Moving Forward with Body Acceptance

By Lauren Styczynski

Another Bodies Week has concluded, ending with a roomful of people happily visiting, eating cookies and drinking hot chocolate. The photo gallery was a wonderful culmination to the week’s events, celebrating bodies of many different types and encouraging reflection about where we are on our own journeys to body positivity.  It also provided everyone an opportunity to look ahead.

At the exit to the gallery part of the room, a small dry erase board and marker awaited people’s responses to the event while a friendly volunteer stood by with a camera, prepared to document each written message alongside the smiling face of its author.  There was no specific question to answer, but the activity itself seemed to ask: What did you learn? How will you move forward? What is something you’ll change in your life or make efforts to remember?  Participants wrote their answers on the board, then had their pictures taken with it.  Our friendly volunteer printed the photos on site and posted them behind the photo station, gradually creating a third wall of the Bodies Week gallery: a wall of resolve.  The dry erase board messages said such things as, “I will define beauty broadly,” “My scars do not define me” and “I deserve good things.”  As the evening progressed, the wall filled up with people’s affirmations, commitments and reminders: a wall of people who want to carry the message of Bodies Week forward.

It’s a worthwhile question to ask ourselves in the wake of the week’s events: How do I want to respect myself and my body moving forward? And what will I do to make it happen? As mentioned in our last blog post, body positivity is a process. It happens when you’re hanging out with friends and you challenge somebody’s “fat talk.” It happens when you challenge beauty standards and you begin to define and reclaim beauty for yourself. It happens when you see yourself in the mirror and refrain from bemoaning that you’re “less” than you should be.

In fact, as long as we’re talking about mirrors and moving forward, let’s consider that we’re already warmed up with this writing-resolutions-in-dry-erase-marker thing.  Glass is usually as good as a dry erase board when it comes to writing in dry erase marker.  Why not copy your resolution onto your mirror?  (Or, if you didn’t write one at the photo gallery event, you can create one for yourself now.)  That way, long after Bodies Week is over, you’ll still be continuously encountering your reminder.  It’s the little decisions every day that often make the biggest changes.

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in Bodies Week with us! If you’re interested in continuing the conversation with SASS, be sure to drop by a meeting on Thursdays at 9 p.m. in the Human Rights Center.

Body Positivity: It’s a Process

By Lauren Styczynski

We’re coming up on another Bodies Week in a few days.  The planning has been done.  The events have been scheduled.  The posters have gone up around campus.  Maybe you’ve found yourself looking at all the “body positive” advertising and thinking, “Oh yeah, that’s great that SASS is putting that on.  I’m sure a lot of people will really benefit from that…”

As in a lot of people who’ve never heard of body positivity before?  A lot of people with “real” body image issues?  A lot of people who aren’t you?

Let’s reconsider.  Bodies Week is for everyone, including you.  As SASS co-president Allie Fry so succinctly put it in our last blog post, “Body positivity is an ideology and a process.”  Did you catch that?  It’s a process.  So chances are, even if you’ve had those moments in your life (like last year’s Love Your Body Week, for example) when you felt pretty good about the skin you’re in, you still have some room for growth.

That’s not to say that you failed, by any means!  It’s to say that all of us are works-in-progress when it comes to accepting our own and other people’s bodies.  We’ve covered some ground, but there’s more to be done.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? Similarly, a body positive mindset isn’t achieved in the course of a week.  SASS is hosting this event not because we’re masters of body positivity, but so that, as a student body, we can all grow in this area together.

So if you fall into that category of “I’m not ready to love my body,” that’s OK: This week is for you.

If body positivity is something you’re good at, that’s OK: This week is for you, too.

And if you fall somewhere in between, if you’re a work-in-progress at any stage in the body positivity process, then come to grow and learn with us: because this week is also for you.

We hope to see you at our events!

Support Group for People with Eating Disorders: Saturday, Feb. 15 at 2 p.m. in the Human Rights Center. (Questions or concerns? Contact afry@knox.edu)

Yoga with Laura Bush: Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. in the Wilson House.

Self-Care Workshop with SASS and Women of Influence: Thursday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. in the Wilson House.

Bodies Gallery: Saturday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. in the Taylor Lounge.

You’re Invited to Bodies Week

Bodies Week (formerly Love Your Body Week) has become a tradition at Knox. Each year around Valentine’s Day, SASS sponsors a week of events encouraging our community to engage with the complicated, messy journey that is learning to love ourselves.

This year, SASS is trying out a few new ideas in addition to some of our favorite events from years past. We hope that people will be as excited as we are about some of the changes as we work to be more inclusive.

What does “body positivity” mean?

Body positivity is the belief that every person is beautiful and worthy of love. It’s about celebrating all kinds of bodies, with all kinds of shapes, sizes, colors and abilities. It’s about learning to love who you are. Body positivity is an ideology and a process. It is personal and political. It is inclusive and specific, acknowledging the specific harms committed against bodies by the interworking systems of sexism, racism, sizeism, ableism and cissexism while inviting everyone to work towards accepting ourselves.

Why the name change?

For many years, there has been a criticism both from students outside of and within SASS that an imperative is off-putting and problematic, especially for survivors of trauma, sexual violence, self-harm and eating disorders. Our mission with this week is to place self-love on the agenda during a month focused on loving others. By no means are we assuming that everyone does or is currently ready to love their body. This week should prioritize those who are struggling the most to accept and/or love themselves, and that is why we are dropping the assertive “Love Your…” from the title.

What events are in the works?

Sunday, Feb. 16: We are starting the week with a support group for people with eating disorders. The group will be led by survivors and will offer a space for those who have struggled and are struggling with self-love.

Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. in the Wilson House: Laura Bush, director of the CTL and a longtime supporter of Bodies Week, will lead a calming yoga session.

Thursday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. in the Wilson House: SASS will hold a self-care workshop open to all of campus. We will have fun music, discussion and supplies for creating a personalized self-care guide. Self-care means comprehensively addressing your emotional, mental and physical needs, recognizing the validity of your feelings and taking the time and energy to tend to your well-being.

Saturday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. in the Taylor Lounge: We will display students’ photos and art pieces in a gallery setting. Besides the usual delicious treats and hot cocoa, we will also have a student zine including the personal statements from students who participated in the photo gallery.

Have questions? Interested in having more conversations about body positivity? Drop by a SASS meeting! We meet in the Human Rights Center (on Academy Street) at 9 p.m. every Thursday!

Yes, we are STILL talking about Miley Cyrus

By Allie Fry, SASS Co-President

Why are we still talking about Miley Cyrus? How is she still getting media attention, including multiple open letters from two (in)famous female artists, Sinead O’Connor and Amanda Palmer, and the attention of mainstream feminist news sites? To me, everything she does reads as an ill-conceived attention-grabbing stunt to demonstrate her break from her Disney past.

So let’s take a wrecking ball to the “feminist” discourse on Miley Cyrus:

The Smith family reacts to Miley Cyrus’ performance at the 2013 VMAs.

Are we “slut-shaming” Miley?

Slut-shaming is a problematic term in that it reclaims the word “slut,” which many feel never belonged to them, but the term is useful for describing the double standard in which women are shamed, punished and ostracized for being sexual while men are expected to be studs and lauded for having sex. So when people criticize Miley for being nude and licking a sledgehammer, many feminists have called those criticisms slut-shaming. Amanda Palmer’s open letter describes how women should be admired for posing nude, for being confident in their bodies. Palmer conflates nudity with confidence, which is not always the case. Sinead O’Connor writes that Miley is being exploited, and we should be shaming her handlers. In this critique, she strips Miley of any and all agency by painting her as the helpless victim of greedy men. I’d disagree with both.

To O’Connor, I’d say give Miley some credit. I don’t disagree that the music industry (and any capitalist industry, for that matter) benefits from the exploitation of women, but projecting victimhood onto Miley risks the erasure of all female artists’ agencies and the sexual agency of young women. The reality is that not all female artists are puppets of an industry; many choose to incorporate nudity or dance suggestively, and that’s their prerogative.

To Palmer, I’d say you’re right that women shouldn’t be criticized if they want to be nude, but not all women conceptualize nudity as emancipatory. I repeat: Nudity is not universally liberating.

Remember that time Miley Cyrus put on a minstrel show at the VMAs?

Well, those who are eager to defend Miley from slut-shaming seem to have forgotten that video where Cyrus capitalized off cultural appropriation and commodified black women’s bodies as literal props. But established white artists and “feminists” are rushing to defend Miley, as a victim or as a revolutionary, when they were silent about Miley’s racism. Not OK.

What we can learn from this ordeal is that:

  1. It is not productive to assign a certain definition of agency to women. Liberation is not universal, and to pretend it is erases the realities of differently oppressed peoples.

  2. Feminism isn’t useful when it has a single lens. We should call out Miley’s fetishization of black women’s bodies as well as engage in dialogue about the gendered policing of bodies.

  3. As bell hooks said, “We have to constantly critique imperialist white supremacist patriarchal culture because it is normalized by mass media and rendered unproblematic.” We need to engage critically in pop culture because it shapes our society whether we like it or not. So we’re not done talking about Miley Cyrus yet, because we’re not actually talking about Miley Cyrus; we’re questioning the racism and sexism thriving in our culture.

Keepin’ it SASSy

By Allie Fry, SASS Co-President

First thing’s first, what is SASS? Short answer: We’re Students Against Sexism in Society. We meet every Thursday at 9 p.m. in the Human Rights Center on Academy Street. We’re a consciousness-raising, action-oriented, lovable group of feminists.

Spring term was one of mixed emotions for SASS. The SASS board was vandalized, and the Knox College Confessions Facebook page became a hotbed of antifeminism and misinformation. However, that didn’t keep SASS down; we had a hugely successful Take Back the Night march and performance by poet and activist Sonya Renee. In addition, many members of SASS were taking direct action to improve sexual assault prevention, response, and policy on campus, and SASS held a Title IX awareness campaign called Know Your IX.

Looking ahead to the new academic year, let’s clarify something about SASS: There are many variations of feminism, but SASS adheres to the standards of intersectional feminism. Patriarchy consists of interworking factions meant to sustain oppression. These include—but are not limited to—sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism/homophobia, cissism/transphobia¹, ableism², and sizeism³. So while we are a club that opposes sexism, sexism is rarely unaccompanied. For example, one statistic about gender inequality in the U.S. is that women make 77 cents per every $1 a man makes. Well, that’s not the full picture. White women make 77 cents per dollar, while black women earn 68 cents and Hispanic or Latina women earn 59 cents per every dollar a white man makes. This is an example of how feminism can sometimes whitewash the issues, prioritizing sexism over racism and classism. Intersectional feminism aims to recognize and celebrate our complexities. In SASS, we aim to examine issues from multiple perspectives in order to avoid this kind of exclusion.

Needless to say, we have a lot of momentum from last year, and we’re psyched to continue our activism with our traditional events, like Love Your Body Week and Take Back the Night, as well as with new events, including a punk concert.

This blog will be one way you can keep up with feminist happenings on campus and in the news. Be sure to check the SASS board in Seymour, right next to the Oak Room, for more info about upcoming events and current campaigns. All are welcome to SASS meetings! You don’t even have to identify as a feminist to check us out! Thursdays at 9 p.m. in the HRC. If you have any questions or concerns about SASS, feel free to shoot me or Hadley Gephart (SASS Co-President) an email.

Want more feminist resources? Check out these awesome online resources:

Black Girl Dangerous

“Black Girl Dangerous seeks to, in as many ways possible, amplify the voices, experiences and expressions of queer and trans* people of color.” Black Girl Dangerous provides some of the best in-depth, intersectional analyses on feminist issues.

Colorlines

Colorlines reports on racial justice issues. Their analyses emphasize “finding solutions as well as naming problems.” Colorlines also highlights ways you can get involved in the issues, from live online chats to petitions to protests.

The Crunk Feminist Collective

“The Crunk Feminist Collective (CFC) will create a space of support and camaraderie for hip hop generation feminists of color, queer and straight, in the academy and without, by building a rhetorical community, in which we can discuss our ideas, express our crunk feminist selves,  fellowship with one another, debate and challenge one another, and support each other, as we struggle together to articulate our feminist goals, ideas, visions, and dreams in ways that are both personally and professionally beneficial.” Enough said. Go read everything they publish.

Feministing

Their tagline reads, “Young Feminists Blogging, Organizing, Kicking Ass.” Feministing offers young feminists a place to discuss politics and pop culture through an intersectional lens. Their daily Feminist Cheat Sheet delivers feminist news in a succinct, useful way. Founder, Jessica Valenti, came to Knox College in 2012 for Take Back the Night (and definitely kicked ass).

Guerrilla Feminism

“Your One-Stop-Shop for Feminist News and Activism,” says their page. Follow on Facebook for news, analyses, and delightful feminist pictures and comics.

Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch investigates and reports on human rights issues. While all of these issues are feminist in that they concern human rights, specific reports about violence against women and violence against trans persons are particularly relevant for those interested in gendered violence and the role gender plays in conflict.

Shakesville

Shakesville is a feminist blog that works towards inclusivity, awareness and intersectionality. Their Feminism 101 and Rape Culture 101 sections are particularly useful for anyone unfamiliar with feminism.

Women’s Rights News

Their Facebook profile features feminist news, history, critiques and pictures that emphasize women’s rights, as well as LGBTQ rights and racial justice.

 

Notes

1 Cissexism is discrimination of transgender people by privileging cisgender people. Assuming that being cisgender (identifying as the gender the doctor assigned you at birth) is natural and that being transgender is abnormal is cissexism. Transphobia is the irrational fear or hatred of transgender people.

2 Ableism is privileging able-bodied people over people with disabilities. Ableism is discrimination of, prejudice against, or erasure of people with disabilities.

3 Sizeism is discrimination and prejudice based on a person’s physical size (be that height, weight, or a combination of the two). Usually sizeism manifests itself in the United States as privileging thinness.