the design of
Written by Bree Turner
Illustrations by Haley Kigbo
You have a good body. Don’t you think so?
Just think what your body has done for you today. Maybe you’re reading this from bed first thing in the morning, after your body has slept, regenerated and grown. Maybe you’re reading this over lunch, look at you chewing, swallowing, digesting, reading, thinking, and breathing, all at the same time! This isn’t meant to sound condescending, it’s just I think we rarely stop and appreciate our bodies for what they actually do for us, and spend too much time thinking about the ways we’d like to change them. I thought about this once after a pretty terrible hangover, how my body, all on its own, worked so hard to undo all of the damage I had caused it the night before. By sweating, purging, sleeping, my body was able to go from catatonic back to my usual healthy self. My body told me when it needed rest, when it needed hydration, food and finally when it needed to get the hell out of the house. I remember in those first moments of finally having energy back, how grateful I was for my body and my health. It wasn’t long though before negative thoughts about how my body looked started to creep back.
In Western society we all subscribe to a certain beauty standard, one that is defined by what we see on our screens, in advertising, TV, cinema and pornography – you can only be what you see, right? I’ll give you a clue as to what we predominantly see… it’s white. Oh damn, I just gave it away. So yeah if you’re white you’re all good, anything else you’ve got a lot more boxes to tick. The list of prerequisites for ‘beauty’ is of course longer than just ‘white’, however, if you are white you should know by now that you are widely represented and colorism exists. It is also important to note that what we see is largely determined by white, hetero, cis-men. Some of the prerequisites for their definition of beauty include; being thin, able bodied, if you’re a woman – feminine, if you’re a man – masculine, and depending on what trend is happening at the time eg thick eyebrows, big butt, small breasts, big breasts, whatever! You gotta have it. This standard of beauty is limiting and damaging, and without us even realising it we are almost powerless to it.
In my work I try to normalise sexuality, identity and bodies. I try to encourage people to see that who they are, what they like, how they present, how they desire, how they function is unique, normal and good! I try to follow my own advice. I am privileged to be white, cis-gendered, able bodied, average in size and dare I say attractive? But even in writing that, I have that sick feeling of judgement - of my self and fear of others’. I also don’t think that these are the specific qualities of a beautiful person, though I understand what these qualities afford me. What I want to address in this article is that the natural design of our bodies are incredible, in whatever form they come. And there is significant social pressure to often alter or ‘enhance’ our bodies, when really we are pretty bloody good as we are.
I often use female anatomy as a catalyst for discussing the lack of education around human bodies and human sexuality. I also believe that female anatomy is a great example of the ways we detour from appreciating what we have, what our bodies do for us and instead spend time, and lets face it money, on trying to change something that is perfectly normal and good the way it is. Now, it’s important to note that having female anatomy does not equate to being a woman, unless that is how you identify, and also you do not have to have female anatomy to appreciate what I’m saying, take from this what you will…
The vulva is a unique geography, one that has been metaphorised for centuries and misnamed countlessly (the vagina is an internal canal, the hole, not the w hole !). We talk around the vulva – ‘down there’, ‘lady bits’ etc, and although it is a place of power for some people, it is very much a point of shame for many. Take the hymen for example, it has no biological function, and yet it has become the indicator of virginity. This has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with controlling women. This is an out-dated narrative that has been told since women were considered property and their vaginas their most valuable real-estate. A lot of women aren’t even born with them, and some women will continue to have them long after they have had penetrative sex. And yet in many cultures women are made to have hymen repair surgery to ‘prove’ virginity/purity/chasteness, they have to ‘repair’ something that they may have never even had! And what about labia? There is an epidemic of labiaplasty happening around the world because women have been made to feel strange and inadequate about their unique vulvas because of the way pornography portrays them. Labiaplasty sees women having their labia cut and bleached to look more like the “conventional” and photoshopped porn stars (read ‘white’) that they see. So women are spending thousands of dollars to look like Barbie all because patriarchal porn and the media sells us a false sense of normal. Unless labia is causing you pain/discomfort, then you are perfect just the way you are. There are so many aspects of the vulva that demonstrate how humans are not taking time to appreciate the efficient and magnificent design of our bodies, and rather focusing on the things we want to change. I mean there is a whole industry dedicated to masking the natural odour of the vulva, or to “clean” them… but they are their own ecosystem, self cleaning – set it and forget it babe, geez!
There are influences in our society that make us seek a kind of ‘prescribed’ perfection, one that is not of our own desire or choosing. We are encouraged to use technology, cosmetics, fashion, chemicals and drugs to enhance, advance, reshape and redesign our already amazing bodies. And we don’t even question it! I’m far from being a naturalist, but I am a huge advocate for bodies as they are. At the end of the day it is your body and your choice. But, just for today and maybe a few more times after that, I want you to try to think of something you appreciate your body for. Think about the last remarkable thing it did for you. Maybe even educate yourself on how your body does that thing, I have no doubt you’ll amazed or at the very least grateful. Sometimes our bodies can let us down, sometimes bad things happen to our bodies, and all bodies are different in their look and ability, but they are all good bodies! The next time you think a negative thought about your body, or spend a little too long thinking about how to change it, try to remind yourself of what it does for you.
You have a good body.