What if we regularly took the time to sit down and truly understand our bodies and our relation to them? What if we could mute those self-sabotaging voices that dissect and judge our bodies as either “too much” or as “not enough”? These are among the many important questions that were explored by the creative collective ANTI-BODIES during their interactive gathering called “Decolonize Beauty and Our Bodies”. The four women who lead the collective hosted us at The Ballroom – a quirky art venue in Bijlmermeer that is currently redefining the art scene in Amsterdam. They presented their own personal stories and challenged the beauty standards that everyone is constantly exposed to nowadays. ANTI-BODIES called for a new approach in feminism, while emphasising that it must become more inclusive and accessible to each and every woman. This collective is part of the solution by aiming to evoke a more well-rounded discourse through empowerment of women of colour.
“It is time for body discourse and intersectionality to become accessible to everyday people, rather than be the domain of academics and celebrities.”
Body discourse has been widely studied in academia for decades. With the rise of social media, the so-called “influencers” started to speak up on the subject of ethnicity and intersectional feminism. Many have seen celebrities like Ashley Graham in her collaboration with The New York Times or Jameela Jamil in her online campaign “I Weigh.” However, delivering platitudes about self-love and acceptance through flashy features in the paper of record or through manicured Instagram posts is simply not enough. It is time for body discourse and intersectionality to become accessible to everyday people, rather than be the domain of academics and celebrities. ANTI-BODIES is one of the few leading the way towards delivering this change. Beauty standards are still dominantly Western and out of reach and no matter how many ethnically diverse, plus-sized models are rocking the runway today, ordinary women still feel out of place. The only way to break the status quo is by empowering those who have been left out and underrepresented in our culture. We need to increase women’s accessibility to new ideas that will allow us all to finally achieve full emancipation.
While ANTI-BODIES is primarily focused on women of colour, their first meeting attracted people of all genders and backgrounds. Instead of establishing yet another exclusive discourse in a field that’s full of them, this creative collective is raising awareness about the fact that we all have different experiences when it comes to body issues and insecurities. They want to make it clear that all of these experiences are equally valid within our society. The organisers opened the evening with personal storytelling. All of them shared tales of shame and self-hatred, especially in relation to being a woman of colour. This exposure is crucial to building our collective awareness of the struggles different women face in order to deconstruct today’s standards and challenge the patriarchy. The collective encouraged all participants to open up about the ways we mistreat our bodies, consciously and subconsciously. The participants expressed themselves through poetry, painting and story sharing. They talked of loving, hating, and embracing our curves, our noses and our self-perceived imperfections. It is clear that we need to peel off many layers of social conditioning in order to fundamentally change how we think about our bodies.
How do we accept and love ourselves then? We all asked the question. Jo-Ann, one of the founders of ANTI-BODIES, used an interesting metaphor. She sees herself as an ever-evolving plant; she might not be at full self-love yet, but she is gradually growing by nourishing herself with the good and weeding out the bad. She stressed that no step is too small on this journey. For her, it included unfollowing all those people on social media who did not make her feel at home in her own body. Every time she catches herself comparing her body to one she sees on her timeline, she presses the unfollow button.
“We need to let all bodies breathe unrestrictedly”
The evening was concluded by Susu Aliy’s spoken-word poetry. The interactive evening created new bonds between participants and gave us an environment to build new solutions for issues surrounding gender and race. ANTI-BODIES is planning on spreading their important message by developing an online magazine and a series of events surrounding the topics of intersectionality, body positivity, and ethnic diversity.
It is empowering to finally discuss these issues in a real way rather than gloss over them in a classroom. Accessibility to these ideas gives ordinary women a chance to become activists and spokespeople for our own bodies. We should not take cover behind celebrities or jargon-loaded textbooks. These types of events give us an opportunity to actually sit down and listen to one another – to reconnect. By allowing ourselves to hear from diverse voices, we will eventually establish much needed accessibility in modern feminism. We cannot let women of colour or other underrepresented women be voiceless in this arena. We need to let all bodies breathe unrestrictedly, let them grow untamed and express themselves unapologetically.
Kate Shylo is a master student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.
- Columnist (Fall 2018)