Imitating the Appearances of People of Color

I’ve been thinking about appropriation–not just cultural appropriation, but of a variation of appropriation that is equally if not just a little more sinister: the appropriation of appearance. This is something that is bodily, involves policing the autonomy itself of women of color, and results in valuing the woman wearing the imitation more than the woman whose body inspired it.

There is, in other words, a kind of appropriation that is merged with white supremacist ideals of beauty, and how, in order to remain the standard, these ideals have relied heavily on disparaging physical features of people of color that are otherwise “objectively” attractive. For example, the first thing that comes to mind are caricatures of black women’s/men’s lips as drawn by racist white artists. Because these lips are stereotyped to be fuller, they’ve been exaggerated in political and cultural cartoons/”art” to ridicule the entire black race.

But fuller lips are more appealing. And as a feature, they are not just appealing on women; they’re equally as appealing on men. I would even be so brazen as to argue that people who are attracted to men tend to prefer full lips on men–if not for the aesthetic, for the sensation. It’s bizarre then that this was one of the features chosen to be mocked. To be a little more impudent, I would go so far as to allege that it’s jealousy.

There’s historical evidence for this being a petulant act of jealousy. The hair of women of color, which tends to be thicker, more voluminous & abundant, and has the ability to hold a variety of styles with less effort, is constantly under attack as “frizzy”, “unkempt,” and altogether “unprofessional.” Consequently women of color are compelled to change our hair, sometimes at devastating (financial and personal) costs. And because most salons charge extra (typically an extra $10) to the list of provided services for women with “more hair,” not measured only in length but thickness (read: mostly just women of color) we’re not just driven to appeal to white standards of beauty but simultaneously discouraged from “raising our statuses” with these additional costs. But as Cassandre explains, black women were banned in the 1800s from showing their hair in public–not because it was unsightly but because it was too attractive:

Apparently, women of color were wearing their hair in such fabulous ways, adding jewels and feathers to their high hairdos and walking around with such beauty and pride that it was obscuring their status. This was very threatening to the social stability (read: white population) of the area at the time. The law was meant to distinguish women of color from their white counterparts and to minimize their beauty.

While women of color are discouraged from wearing their hair without flattening, thinning, chemically treating, or otherwise travelling great lengths to force it to comply with the settled string-yness of white hair, white women meanwhile seek out all means possible to thicken their hair–because, of course, white people quietly know what is actually attractive, and a function of institutionalized racism is convincing women of color that they aren’t, while white women transform themselves to have these very features. The shelves of any store selling shampoo are lined with products promising to provide volume. It doesn’t stop at hair either, of course–the descendants of white artists who parodied the lips of black men and women in outrageously racist cartoons are the first clients for lip injections that imitate the very feature they publicly disparage.

Black women have constellations in their hair.
(Click images for source.)
Black women have constellations in their hair.
Black women have constellations in their hair.

And a woman (most likely a white one) might angrily and defensively claim that I’m stretching it by including this, but, I kid you not, a white woman once tackled me in a drug store because I had picked up the last jet black mascara.

She was blonde.

So were her eyelashes. I was 17 at the time and aghast at the fact that I had just been tackled. Why do blonde women insist that their eyelashes have to be full and voluminous and jet black? Stunned as she flew out of nowhere into my vision and pried the mascara from my hands, I cried, “That doesn’t even match your hair!” It was a cruel thing to say, I realize. But by the mercy of all that is heavenly, she just, like, physically assaulted me. For mascara.

It’s characteristic of both women and men of color to have fuller and longer eyelashes, but that’s something desirable, that isn’t as prominent as hair or lips, and is thus never attributed to race. There’s a lot about “the problems with Asian hair” or “the problems with Black hair” but never about “the problems with white eyelashes.” White people, you’ve got to stop tackling me at Rite Aid with your eyelash issues, seriously.

She's a threat alright. Who wouldn't want to look like that?
She’s a threat alright. Who wouldn’t want to look like that?

One of the (obvious) reasons it’s so irritating that white people will often reply with, “But light skinned women tan their skin all the time!” in response to black women bleaching their skin and using harmful lightness creams is that a white woman who has tanned her skin to be the same color as a woman of color’s natural skin will be valued more highly for her beauty–even though it’s only an imitation. I don’t mean to sound all, “But are they REAL?” about this, but it’s a clear and disturbing indication of how harmful cultural appropriation, especially when it comes to appearance, is when a white woman attempts to thicken her hair, tan her skin, inject her lips, and assault a woman of color for her eyelashes and still walk out considered more beautiful. This phenomenon has all of the symptoms of a kind of appropriation: when these features/customs are worn/practiced by a white person, it’s “stylish, worldly, and beautiful”; otherwise, it’s something that needs to be altered and suppressed at all costs.

“White people don’t have a monopoly on genetic variation.” –Chally Kacelnik

I wrote this elsewhere but am posting it here for two reasons. Firstly, I want to link you to this article written by Chally stating that white people don’t have a monopoly on genetic variation and I want to talk about it. (Actually, I’m just going to grab this opportunity to link a few essentials Chally has written lately: read this one, and this one, and this one.) And secondly, last week a (white) woman informed me that she was wondering why some Latina women have such white (“I mean really, really pure white,” she emphasized) skin even when they were “mixed” and disclosed that she had decided to conduct research on the matter through which she had “discovered that there is a biological ingredient in a specific chili pepper pertinent to their diet that results in whiter skin—”

“Do you also wonder why white people have such light skin?” I interrupted rudely, forcing what I had attempted as a polite smile.

She looked startled and laughed nervously.

Enter Chally’s article. White people do not have a monopoly on genetic variation. As Chally writes, they’re depicted as blonde, green-eyed, tall, petite, brunette, stocky, brown-eyed, Roman-nosed, slim, tanned, raven-haired, violet-eyed, snub-nosed, pale, blue-eyed, red-headed… But everyone else? One generic look each. And if “other” races deviate from their assigned appearance, their features are measured on a scale of whiteness. I’ve occasionally been told I have a white woman’s mouth and chin, and it always disturbed me. These are my features, and if I identified with a race they would be the features of my race. White people also happen to have them. That doesn’t make them white. It’s not a deviation from my race.

What’s worse is that someone is denied that background if xie falls outside the idea of what a person of that race should look like. (As mentioned in Chally’s article—yes, there are red-haired, blue-eyed Kashmiri people! And yes, they are still Asian.) But that’s how you get the stereotype that all people of one ethnicity look the same and are interchangeable and easily confused with one another. The vast, expansive differences are simply not acknowledged. People train themselves not to see the differences, are taught to expect everyone to look the same, and so they comfortably never see the differences. They don’t have to recognize or confront them or leave the comfort of their prejudice.

And that’s exactly why they deny you are the ethnicity you insist you are when you disclose it to them if you don’t look like their idea of that ethnicity. (“No way! You must be mixed!”) And that’s why they get so uncomfortable when they can’t figure out what ethnicity you are when you don’t disclose it. They need a label so that they can sum up your expected characteristics in all other areas. They are used to categorizing people together like that and erasing individuality and personal identity by assigning essential physical racial attributes and reducing you to them. If you’re not white, and they can’t figure out “what” you are, they suddenly don’t know how to behave.

I’ve had people desperately guessing at my ethnicity when viewing photos of me. “Arab? Brazilian? Moroccan? Indian? Mexican?” and even trying white ethnicities, “Spanish? Greek? Italian?” even though I clearly don’t look white, because white people are given the most variety in attributes. “You still have their skintone!” (No. I have mine.) Most people are convinced I must be mixed. (I’m not.)

So! Please don’t be an asshat, thank you.

I am menstruating, so nail polish obviously.

If you’re unfamiliar with this little routine (since it’s been a while since I’ve written a post like this) long story short(ened): the majority of Muslims believe that one cannot perform the ablution ritual before prayers with nail polish on her fingernails because the polish creates a barrier between her nails and the water, thus rendering the cleansing ritual incomplete. However, when a woman is menstruating, she is not required to pray, and so there is no need for her to refrain from wearing nail polish. Unfortunately (and unIslamically) menstruating women are culturally viewed as shameful and unclean, and so there is supposedly some kind of element of shame in “advertising” that we are menstruating by wearing nail polish.

Which of course compels me to wear nail polish when I’m menstruating, because LOL I can do it and cis men can’t. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I’m a woman, even when it’s painful. (If you want the longer explanation of the attitudes in the Muslim community toward menstruating women, can read about them here.)

My nails this week are pastel, although I am usually not fond of wearing pastel colors. It’s a varnish called “lilacism” but it should really be called “lavenderism” because the undertone of the blue is lavender, not lilac. (Lavender has a blue base; lilac has a pink base.) It’s actually kind of grown on me; I find it sort of cute in a really grotesque way:

I’ve been thinking a lot about participation in what has been regarded as “feminine culture” and what that means—both in terms of the boundaries established by patriarchy to limit femininity, and in terms of the defense mechanisms emerged to survive those limits. While I’ve written about modesty quite recently, I’d also like to examine why we perform femininity the way we do, and why we comply with certain defining or limiting systems.

In the meantime, I’ve decided that since I’ve already ventured past the dictations of what is acceptable to wear according to how I look (pale colors like this blue are said to be unsuited for the skintones of women like me—more on this later, possibly) I thought I might as well veer off one of my most staple looks and go with a lipstick that is *gasp*! other than red. So I bring you… pink.

I am also wearing bright eyeshadow with bold lips, which supposedly no woman is supposed to do EVER. I hear because it makes us look like whores? If I want to look like a whore then DAMMIT I WILL LOOK LIKE A WHORE. (What exactly is wrong with looking like a whore? I have nothing against sex workers anyway. Just their “clients.”)

In case you’re wondering if I deliberately posed with the fish face, the answer is ‘no.’ This was snapped just as I realized I’d forgotten something. Yes, that is my =O face.

The necklace I am wearing, which you can get just a glimpse of there, is a locket from Khadeeja, a gift that I absolutely love. I’ve always wanted one exactly like it.

The best kind of performance of femininity: the kind that symbolizes a strong friendship.

The Western Muslim Woman, Part II: Visual Presentation and Interpretation

Having thrown out the idea of identifying with a race in part I, I feel I should make something clear: as much as I see the social construct of race to be problematic, I am not interested in ripping race away from other people. I know that others identify with race for reactionary reasons, or because it gives them in a sense of community in a country that is mostly white and won’t stop reminding them, or because the cultural practices tied to race make them feel closer to their families. Quite frankly, I don’t care about the reason: it is anti-feminist to forcibly remove things that are so close to people, on which they have built their identities, and that on an individual basis aren’t contributing to the oppression of others. And it would be no different from an anti-religious feminist attempting to convince me to leave Islam, or a radical feminist attempting to convince me that my performances of femininity are destructive. Furthermore, as I mentioned in the previous part, not identifying with a race does not allow one to opt out of racism, and from a practical approach, pretending the construct doesn’t exist or coercing others not to identify with it is at this point only a convenient way of ignoring the problem. I’ve frequently encountered people who don’t identify with a race and believe that they therefore are incapable of racism.

But we can still be both agents and victims of racism, because race is something others interpret, most often from our appearances—especially as women. And these judgments are based on poorly “recognized” common attributes, and on stereotyping that erases the individual. To illustrate, I had a rather unpleasant reoccurring experience these past few days. With finals approaching, I’ve been wearing my hair in a simple high ponytail; although, my hair is so abundant that hardly anything is simple: I had to keep the long wavy raven locks up with pins and clips to hold it in place—and to ensure it stayed it had to be straightened. It normally flows down my waist, but held up ended mid-back, just below the band of my bra.

“You look so beautiful with your hair like that!” a woman exclaimed.

“Thank you,” I smiled.

“You look like Princess Jasmine!”

I felt my smile falter a little, but knowing she was attempting to give me a compliment, I held it fast in its place and half-heartedly thanked her again. Maybe it wasn’t racial, I assured myself, maybe I really do look like Jasmine. I even passed by a mirror quickly to check, giving her the benefit of the doubt.

Nope.

Nonetheless I chose to believe she wasn’t being racist. It is much easier to not be offended. Offense is not enjoyable. She just meant the hair; she meant the hair looks like Jasmine’s, and not all of me and that’s why I don’t see it, I told myself, pushing away questions like But would she have said that to any woman with long dark hair?

And then it happened three more times with three different people, and just as I was thinking Well, I guess I really must look like Jasmine… the last one added, “You and [name redacted] both remind me of Princess Jasmine.”

And the woman to whom she was referring and I looked nothing alike, except that we had a similar skintone.

And we’d both mentioned being Muslim.

Her hair wasn’t even long.

“…Except, I don’t know if Jasmine was Muslim,” she added.

If you’re talking about how close I am to looking like her how the hell is that even relevant? I thought irately. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to say anything. The notion of comparing real women to Disney princesses itself was already disturbing, and what was more disturbing was that for these observers who assign me a race in my refusal to disclose one, “Muslim” had become a personality type that was conveyed and identified through an iconic—and cartoon—appearance. I don’t share most of Jasmine’s actual personality—but although I find her one of the least interesting of Disney princesses, she does have one. Friends who know my actual personality have said consistently, “You’re more of an Ariel or a Belle. And maybe a little Megara.” But it doesn’t matter who I am, or who Jasmine is, because she’s possibly Muslim, and we have the same skintone.

The title of this post is an archetype, but this post is really about me. And I must emphasize this, because I am not representative, and because this terrible inclination people have to group minorities together is so destructive to the point where several people of color feel uncomfortable sitting next to someone who resembles them in appearance, because any observer walking by would immediately assign a race or assume some relation.

One of the beautiful things about hi’ jab is that, at least in the privileged West, it is association by will, an act of choosing one’s community rather than being assigned. I don’t wear the headscarf, but I’m quite possessive of my faith—it’s who I am. But it’s not who I am the same way it is who another Muslim woman is, and it’s incredibly discouraging that such an obvious thing need be said. When you’re in a position of disadvantage, like being a religious minority and a woman of color, the balance between the erasure of your individuality by stereotyping and the show of your solidarity with your sisters is delicate.

In defiance of the misogynistic contention that menstrual blood is unclean, I apply nail polish when I’m on my period to shamelessly announce that I’m menstruating. It is, essentially, an act of rebellion and a recognizable practice of freedom under the circumstances of my religious community. And it is truly reactionary, considering I’m not as enthusiastic about having my nails done as I am with other performances of beauty. It is an act in which a couple of other women have begun participating, and it’s a deliberate show of solidarity demonstrated by an actual practice rather than assigned race, and—in a state of the Islamic community where women who practice femininity are viewed as unruly—it is not oppressive the way it is in a white narrative, but (at this point) rather liberating.

I wear kohl because I think it’s beautiful, but also because it’s a valuable cultural preparation for me, and one that has been a great deal separated from race miraculouslywithout becoming white—if there’s any feminist who rants against performances of femininity and cannot see how that alone is independently significant, I would question her legitimacy in the movement. It reminds me of old movies, and in not having a race and in reclaiming my right to influence American culture so that it isn’t only white people who are privileged to define it, it is just a little alleviating in making me feel that I belong somewhere.

I wear red lipstick because it is beautiful, and also because my mother often wore it when she was young and naïve, and a little happier because she was so full of hope. And I want to hold on to her, because I love her, and because I don’t have an ancestry. And so it’s aggravating when white radical feminists, who most certainly can trace their ancestry and from the perspective of others are fairly imbedded in their culture and thus are privileged enough to feel so, want to strip away these performances of femininity.

At a fundamental level, I identify as a radical feminist (namely, I’m anti-pornography [still pro-sex]), though I disagree greatly with some of the proclamations of radical feminists, the most outrageous of which is the assertion that my performance of femininity reminds “marginalized” women—“marginalized” because they have chosen to defy patriarchy by not participating in conventional performances of beauty—that they are considered “undesirable”, and actively alienates them by reinforcing these societal beauty standards, erected as survival mechanisms, in which they do not partake.

You’re kidding me right? You—a feminist, and a woman, specifically a white woman—are telling me—a feminist, and a woman, specifically a woman of color—that I am contributing to your marginalization. That I am doing this by oppressing you with my body. That I am doing this specifically because I am participating in an act of rebellion that your white narrative does not recognize, and one that enables me to practice my own freedoms and retain my bodily autonomy rather than falling over for you. That when I wear makeup in attempt to achieve the standards of beauty that are centered around YOU—to which YOU, with your platinum blonde hair, will always be closer without makeup—I am wearing blackface.

Very often, radical feminism in all its racist, slut-shaming glory is the patriarchy.

I’m not the kind of woman who has to wear makeup whenever she leaves. And I can tell you that when I’m not wearing it, I really don’t give a fuck about who is. I don’t see a woman who is wearing makeup and think, “OMG SHE IS SOOO OPRESSING ME RIGHT NOW!” And anyone who does has her narcissistic head up her ass. What’s most enraging is that this is the ideology claiming that feminism doesn’t oppress women, patriarchy does—when they are the ones asserting that feminists wearing makeup are oppressing women who don’t. (Oh it’s insufferable.) Feminism doesn’t oppress women, but feminists sure as hell do. And when you are telling a woman that when she practices her right to her own body she is oppressing you, you sound exactly like the rape apologist who tells her she deserved it because she was oppressing him with her cleavage! When you tell her that if she really cared about women she’d surrender her bodily autonomy for your cause, you sound like the obnoxious dudebro who insists that if you really loved me you would sleep with me.

And when you rip away meaningful things from women because you don’t understand the significance from your white narrative, you are the patriarchy. It doesn’t matter if it’s mascara, religion, or a surname. You are erasing their cultures and the practices that are just as rightfully women’s—practices that that have been seized by patriarchy and should be reclaimed—and, by judging them sexist, validating the framework men have established to define these institutions instead of allowing women to represent them.

I understand what expectations of beauty do to women. Books have been written. It has been covered, over and over, and it is still in need of more coverage. But please be aware of imperialist, dehumanizing attitudes and white centrism.

Body Image, and Tentative Confessions

My friends say I’m the bravest one. We pick movies and I almost always want a horror film, with a good dose of psychological thriller, and I tend to burst into laughter at the parts that make them jump. When there are repeatedly strange occurrences, I’m the first to walk forward and examine, ready to confront with firm standing and challenging eyes whatever metaphysical being has crossed into our universe. They say you’re more capable of handling things when… things are drawn to you–sleep paralysis, and your own inclination to investigate.

One would never guess that sometimes I’m still afraid of the dark. But courageously, I sleep in it every night. After all, sometimes it’s comforting.

It’s something I don’t completely understand about myself. Sort of the way that in the face of tragedy I tend to disassociate, because I often live in a different realm anyway and it’s easy to occupy one world while another, not entirely separate from it, is healing. And yet when I was 14 I stayed up three consecutive nights feeling ripped open about sex trafficking, immersed in emotion–angry streaming tears and unimaginable pain as I screamed at God… all pathetically unhelpful of me.

That strange contradictory combination is sort of how it is when I try to think back to how it felt to grow up, like all little girls, with unachievable standards of beauty–and how it still feels now. I didn’t grow up pretty. I am not being modest. I suppose I must have been pretty once, before the age of six, back when people would stop my mother in the street and exclaim, “Your daughter is gorgeous!” and “I’ve never seen a child so pretty!” But something must have happened after that, because I was very clearly the opposite of pretty, until recently–maybe around 18 or 19–when I was suddenly pretty again. (Or so I was told.) And when the compliments commenced once more they were startling: “siren beautiful” “regally beautiful” and of course the awful, racist “exotically beautiful”–possibly the only I could never stand. Some of them were downright unbelievable, “curves like the ocean with glory like fire.”

It’s difficult to evaluate what this must have done for me. There is, and always has been, a good portion of me that never cared. Or, to be clearer, I didn’t care destructively. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with dressing to appeal to other people until we begin to aim for the impossible, or to please people who don’t matter, people who hurt us, rather than the ones who are important in our lives.

“Nahida,” my friend says, “you’re so beautiful and brave.”

Beautiful and brave. I’m glad you think so. You’re the only one I care about. You, and her, and her, and him. Friends, because I love you. What do I care to impress strangers on the street, who couldn’t know? Who couldn’t possibly know that sometimes–sometimes–I’m still afraid of the dark? But you, you know me, and I know you too. Someone who cries when she hears poetry and reads about quantum physics knows what she’s talking about.

But even so I know I’ve gotten here somehow through some journey, at this point at which I am content only with people who matter to me, because I remember not being content: I remember meticulously taking my own measurements. B cup. 93 pounds. 32-23-32. BMI 18.8. I remember examining my face in front of the mirror–and, in what may have been disturbing terms, deciding that parts of me were pretty.

When I was young(er) I read a retelling of Sleeping Beauty–and I can’t remember the title of the exact novel–but there was an idea along the lines of, “Each fairy had given her hair like the sun and eyes as blue as sapphires and lips as red as roses and blushing cheeks and a voice that rivaled music, but they all forgot to make her pretty.”

In a way this was how I felt: even with rather large eyes, thick abundant hair, a slender jawline, thin chin, eyebrows that I’ve never had to pluck or fix, long eyelashes, and the shape of my lips, somehow none of it fit together. And I had actually taken the time to decide this. While I may have never been addicted to chasing beauty, I know I must have come pretty damn close.

I did fine without too much effort, but the extravagant compliments required effort. I am not, and probably never will be, the kind of woman who can roll out of bed and look “regally beautiful.” And I don’t have the patience, or the time, to look “regally beautiful” every day. I’d much rather be insightful than beautiful. Passionate. Imaginative. (I used to be “kind and artistic” but that was soon replaced by “total bitch.”)

Sometimes the light is clear and fitting, and I happen to pass by a mirror and the creature I see is almost ethereal. But those are little accidents, like how some mornings you wake up and your hair is darker and your skin is brighter and your eyes are deeper. And tragically, you are still thinking in negatives, because that is how you have been conditioned to think–to find any flaw to fix.

A couple of weeks ago the feminist blogosphere was mildly amused with the Miss Universe pageant costumes and commenting enthusiastically about which costume was the most outrageous. I have never actually watched a Miss Universe pageant and had no idea they involved costumes, which makes them a hell of a lot more interesting than just the usual evening gown and bikini competitions. (Even though a couple of them were kind of racist. Seriously wtf Miss Canada?!) Everything that ever needs to be said about pageants has pretty much already been said, and I don’t have much to contribute. I’ve more against the way that pageants are framed and focused on (and the question of who participates and by what standards of beauty they are judged […white]) than the theoretical idea of pageants. (Oh, and those pageants that claim to consider “inner beauty” especially with a religious twist are just plain disturbing: as though anyone could judge such a thing! Human beings would reduce beauty to judge it. Yet another way to shove complex women into compartments and to trivialize the ramifications of such judgments. How do men judge the “inner beauty” of women anyway? “Obedience is beautiful”!)

But what it did make me think about was competition between women, especially involving appearance, and how it tends to exist in solely our heightened imaginations. In movies, in beauty pageants, and in sitcoms. When I actually go out I don’t care about looking better than other women. I just want to wear what I want, perform femininity the way I choose, and feel comfortable and beautiful by my own definitions. When I am actually competing in other areas, I am competing against everyone in my field–not just against women. But such constant bombardment of not only standards of beauty but behaviors in relation to beauty no doubt have an affect on how we perceive ourselves and other people. Youbeauty recently published this article about the proposal of being able to sue your employer for “looks discrimination” (but centering around men, of course). The suggestions are that attractive people make more money, and if you can prove that you’ve been discriminated against for being conventionally unattractive you should be able to take legal action against such an injustice.

I have difficulty viewing the question of whether we devalue people based on their conventional attractiveness and what this does to our psychology as a valid issue for the concerns of feminism. There are Big And Important Feminist Issues to be discussed, and it’s strange to acknowledge that this is one of them. Which possibly makes it a little bit more lethal. In reality, the underlying factors of who is considered conventionally attractive involve race and class and ability, and while we can pretend to be above judging ourselves harshly and destructively based on whether we feel we are conventionally attractive–most of us mere mortals are not. And that has serious consequences, from reduced pay to the feeling that we are unworthy of love.

Months ago I found myself watching an episode of Tyra during which a woman reported that someone came up to her on the street and told her that her hair made her look like she belonged in a circus. And that fact that it’s often brought on by people who believe their opinions on others’ appearances matter and that they are entitled to being catered to makes it even more a feminist issue in falling in line with the same mentality of obnoxious men you’ve just met who believe they are entitled to being thanked for their insufferable compliments. That either you owe them something for it, or that they have any right to your life or your attention.

Essentially, there is value in examining whether we make ourselves “aesthetically pleasing” for ourselves or for other people–and to what extent this becomes a violation of our bodily autonomy. Which I’m guessing is pretty quickly. I don’t think we’ll ever get to a point when appearance doesn’t matter, but maybe we can reduce the number of injustices we commit against ourselves and against other people; maybe we can correct ourselves when we’re wrong.

bra shopping frustrations

I’m a size 30B. They do not carry 30B in stores, as most women have larger ribcage sizes. Bras that are 30B are only available online. So on top of having to settle for bras that aren’t truly my size in order to avoid shopping online, I have to accept the fact that pretty bras aren’t made in smaller sizes.
I feel awful, because isn’t that so materialistic? Great, Nahida, of all the problems in the world, you’re bitching about how you can’t find pretty bras.
But hey, I retain the right to be human. (After all, that may also be my saving grace.)
I am by no means complaining about being thin: fat women have it much, much harder. Fatphobia, often excused under the guise of health concern, is a huge problem. Bitch magazine had an article about a woman who was aiming for the world record in most weight, and she was met with concern about her health–and, at the same time, hateful expressions of “I hope she just dies.” So yeah, I recognize my privilege.

But dammit, can’t we just make pretty lingerie for all body types?

Besides that, this isn’t really about being thin either. To claim it is would be a whole other issue. Fat women can have small cup sizes. Thin women can have large cup sizes. We aren’t cookie cutter proportionate. The ideal shouldn’t be cookie cutter “proportionate” especially when ideal proportions aren’t realistic. No, this is more about never getting it right. Smaller sizes–anything below C, I guess–are infantilized and have some weird virginal social stigma that associates them with little girls despite the fact that they belong to grown women. Larger sizes–D and above, supposedly–well, those women are just “asking for it.”
The root of my issue is that my bra size (the sister size to 30B is 32A in stores [up a number=down a letter]) doesn’t matter enough to make pretty bras for and that kind of makes me suspicious of what the reasoning behind this is… I can’t help but wonder if it might be because of what men care to see on women and not what women want to wear themselves. Women cupped above size A deserve pretty bras because they actually have something to show for them. And us? What do we want them for?