Body image highlights and horrors online

Lately, I’ve been thinking about blogs and websites dealing with body image and assessment by anonymous strangers. There are quite a few of them around, and this can’t be just because people have too much free time. And there is a gendered component to most of them – I’m sure there are websites dealing with masculinity (if you have any in mind, please share), but the vast majority of those I’ve come accross dealt with women’s bodies. It reminds me of 19th century narratives about the gendered nature of the voyeurism, suggesting that the gaze is inherently male and the object of the gaze female. Just have a look at some of the iconic impressionist paintings – many of Degas’ dancers, for example. I’m not goint to go into a detailed analysis of the imagery and moral connotations of dancers that would have been obvious to the artist’s contemporaries. But we see a lot of bare skin, necks, breasts, legs. And in the centre of the picture, we see a dark, male silhouette – easily identifiable by the top hat. He is a shadow figure, scrutinising the young women, but invisible to them. And all of the women are looking downwards or have their eyes closed – they are not even gazing at one another. They are solely on display for the male spectator.

It seems almost as though the internet is just another way of telling the same old story. And while assessing breasts is twisted enough, I have seen worse. Have a look at this charming website, Guess Her Muff. Yes, that’s right. Faithful readers are presented with a more or less fully clothed image of a woman, only to speculate about the way she fashions her pubic hair. If anyone had any doubt as to whether this is a cheap substitute for porn, the comments men leave will remove them. The tone of many comments and the elaboration of what they wish they could do to their object of choice is absolutely sickening. The worst thing about this website is that I get the strong impression that these women have no bloody idea where their photos ended up. It seems like a blog for scorned ex-boyfriends to get a bit of revenge.
But that’s not so say there’s no way to blog constructively about body image. There is. So I’d like to close on a positive note and introduce The Belly Project, a website I like a lot. Here, women post pictures of their midriff anonymously and suppy information about their age, past pregnancies, abortions, surgery and so on. The idea is that women get a chance to blatantly stare at other women’s bodies and realise how unrealistic images in magazines really are. Bodies change, life leaves traces, and that’s absolutely fine. Also, not everyone looks like a topmodel in the first place, natural healthy bodies do come in all shapes and sizes.
Ladies, if you want to boost your confidence online, try a website like that, not one where pubescent dickheads rate your breasts.

– Alva

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