to get etc etc.

Honestly, where will the madness ever end? As mscate noted the other day, the media doesn’t cause eating disorders or poor body image, but it’s a hard slog staying positive when someone as fit, healthy and gorgeous as Britney Spears is described as “bulky” and “big”. Everyone, all together now: SIGH. Now, back to the fight.

Posted in body image, Celebrity, Media Watch | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Australian Family Association: Female Genitals (Cunts) “Offensive”, “Degrading” To Women

Posted by Clem Bastow on March 1, 2009

Yes, you did read that headline correctly.

Readers interested in the art world, living in Adelaide or attending Adelaide Fringe (or who RSVP’d to the Facebook event!) will likely be aware of Greg Taylor’s new exhibition, CUNTS… and other conversations, which features 140 life-sized sculpted portraits of, well, cunts.

(For the record, I subscribe to the excellent Betty Dodson’s use of the term “cunt” rather than “vagina”, because as she notes – even if it is geared towards sexual identity rather than just identity – “technically speaking, the vagina is the birth canal, so using this term leaves out the other parts of a woman’s sex organ”).

Far from the sensationalist angle you would be forgiven for expecting if you read the tabloid news (and we’ll get to that in a minute), the exhibition serves a noble and much needed purpose: to remind people – and, yes, women – that all cunts are different, and all of them are beautiful. From the press release:

“It is a challenging show to some, but it is a work of celebration and empowerment to others. It’s the kind of show that makes a stimulating backdrop for women’s issues to be discussed, which I encourage,” he says.

CUNTS previewed in Melbourne in 2008 and attracted 2000 visitors over ten days including school groups, mothers with their daughters and medical students sent by their university lecturer.

The models for CUNTS range in age from 18 to 78 and are from various religious backgrounds; Christians of many denominations, including Catholic, Protestant, Salvation Army as well as Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Pagans, Witches and Atheists. The women come from all walks of life; teachers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, writers, actors, musicians, artists, life models, students, architects and theologians. The models are heterosexual, bisexual, lesbians. Some are virgins. All of them want one thing; for young women to be free of growing up with fear, ignorance and loathing of their bodies and sexuality. [my emphasis – Clem]

Xanya Mamunya is a harpist whose cunt features among the works. She says of the modelling process, “It was empowering because I am from a generation that never even looked down there. I wasn’t even told about the menstrual cycle until I thought I was bleeding to death. Modelling for the exhibition made me feel that I was part of something that I think is very important – for everyone.”

It’s such a stand-up inspiration for an art show that, naturally, the Australian Family Association and their associated cronies had to come and spoil the show. And boy, did they ever, stepping beyond their usual sex/body-phobia into a whole new realm: yes, women’s genitals are offensive and degrading… to women!

The Australian Family Association also attacked Mr Taylor’s use of the word and images as degrading to women and totally inappropriate for public display. Spokeswoman Gabrielle Walsh said there was absolutely no excuse for the public display of the sculptures or the “C” word.

“He shouldn’t be allowed to force these images and words upon us in public for all to view, including children,” she said. “It’s an abuse of public space and women, in particular, would find them deeply offensive.”

One wonders if Ms Walsh feels personally “offended” or “degraded” by the very thing lurking inside her pants. Fellow blogger Audrey Apple launched the exhibition (with her work hat on); we were discussing the infuriating uproar this morning via email and she had this to say:

Personally, I feel degraded by the notion that the Australian Family Association, with their regressive anti female, anti homosexual and anti sexuality agenda, feels that they can speak for ME. In fact, it’s my experience so far that women especially have responded positively to the exhibition. If the AFA weren’t so determined to believe that bodies are disgusting – and women’s bodies especially – then they might actually learn something. In a world where more and more women are having cosmetic surgery to make their vaginas and labia look ‘presentable’, it’s the height of obscenity to declare an exhibition celebrating vaginal diversity ‘vulgar’ and ‘offensive’.

Throughout the gnashing of teeth by AFA (and Australia Post, and – yes – “State secretary of the Communications Electrical Electronic Energy Information Postal Plumbing and Allied Services Union of Australia, Graham Lorrain”), it’s hard to work out what has sent them into more of a lather: the use of the word “cunt”, or the images of women’s genitals?

On the former topic, yes, it’s true that the “worst” words you can throw at a person have been narrowed down to two that are distinctly female: “cunt”, and “motherfucker”. But it’s worth reclaiming “cunt” (as many people, feminist and otherwise, are aiming to do); it’s a fine, old word with a rich etymological history (hell, it was good enough for Shakespeare!). If we can take back “bitch” and other epithets, why not “cunt”? Why not take it as a compliment? A cursory Google search on the topic will reveal an extensive library of pro-cunt blogging, journalism and web-ringing.

Indeed, it is easier to believe (though harder to accept) that it’s the former – images of cunts – that is the main issue at hand. And why wouldn’t it be? Women’s magazines aren’t allowed to print images of women’s genitals (i.e. for sexual education) unless they are the homogenised line drawings of tampon leaflets (I recall Mia Freedman, when she was Editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, even running an editorial push for readers to “write to their local member of Parliament” – so to speak – in an effort to get rid of these archaic censorship laws). Porn magazines airbrush women’s labia until they look like neat little purses. Women of all walks of life are talked into plastic surgery in order to achieve “designer vaginas“.

But calling women’s genitals “deeply offensive”? It seems the depths of society’s fucked-up-ness are yet to be plumbed.

Posted in art, body image, Faith and Religion, Family, Media Watch, Politics, Sex And Love | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

There’s No Prize For Being The Ugliest

Posted by Mel Campbell on December 23, 2008

Yesterday I was on a tram opposite three girls who looked to be aged somewhere between 15 and 20. They looked like they’d been out at the pool or the beach, because they had that mussed-up hair, and bikini strings peeped from their clothes.

I was looking at them longingly, thinking how fresh-faced and gorgeous they all were: the very epitome of what all women are expected to look like. One had amazing blue-grey eyes with lots of eyeliner; another girl managed to be both slim and buxom; the third girl had long, foal-like legs and lovely, honey-coloured skin.

One of them got a mirror out of her bag and started staring crossly at herself. “I look so awful,” she groaned to her friends, “Like a drowned rat. Time to put that bag back over my head.”

Of course, her friends refused to countenance this; “You look fine!” and that kind of stuff. But I began to think about the way women learn so early in life to criticise their own appearance to their friends. It’s almost like a little competition: who’s got the fattest thighs or the stumpiest legs; the worst skin; the frizziest, more unmanageable hair; the biggest nose? And our friends so often respond by pointing out their own shortcomings: “At least you’ve got boobs! I’m flat as a surfboard!”

Why is this? Perhaps it’s a desire to appear modest, not to boast. Perhaps we’re fishing for compliments to reassure ourselves that other people find us pretty when we might not ourselves. Or perhaps it’s pre-emptive and defensive: if you’ve noticed your own cankles, nobody else can humiliate you by pointing them out.

But it’s ridiculous! I wanted to go over to these chicks and say, “Y’know, a while ago a Facebook friend of mine uploaded some pictures of me from 11 years ago – I couldn’t believe how wonderful I looked when I was 20, but at the time, I thought I was hideous! You have no idea how much I envy you your looks. Just enjoy them, for fuck’s sake! There’s no prize for being the ugliest!”

Of course, they would have looked disdainfully at me and gone, “Mind your own business, you weird, fat old lady.”

We’re so distrustful of other people’s attempts to reassure us of our own beauty. I still can’t help feeling that feminist statements like “Ladies, love your bodies!” and “You are beautiful!” fundamentally miss the point of why women feel ugly and unhappy in their bodies, but at the same time I can’t think of how else women can stop competing with each other for who’s the worst.

Posted in body image, Relationships | Tagged: , | 12 Comments »

Deep breath, arms in

Posted by Cate on November 21, 2008

In case you haven’t got enough body image problems, here’s one from the world of the ridiculous…

Do you have upper arms? Yes, me too. Apparently we need help. According to the information I have before me:

For decades, women have hidden this trouble spot under baggy blouses and oversized blazers, cringing at the thought of clingy tops or, GASP, sleeveless tanks. Well, now you can bid farewell to dowdy sweatshirts and kiss your husband’s old polos goodbye!

Our saviours in America, Jax & Jewels Inc. are proud to present FLABuLESS, the first-ever arm shapewear for real women! Yes you read right, the product is called Flabuless! Here’s some pictures:



Funnily enough, the before and afters don’t look all that much different to me. girl1_2

I’m not sure how they’d go with a strappy summer dress, but the idea of a compression garment for arms is kinda hideous. Compression garments (aka foundation garments) contain mega strong elastic (and perhaps other materials of a magic capcity) to effectively contain and reshape bits of flesh that you’d like flatter and smaller. Apparently they were a huge hit in the recent Spring Racing Festival under slinky dresses where you don’t want to show lines. This is one thing, but when they are used to reshape your body altogether so you fit into smaller clothes, there’s something about it that’s a little sinister.

I got third degree burns on my right arm and hand quite a few years ago. I ended up having to wear a compression garment to help with scarring. Those things are thick, hot and uncomfortable. They also restrict your mobility.

There’s something about the idea that women’s body are unruly if they are curvy and need to be ‘held in’ and ‘contained’ (perhaps as some kind of punishment for not fitting the idea of the body beautiful?) that I find disturbing. Why are curves and flesh so bad to many fashion trends? What if ‘race wearing’ garments (and the like) oh I don’t know, came in a variety of cuts and sizes for different shapes? What if designers started making women’s shirts and dresses to accomodate different upper arm sizes. Seriously, can you imagine a guy wearing arm compressions?

Posted in body image, Fashion | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Calendar Girls Again, And Again, And Again…

Posted by Cate on November 13, 2008

Airline Ryanair have hit controversy with its publication of a calendar of bathered female staff, designed to raise money for homeless charity Dublin Simon Community, according to UK rag The Daily Mail.

Of course, being the Daily Mail (publishers of the infamous page 3 women) they couldn’t resist publishing pictures from the calendar. All the women are (predictably) young, thin and high heeled in bathing suits.  The calendar features only women and heavily airbrushed women at that.

The Daily Mail reports that

The Institute for Women in Spain is considering legal action and intends to complain to Irish and EU authorities that the publication is sexist as it only features female models.

The institute further contends,

“It is significant that only women are used, in a sector in which there is a considerable percentage of men.”

Calendars created to raise money for charity have been around for ages with everyone from older women to farmers getting their kit off to raise money for various charities. I find it ridiculous that the Institute contends that the sexist imagery would be okay if it also featured men. I would like to think that both women and men should be protected from sexism in the workplace (as is detailed in law). I’d like to think that the women in the calendars are there of their own will. But when the calendar comes from a large commercial enterprise already notorious for sexualised imagery and discourse about women (the idea of the mile high club, the preferencing for employing women who look a particular way), I get a bit concerned. Particularly when the boss of the Airline contends that the calendar

” …will remind us of all the gorgeous girls you can meet on board Ryanair”.

Thus, reducing professionally trained and  employed staff to be judged (again) on their appearance. I’d imagine those who choose not to participate in the calendar would be similarly surveyed and assessed by peers and customers alike for whether they fit the criteria for such a calendar. And another opportunity for women to compare themselves to the images features and find themselves sadly lacking. Hardly makes for a comfortable, sexual harassment free work environment.

Posted in Media Watch | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Now Even Nine Year Old Girls Can Enjoy The Pressure To Look “Perfect”

Posted by Clem Bastow on August 13, 2008

First, an admission: I missed the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing. Largely because I was nowhere near a functioning television, but also because I had my doubts (echoed by Mark Mordue’s excellent piece in The Age) about China’s festival of nationalism disguised as a gee whiz opening spectacular. However, I read enough coverage to know that they had their own “Nikki Webster”, a little girl performing as a focal point of hope and innocence.

What a pity, then, that it has emerged the girl who appeared in the ceremony was a miming ring-in, hired because the nine-year-old girl who actually sang the Hymn To The Motherland was deemed not to be “pretty” enough for the worldwide telecast:

The ceremony’s music director, Chen Qigang, revealed that Lin had not been singing but miming to a recording by another girl, Yang Peiyi, who was dumped from the starring role because she wasn’t as pretty and had uneven teeth.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in body image, Media Watch | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

I love Joy Nash: Fat, Feminist Friday

Posted by Cate on August 8, 2008

Posted in body image | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »