Not an Odalisque

I Think You’re Gorgeous

with 2 comments

We all have our naughty moments. We believe things wholeheartedly, but now and again we allow ourselves a moment of abandonment. For me, it is usually a little window in which I don’t try to be understanding. A few seconds in which I think that the author of this article should stop complaining and cease stuffing his face at MacDonald’s. A minute, while cornered by a woman telling me about her childhood trauma, when I believe that she should, at age sixty, deal with her issues in her own time. Then I feel bad, because it must be awful to be overweight in a society obsessed with slimness, and because I had a happy, shiny childhood, and still manage to bore people with my troubles. At other times, the slipups are entirely personal. I don’t worry so much about those. My inner feminist is coping quite well with the spanking (or would be, if I were getting any).

http://postsecret.blogspot.com/

Last week, however, I discovered a prejudice I didn’t know I had. I was out dancing. As a spectacle, dance encourages you to look at other people’s bodies with admiration, attraction, envy, surprise or repulsion. Dancers don’t mind you staring. Some of them wear eye-catching spangly outfits. Some must consume a huge quantity of calories to do that much exercise and maintain that much weight. Now and again I endure stabs of envy, when, for example, a petite girl is picked up, swung through the air and returned to the ground. I’m five foot ten, no one is ever going to do that with me. Mostly, though, I spend my time wishing I was a better dancer, and owned a pair of sparkly dancing shoes, rather than considering waist to hip ratios.

A couple of nights ago, as I digging in myself for the courage to ask someone to dance, a beginner breezed up to the nearest man and swept him onto the floor. She was tall, she was blonde, and she had the body of a fashion model. “If I looked like that,” I thought, “I would have the confidence to ask men to dance, too.” I had conveniently forgotten my previous post on annoyance about people dancing with me because of my looks.

I didn’t stop there, though. My jealousy grew. “She looks like a boy, anyway, all lanky, with angles and hard edges. Straight men don’t want that. Real women have hips and breasts. I have damn fine breasts.”

With the exception of the fact that I have damn fine breasts, the above is codswallop. She was a real woman, evidenced by her existence. The definitions of femininity and feminine attractiveness are not immutable, they vary from culture to culture; no version of ‘woman’ is any more valid than another. Fortunately, while the fashion world, Hollywood and women’s magazines have a standardised version of beauty, real people are more idiosyncratic. Some would pass me over for a skinny, hipless blonde, and some would prefer a short, obese woman with full lips, or a woman with red hair, or tattoos, or the ability to play the clarinet. I think that’s great.

So why am I threatened by skinny blondes and not short, fat, redheaded clarinettists? Presumably because the skinny blondes are on the front of porn sites, film posters and music videos. Is it important? Well, yes, actually. Our cultural beliefs about beauty tend to reinforce inequalities of race, class and gender. Why did it used to be fashionable to be pale? Because only the wealthy could avoid working outside. Why is it now fashionable to be tanned? Because only the wealthy can afford foreign holidays. Why are we so obsessed by the blonde? Dare I say that it has something to do with the fact that most blondes are white?

Every time we find beauty and attractiveness where culture tells us it shouldn’t be, we challenge oppressive power structures just a little bit. Because I’m not one of the skinny blondes at the top of the artificial tree, that feels pretty good to me. But what if I was?

I’m no stranger to privilege. I went to a private school. I’m middle class, I’m white. I know that these things gave me advantages, but it still upsets me when people hold them against me. They were not choices I made, but facts of my life. You don’t have to tell me that I might not have got good grades if I’d attended the local comprehensive, but what do you want me to do? Hand my education back? I’ve rarely had to struggle against racism. Sorry.

Skinny blondes, with the exception of peroxide-abusing dieters, didn’t choose their genes. They might get advantages because they fit a mainstream model of beauty. They might get more of the disadvantages I’ve pointed out, in the form of constant sexual attention. The system’s a bad one, but they didn’t create it. So one of these days I’m going to do something really radical. I’m going to make a grand political statement, and date a skinny blonde.

Apply within.

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Written by Not an Odalisque

March 13, 2010 at 7:13 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Love this! And loved your comment on my “Are All Men Dogs?” post. Really thought-provoking, a point I’d wished I made. Thanks for stopping by!

    Tart and Soul

    March 29, 2010 at 5:17 pm

  2. Envy’s natural – hmm now is it the actual movements of beig swung round in those moves or is it body envy?

    I wish I was thin enough or short enough to do…
    Or is it – damn I wish I could move like that ( in general).
    If jive is at all like salsa – a) most aerial moves are frown and simultaneously admired
    b) there’s a lot more to be done not in the air

    Body movement, musicality, rhythm, body isolations, timing, style – all don’t need being thrown upside down.
    Sass, cheeky playfulness – I’d say they’re more fun things in a dance. Depends if you’re dancing for show or for yourself. If you want the moves for the sake of them vs for showing off or for the fun of the physical tumbling?

    John Lindo & Stephanie Batista.

    , when, for , swung through the and returned to the ground. I’m five foot ten, no one is ever going to do that with me

    Tom

    August 31, 2010 at 1:04 am


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