We live in an increasingly homogenized, blinkered world. A Big Mac has become so ubiquitous you can usually count on it being the same from Beijing to Buenos Aires. We watch the same blockbuster movies, we aspire to the same objects of desire, whether it’s iPads, Louboutin shoes or Xboxes. We can instantly share whatever grabs our attention on YouTube in seconds of watching it, we can trade any information at any time at the speed of light. Newsfeeds and blogfeeds can be tailored to our personal tastes and interests, so can any kind of advertising.
These days, even the erotic – surely one of the most diverse of human preoccupations – has been standardized to such an extent that even ordinary women are feeling the heat to conform in order to aspire to being desired. There’s room for everyone and something for everyone, too – with a few provisos. Be young. Be blonde, if you can. Make sure your mammary glands are of a pleasing proportion and height. And for the love of dental floss, woman…would you please devastate that rainforest you carry around between your legs?
So you do just that. Stock in Gillette soars, and the lady with just the right deft, torturous touch with that hot wax knows more about you than even your sister can manage. You slather yourself with snake oil in jars to ensure you are as smooth and line-free as a virgin piece of paper. The only hair left on you is the hair you want to be there. You work out or you run or both, you buy other, different kinds of snake oil in many colors to accentuate and present your improved, desirable self.
And disaster strikes. One day you discover a tender spot that means an ingrown hair is making your overstressed life a misery, especially in jeans. But it’s located somewhere you can’t quite see, so you grab your magnifying makeup mirror to have a closer look.
OMG! How could you have lived all these years without knowing this…that you look nothing like those porn movies you have been known to watch? Those images in anatomy books with their clean lines and their perfect snatches – they ain’t you, baby. That…thing, that semi-hidden area of your body you have carried around since birth and had a wary relationship with since puberty, that source of pleasure and pain…is a bit less than perfect, even with a Hollywood wax job. It looks like an alien life form and not at all benign. It needs a face lift. And you need a Xanax at least. If you’re that ugly, that deformed, that hideous, how can anyone ever want you again? That’s just not…normal, is it?
Stop right there. Take a deep breath. Sit down. Calm down. Chill. Your life already sucks hard enough.
We live in an age that does everything to encourage serious body dysmorphia. No matter what we do or how we look, it’s never…good enough, which usually means we’re never good…enough. We constantly compare ourselves to other females in particular, positively convinced that they somehow have it all together, they have their lives, their souls, their traitorous, treacherous bodies under control in a way we can never quite manage ourselves. And it’s only getting worse.
So for the International Women’s Day on March 8th, the Danish Center for Information about Gender, Equality and Ethnicity decided to grab that thorny bush by the roots and instigate something…different. Something that would celebrate womanhood in general and women in particular, something that would quell that ravening industry-fed monster that feeds our perpetual insecurities.
To that end, they created an alternate kind of photo booth. Built and engineered by two female students of engineering design, constructed to look friendly rather than intimidating.
Here’s the deal: You enter a booth with a fully closed door, remove your undergarments and sit down on a specially constructed chair. Immediately below it is a light and a camera that for free and completely anonymously will take a photo of your private parts and upload them to a web page – so you can see for yourself that you’re nowhere such a freak as you think. I’d like to point out that this is completely anonymous, the photos are very tightly shot and really, ladies – who will know it’s you, even?
By taking our private parts completely out of any kind of sexualized contex and presenting them as such, we’re encouraged to talk about ourselves, discuss ourselves and maybe embrace ourselves and appreciate our own diversity.
Celebrate the different! That web page proves without a doubt that women and their parts come in as many shapes, sizes and versions as their owners, and demonstrates how far removed we are from our very selves in that perpetual quest for homogeny – a homogeny defined by a porn industry that’s fully aware of its own entirely artificial ideal – and that’s the point of it to begin with.
You realize of course, that the more you concentrate on looking, acting, embodying that very ideal is the time you’re distracted from how much inequality, how much misogyny still exists, don’t you? And perhaps being motivated to change what you can?
Once upon a time in the Western world, only burlesque dancers would ever dream of waxing. I once came across a French postcard from the Twenties or Thirties, judging by the hemlines and the cloche hats. Seven women – at every age and in several sizes – had lifted their skirts and undergarments to show – and show off – their luxuriant, exuberant bushes. Every single one of those women laughing – not in an artificial, posed manner, either. They were happy to celebrate their differences, happy to show off, happy to be there in that moment with each other, sharing one common secret – that they were all women, but not at all alike.
Once upon a time not quite so long ago, I sat backstage after a show with a dedicated libertine and lead guitar player in a semi-notorious American band. As we worked our way through a bottle of Jack Daniels, we discussed female anatomy, among many other topics. “You know,” drawled the libertine and passed the bottle, “I kinda wish so many women didn’t shave or wax so much. It takes away the mystery, that thrill of discovery – that you can never be sure of what you’ll find until you get there.”
I took my own swig off the JD’s and handed it back. “What about that involuntary dental floss thing?”
That made him laugh. “Battle wound, baby! Women get that, too, ya know. But the thing is…you don’t dare complain about it!”
I liked that guy, I really did.
Just as I like this initiative to celebrate our differences in any way we can.
The truth is, if we were absolutely convinced we were loved and adored for our true selves, we’d go out in to the world barefaced and unadorned. Instead, we rail and rant against headscarves and burqas and female circumcision, and are all too likely to forget that even in the liberated, secular West, we have it in different forms – that porn-star ideal of perfection, that eternal quest for perpetual youth, that constant pain of never being good enough, symmetrical enough, smart enough, pretty – enough.
But life isn’t perfect, the world isn’t perfect and neither are we. And neither is anyone else!
So you can conform at your peril and a not insignificant expense, or you can focus on important things instead – and change the world, or just the world you live in.
What have you got to lose?
Image: Georgia O’ Keeffe, Jack-in-the-Pulpit IV, 1930