Columns / Discourse / March 8, 2017

Discussing the femininity of bodies week

The annual Bodies Week, hosted by SASS, traditionally ends with a photo gallery exhibiting student documentation of their relationships with their bodies. Over 100 printed photos of students displaying their bodies were posted in the Taylor Lounge this year, so detailed criticism of the event is an expected externality. However, to all people who made comments concerning the disproportionate femininity of the art pieces, here is some food for thought.

The domination of Bodies Week participant demographics by females, and otherwise femme identifying folks, is undeniable, but so is the hypermasculinity presented in the handful of masculine-presenting folks and their bodies. I want to start by reminding everyone that the few penises** and flat chests that were present were — arguably all but one — displayed in hypermasculine ways. These images were highly similar to the images of lean and tall, white male models who are societally considered to be aesthetically pleasing. This is not to say that the representation of conventionally attractive, white, thin and lean men is not important, but it is to illustrate that these types of photos are what we see in advertisements and in the world as successful people. However, Bodies Week — and by extension, SASS — tries to promote all bodies and not just ones of privilege and visibility.

As a member of SASS executive board, as outreach coordinator, my opinion does not reflect that of all SASS members and executives, but it is safe to say that most also noticed these demographic gaps in the number of gender-expansive, non-binary, queer* and trans* individuals.

This data should have been prominently obvious to most Bodies Week Gallery observers, so this repetition is to merely highlight that even the disproportion was in the favor of one of many marginalized gender categorizations. In my opinion, this gap shows that Bodies Week is successfully reaching out to bodies that are constantly put in boxes and held up to unrealistic beauty standards in their day-to-day lives. As a student organization, we still have a long way to go in utilizing our voice outside of our weekly meetings to promote trans* individuals, bodies and rights. So it is natural to be disheartened by previously mentioned differentials. However, the voiced concerns about the lack of penises** in the exhibition have mostly come across as a fight for cis male representation – as opposed to the representation of marginalized gender identities. White, cis male in its already-existing importance, is not the forefront of Bodies Week and current marginalization of certain gender identities and expressions.

When placed in situations where a generally represented and privileged group is the minority, fear and defensiveness may be an initial reaction of the group’s members. To combat this groping fear from the sudden lack of power, one must keep in mind that the discomfort of the privileged means change for the disprivileged.

*referred to as umbrella terms

**penises are referred to as such: instead of “men” or other gender-specific phrases, to steer away from cissexist preconceptions. Not all people with penises are men and not all men have penises.

Eden Sarkisian, Discourse Editor

Tags:  bodies week column discourse femininity hypermasculinity SASS

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