Friday, July 9, 2010

Body Positivity: What Does it Really Mean?


On my way to work yesterday, I was thinking about the meaning of sex-positivity.

To be sex-positive means to have an active sexual ethic that counters the dominant sex-negative, patriarchal, rape culture. In contrast, sex-positivity involves values such as knowledge, consent, agency, pleasure, and queerness.

As I thought about this conception of sex-positivity, I asked myself what, specifically, are the parallel values of body-positivity. What values do we want to promote in the place of body-negative, thin-obsessed, food-obsessed, fat phobia?

I realized that during my Body Positive Challenge (see past blog posts with this tag), I was doing something every day that felt like a positive step in caring for and enjoying my body. I knew I needed to do something active rather than just have a thought or feeling about it. However, now I’m thinking about it, and I’m looking for more of a theory, a conceptual goal for the process.

What are body-positive values? Can you name some? What knowledge, skills and attitudes to we need in order to effectively lead body-positive lives?

For years I proceeded with the goal of avoiding body-negativity by avoiding the topic of bodies. I clearly reversed that approach when I started the Body Positive Challenge! But now that I’ve entered the conversation, often I still don’t know quite what to say.

In sex-positivity I have found not only values, but a whole language that allows me to discuss the pleasures, pains and challenges of sex and sexuality. I’m yearning for an analogous—and overlapping, definitely—set of words and values to use to talk about both our own and others’ bodies: how we feel about them, how we think about them, and how we treat them.

I’m eager to hear your thoughts and suggestions, and I look forward to sharing more with you as I ponder this key realm of sexuality.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Agency, Objectivity, and a Vision of Sexual Justice: Part One

Let’s “sketch a vision of a just world seductive enough to compete with the allures of the present one.”

These are the words with which Nancy Bauer ended her recent New York Times piece, “Lady Power.”

I agree; this is our call: To promote a sex positive culture, a place in which everyone's integrity and agency and sexuality are validated and celebrated in consensual, pleasurable and diverse ways. This vision of justice sure has seduced me! Has it got you yet?

I found many gems in Bauer’s piece, and I also disagreed with some aspects. She discusses Lady Gaga, college hookups, and Simone de Beauvoir -- all fascinating, if not controversial, topics. Some highlights:

• Lady Gaga uses her position as a sexualized female pop star to critique feminine sexuality and celebrity. Bauer asks, where is the line between self empowerment and self objectification?

•Bauer uses the same question to analyze an infamous college-campus phenomenon: For women, is hooking up an act of wielding power or a na├»ve giving-in to self objectification? Numerous bloggers have written extensively on this topic. I certainly have opinions of my own -- and I'd love to hear yours, too.

• I do take issue with some ways in which Bauer critiques hooking up. First of all, she contrasts Lady Gaga with “real young women” who “feel torn” after a hookup. Is Lady Gaga not real? Not torn? If I'm not torn, am I not real? How do I get to be real? I’m concerned that this tone erases the complexity of the story. Some college women hook up and do not express feeling torn. Where are their voices?

• The philosophy that Bauer brings in towards the end of her piece sheds light on the impact of gender socialization. We experience tension between ourselves as subjects and ourselves as objects. To cheaply resolve this tension, men get to be subjects and women objects, particularly when it comes to sex. However, Beauvoir “thought that truly successful erotic encounters positively demand that we be ‘in-itself-for-itself,’ with one another, mutually recognizing ourselves and our partners as both subjects and objects.” So, “successful” sex requires that we surpass gender stereotypes.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I'm all for promoting sex in which everyone involved can claim both subjectivity and objectivity. But where does that leave hooking up? Can a one night hookup be mutually positive and affirming? Can an objectifying hookup also be empowering? I need room for individual agency in my vision of sexual justice. But I also need for objectification to be recognized and named. What do you think? What do you need?

I’m eager for your responses to Bauer’s words and mine, and I will write more myself on this topic soon.