Smash the Patriarchy | Reflections on Women’s Bodies in the Media
“Smash the Patriarchy” by Designs by Tori
Despite the female form being depicted in sculptures, paintings and photographs for millennia the female body and how much of it is supposed to be exposed still appears to be an issue that draws a lot of debate. Both Facebook and Instagram prohibits showing a female body where nipples are visible and requires them to be either erased, i.e. Photoshopped out, or blurred. Numerous friends who are both models and photographers had their images deleted and their accounts banned despite the most tasteful and beautiful photography they shared with the world. Why? Because a nipple was not blurry enough and someone must have seen too much.
When it comes to boudoir photography it seems the line between appropriate and ‘x-rated’ is very thin. What qualifies an image as classy and what puts into the ‘porn-like’ category? Who decides that? Doesn’t a person’s upbringing, religious and cultural views and their innate subjectivity to the female form influence their opinion? How can one entity decide what is ‘appropriate’ for an entire society?
Let’s delve a bit into history, especially as it pertains to photographing the female form in various state of undress.
The 20s are not only famous for flapper girls and The Great Gatsby. It was also an era where women decided to rebel against the patriarchy. Artists like Albert Arthur Allen, a French photographer, despite the illegality of his actions at the time, paved the way for nude and semi-nude photography featuring women of all shapes and sizes. There are a number of images, sepia-toned as well as black and white, that depict beautiful women lounging on their fainting couches wearing as little as a sheer robe and a string of pearls. Hair in a perfect finger wave, they look both strong and delicate as they gaze away from the camera or direct their eyes toward it.
In the 40s and 50s pin-ups were all the rage. Exaggerated and enhanced photographs of women depicted playfulness and intimacy, yet these images were on posters, post cards and many other stationery pieces. The fact that these images were made for encouraging young soldiers to go to and fight in World War II is a whole other discussion, yet images of women doing commonplace tasks and housework littered bookstores and stationery stores, featuring bright colors, silly expressions and occasionally a phantom wind lifting up skirts and dresses to showcase the lingerie underneath.
This was also the era of Marilyn Monroe and Ava Gardner, among other old Hollywood actresses, who openly celebrated female sexuality and fought the boundaries of what was ‘allowed’ by posing in boudoir-style photographs, openly speaking their minds and encouraging other women to do the same.
The next wave was the 70s, where the hippie movement helped women let go of a few additional societal expectations, with many choosing to pose for boudoir-style photographs that celebrated the female form. Magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar began prominently featuring models wearing lingerie, paving the way for boudoir to enter fashion.
All through these decades women fought for their right to decide how and when to undress, how much and what to show to the world, how they wanted to use their bodies alongside their voices and opinions.
We think we have come a long way since then. That feminism and the rise of girl power has eliminated or diminished the need to fight the patriarchy and liberate women from these types of oppressive ideas. I am here to tell you otherwise.
Late last week I received an email from Pinterest about one of my advertisements on the platform being disapproved. Curious about what prompted this decision, I opened my email to find that my ad was said to contain nudity. Further explaining what Pinterest meant by nudity, they listed ‘suggestive’ poses in photographs as not being allowed on their platform. Among these poses were items like “spreading legs wider than shoulders” and “raising two hands above the head”. The image in question? One from my boudoir shoot with Jennifer featuring her derriere – shot with her wearing lace underwear and a white sweater, shown here on the left.
The same day I shared a video of me flipping through a boudoir album on Facebook as a way to show the products I offer to my clients to a local neighborhood Facebook group. I couldn’t wait to share news about my new product with local women who I thought would be interested to know their neighbor’s small business. My video was deleted within a few hours and I received a message from the moderator telling me all posts must be G rated. I was slightly stunned and incredulous: is a woman wearing underwear considered X-rated media?
While these instances are certainly enraging to me as a female I try to reason as to why these standards exist. Why ads like the one below from Dolce & Gabanna that explicitly imply violence toward women, if not rape, are normal and accepted while images of a woman lying on a bed in bra and underwear is not. I wonder why various advertisements on Facebook are approved and pushed through despite overtly sexualizing and diminishing women while images of a woman choosing to empower herself by deciding when and how she wants to be photographed are shunned as inappropriate.
Why is it that female nipples must be blurred out in Facebook and Instagram posts while males are not forced to comply with the same requirement? Last time I checked every single human on this planet had a pair of nipples. Whether one group decided to objectify and sexualize an integral part of another group’s anatomy should not dictate its prohibition or level of appropriateness.
These double standards need to stop. And the only way they can is for people, especially women, to speak out against them. I feel that in this day and age, as much as ever, we as women need to push the boundaries of what is allowed and deemed appropriate. It is today that we need to fight for our rights to our bodies and what we do with them. The time to smash the patriarchy is now.
Remember that you and only you decide what to do with you body. You and only you have the final say on how you want to be photographed. You alone have control of your body, your image, your opinion and your voice. Don’t let anyone else take that away from you.