I do not always know what I am going to write about until a few weeks before the article is due. There are a couple of topics I could talk about at any time, but I have found that topics that warrant writing about will usually appear as I go about my daily life as a fighter for body positivity. Normally I will see something, then a couple of days later I will think ‘hey, that thing I saw reflects the importance of body positivity. I should write about it’. Occasionally, however, something I witness will fill me with such anger that I know I must write about it immediately. This was one such occasion.
A few weeks ago I was reading up on the goings on in the world when I saw a trending news story on Theresa May. For those of you lucky enough to not know who this woman is, she is the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary. This means she is in charge of the Home Office, which deals with immigration affairs. She has been in office since 2010, and from then until now immigration laws have, one ridiculous policy at a time, become so strict that any non-EU citizen now hoping to settle in the UK has no chance unless they either make a very large amount of money, or they are married to an EU citizen (who ideally makes a very large amount of money).
As an Australian wanting to settle in the UK with my family, suffice it to say that Theresa May and I are not friends.
When I saw that Theresa May was trending, I tentatively clicked the link, wondering what awful thing she was planning to do to us dirty foreigners this time. Let me tell you, the cries of outrage and hostility were something to be beheld. The pleas to think of the children rang in the ears of my imagination for hours. And what had Theresa May done to evoke such outrage?
She had worn a low-cut top to the House of Commons.
I probably should not have been as surprised as I was. After all, this is hardly the first time a woman in politics has had their body and what they choose to do with it scrutinised. Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was constantly criticised by the papers for being childless, for not being married, or for not being as pretty as female public figures ‘should’ be.
But I was surprised about Theresa May. Having reflected on it, I now realize that my surprise was not solely due to there being a trending article about her body. It was also the fact that this article was generating so much MORE outrage than anything else concerning what Theresa May had done. This is a woman who is in charge of a department that has, upon other things, introduced a very high minimum salary for non-EU nationals hoping to settle in the UK, removed the highly skilled migrant program, made UK visa holders pay health-care premiums (including those of us who already pay British taxes), and made it nearly impossible for employers to hire non-EU citizens by insisting that non-EU citizens can only be hired if there is no UK/EU citizen able to fill the role.
What I am saying is, there are so many very good reasons to be angry at Theresa May, and yet what makes trending headline news is that the top two inches of her ta-tas were on display one morning. We, as a society, should be better than this.
But, dear readers, that was not the worst part. The worst part was, when I voiced my annoyance over this, somebody soon commented with a blasé ‘Well, it’s in the tabloids. You can’t expect more than that’.
That was when I knew I had to write about this.
I have to wonder, what does it even mean when somebody says I ‘can’t expect more from them’? That I should just assume that the tabloids are written by a bunch of prejudiced idiots who are so stubborn that any criticism of their methods will fall on deaf ears? Does it mean that I am the one at fault, for expecting more from a newspaper (like, say, actual NEWS) than what I got? Should I accept that stories about a powerful woman’s breasts will always be more viewed than stories about a powerful woman’s inhumane immigration policies?
My answer to all of these hypotheticals is a gigantic NO, and it always will be. This report is an example of body terrorism, where a person’s body and what that person does with it being treated like public domain.
Theresa May’s body is not an opinion poll. It should not be up to the public to decide how she chooses to present her body. And if we believe that body terrorism should be fought, we absolutely should not sit by and let acts like this go by under the guise that we ‘can’t expect any better’. Because we can expect better, and I do.
More Radical Reads: My Body Acceptance Journey
This is hardly the only example of complacency to body terrorism I’ve encountered. It’s not even the only example of it I’ve encountered this month (although it is the one that irritated me the most). This sort of complacency is everywhere.
For instance, I was discussing friendship with some acquaintances of mine a couple of days ago, and I mentioned how frustrating I find it when some of my male friends are so much less interested in mine and other people’s lives than they are in the lives of our most physically attractive female friends. It annoys me, I said, to see myself and many of my friends being brushed aside like that. One acquaintance responded to my complaints with the following topic-closing comment: ‘your male friends just sound like typical men to me’.
Um. No. That is not the behavior of typical men, and quite frankly I believe men deserve more credit than that. Most of the men I know don’t care how hot their female friends are, and even if they did, seeing a woman’s physical appearance as the most important thing about them positively reeks of sexism, and waving off that attitude as an example of ‘boys being boys’ just enforces the idea that seeing women as things before people is acceptable. That is something about which I refuse to be complacent. Again, as a society, we should be better than this.
Then there are the occasions when you find yourself discussing issues like gay rights with your older/more conservative relatives. Some of us might be taken aside and told not to expect ‘too much’ from these relatives of ours, and that their beliefs are ‘typical of their generation’.
My response to that is ‘…so?’ Does something about them (their age, or their position on the political spectrum) mean that their opinions should never be challenged? Are they so far gone that they are past the point of being able to hear such uncomfortable truths as ‘gay people deserve respect too’? I would hate to be considered too old/conservative/whatever else to stop learning, or listening, or thinking about the world from other people’s points of view. Not only are we doing people a disservice when we dismiss their views as unalterable, but we also do ourselves and/or the people we are trying to speak up for a disservice by not demanding the respect they deserve from absolutely everybody.
We cannot hope to bring about change if we don’t challenge people, and all sorts of people at that. Sometimes we will fail to reach people. That is to be expected. Body positivity, after all, is a threatening notion to those who either benefit from or believe they benefit from body terrorism. But just because you might not reach them straight away, that does not mean you never will.
More Radical Reads: 5 Ways People With Thin Privilege Can Fight Body Terrorism
And sometimes you will succeed. Sometimes there will be a journalist who thinks ‘actually, yes, there are more important things about this person that should be generating outrage’. A young gentleman might stop and wonder if they are giving their more attractive female friends more attention, and realize that if that is the case, that is a serious problem. Somebody’s grandfather might listen to what their grandchildren are saying and think ‘yes, it makes sense that these people are shown the same sort of respect we are.’ These successes might seem small on their own, but if there are enough of them, they become something big.
The point is that none of these successes are possible if we, the self-elected fighters of body terrorism, are complacent.
Are you searching for more tools to help you push back against body terrorism? If so, check out our webinar 10 Tools for Radical Self Love.
[Feature Image: Black and white picture of a fair skin person with long, dark hair siting on the street. They have a sad expression on their face as hands rest in lap. Flickr.com/lanier67]