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[personal profile] ali_wildgoose
I've been surprised by the degree to which Tumblr has carved out a distinctive internet niche for itself. Different users no doubt have very different experiences, but my dashboard is largely a never-ending parade of pretty pictures, collections of stills from beloved TV shows, quotes from awesome people and the occasional miniature essay. It seems to be an "all joy all the time" place for the most part, and I think that's fantastic. I love that it's been a haven of sort for several friends of mine, who appreciate having a virtual fountain of positivity and beauty in their internet routine.

But I've noticed something recently about the content that's been making the rounds. Not a bad thing, I would stress -- not something I'd ever ask my friends not to do. A large part of why I'm making this post is that I'm not entirely sure how I personally feel about it.

Briefly put: there are a great many photos of very thin, conventionally beautiful women on my Tumblr dashboard, often with very little in the way of clothing. And nearly all of them are posted by other women. And I have got to say, it's starting to wear me down a little.

I'm going to talk about this primarily through the lens of fandom and genre fiction, because that's the perspective I spend the most time in myself and the one most relevant to my friends and the community I'm a part of. I'd point out that while Tumblr was what lead me to think about this, I'm talking about a larger phenomenon that just happens to manifest on that service in particularly explicit way. And I would stress, again, that I'm not complaining about anyone's behavior (even a little bit!) or asking anyone to change what they post on their blogs. I'm just trying to process my own reactions to the media I'm presented with, and hoping that some of you may have thoughts to share as well.

So.

I've noticed, in recent years, a tremendous push by women in fannish spaces to take ownership of the way genre fiction portrays female characters, as well as how fandom itself processes the media we consume. Tired of watching "the girl" (because there's so rarely more than one) be ignored or vilified, these fannish women grabbed hold of the ladies in their fiction and appreciated them in every way they could think of -- meta, fanfiction, icons, picspams, vids, the entire nerd arsenal at their disposal.

Of course, this is fantastic! I'm thrilled that so many people I know adored Cameron and Sarah Connor. I love that ATLA is jam-packed full of girls, and that my friends in fandom always fought to make sure they weren't ignored. I enjoyed the hell of Reboot!Uhura and get a little thrill of happiness for my Trek-fandom friends as Zoe continues to do so well in her career. It's been great to see so much love for the Liz Lemons and Brittas and Parkers and Karens of broadcast television. I'm a lady myself, obviously, and I agree that it's important to celebrate the representation of women in fiction, however far we may yet have to go in that regard.

But....

See, there's the thing.

We have a really, really long way to go.

Because (as you all know) film and television -- particularly genre film and television -- is still a realm where women nearly always have to be very thin and very pretty in a very specific and narrowly-defined way (and usually white, although that's a whole other essay) to even be included. And so, in our desire to love and support and appreciate the ladies of visual media, we're given very little choice but to indirectly reinforce a system in which you have to be skinny and beautiful to be worth taking note of. We end up blogging huge collections of photos of ballerinas-turned-actresses, because that's who GETS those photoshoots. For every Christina Hendricks (who is, incidentally, GORGEOUS, and the fact that she even counts as "unconventionally beautiful" for the purposes of what I'm writing is kind of horrifying) there are countless Summer Glaus, and the Summer Glaus end up with a lot more gigs.

And that's not the fault of my lady fandom friends. Nor do I in any way disagree with their desire to create enormous picspams of awesome women. Nor do I have a problem with very thin people or appreciating them! But this is all undeniably a Thing -- an astonishing lack of variety in (and celebration of) certain standards of beauty -- and one we all have to decide how to interact with.

There's another, perhaps parallel trend that I find myself characterizing as "taking back" the pinup and the eroticization of women. The idea that instead of being objectified by the usual male-gaze perspective, women are celebrating their own bodies on their own terms, reveling in the beauty of the feminine in a way that reflects what they love about themselves and each other. Sometimes this means soft, adorable photoshoots of half-naked ladies cuddling. Sometimes it means dressing up in a suit and pretending to be a singing android auctioneer. Sometimes it's lady prison guards and high-heeled brawls and being wrapped in caution tape.

And again...I am pleased by the idea of women owning their bodies and sexuality! I am glad to see my friends appreciating how awesome ladies can be on their own terms!

But I cannot help but notice that for all of this celebration of the female gaze....I still end up looking at a steady stream of imagery of very thin, conventionally beautiful, often athletic female bodies that bear very little resemblance to most of the women I actually know.

And I have to be honest with myself -- as a slightly-above-average-sized woman in her late twenties, it is sometimes exhausting for me to consume this particular barrage of imagery. It is disheartening and depressing to be told, over and over again, if not at all intentionally, that in order to be "awesome" I have to loose thirty pounds and go to the gym every day of the week. It is sad that these picspams are never of, say, mostly normal-looking female authors who've dolled up for a photo shoot. Not because my friends are jerks who don't care about authors, but because those photo shoots almost NEVER happen in the first place.

I will freely admit that I don't have a conclusion to draw from all of this. I still don't know how to feel about it in my own head, and what feelings I can articulate seem to change from day to day and from photo to photo. Sometimes I, too, get lost in a wave of squee, and other times I just want to shut my laptop and never eat another donut again for the rest of my life.

But I want to hear what y'all have to say.

(And incidentally, WHILE I'M HERE, more pictures of lady factory workers from WW2 would be just fine. Also pilots.)
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Go make some new disaster.

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