A Woman’s Body - A Contested Terrain

What is beauty? Do I look beautiful? What can I do to look like her? What do they think of my looks? These are some of the questions that I believe have plagued the minds of most of us as teenagers, young and aging women on countless occasions.

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Winding down through the intensity of last Saturday’s women's circle as we swirled through “beauty and beautiful”.

“Mirror Mirror on the wall, tell me what is beautiful? Who is beautiful?

Am I beautiful? What is about me that makes me beautiful?”


None of us, women present could specifically defined “beauty and beautiful” but still it was and it is easy to name, call, shame and point “unbeauty, unbeautiful”.


The notion of beauty , beautiful and attractiveness is synonymous with one’s body image; how we view ourselves and how we think other people think of us in terms of looks or appearance. As a society, I believe we have undermined, if not looked down patriarchy’s role in influencing body image. Patriarchy strives to exercise control by defining what beauty is, controlling the mobility of women, exerting violence and constructing social norms that impact on women’s lived experiences.


“The female body is a cultural artefact defined and redefined over time in response to broad cultural and historical transformations. Historically, the body has taken on a tubular and slender form in eras in which the female mind has become more politically, economically and socially independent. One need only reflect upon the popular image of the 1920s flapper and the 1970s fashion models to observe the validity of such an assertion” – Hesse-Biber, Howling, Leavy and Lovejoy (2004).


Women’s bodies are not neutral entities, there are so many external factors that act upon them and eventually dictate the way of life of women. A woman’s body has come to be recognized as a contested terrain in contemporary societies, where battles for control are. The war on women’s bodies ranges from acts of extreme violence to bills targeting ‘indecent dressing’ to attacks on women wearing mini-skirts. Along with being bombarded by messages about their bodies on a daily basis, women live in fear of violence and this is a strategy to control women’s ability to think, feel, move freely and act independently. The new age spiritual wave that focuses on internal beauty while shaming physical adornment carries the same patriarchal imprints.


The struggle for independence and liberation for women has not been easy, especially due to the external forces acting on the female body. Society has always used direct and indirect levers to control women’s bodies in one way or the other. So even the greater equality of opportunity for women in recent times has resulted in a cultural demand for women to be thin – political, economic and social gains have coincided with increasing pressure to lose weight. A woman who climbs the corporate ladder is stereotypically expected to look a certain way so even ‘liberated’ women still end up having to conform to a certain ideal. Someone has to have some kind of control over it.


As the stories emerge and the narratives roar, it pains to face that that which we have believed to be unbeauty and unbeautiful about our selves and others, were nothing than just imposed social constructs. There is no such constant as beauty and beautiful and there can never be a defined spectrum to beauty and beautiful. Most of us are drowning deep, gasping to reach that beauty, as defined by the system that we live in. I stay present to this awareness daily, embracing one part at a time, one disconnect of mine.


To women who will read me, your relationship with your body, your sex, sexuality and intimacy did not messed up overnight, there are beliefs, agreements and values poisoning your inner fertile soil.

To men who will read me, I pause and I wonder where are you in all this? What has been imposed? What is it that makes you feel beautiful? How bad do you pain?


This reclamation can be a really uncomfortable edge for most of us, as we are forced out of old ways of thinking about and seeing ourselves, and into the unknown territories of new, richer potentials of being.


Love from my heart to yours



Post © Megha Venketasamy, 2018. All rights reserved.
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