Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Day the Internet Met Lisa

[The following is a post that got placed on the back-burner for a while, and as such is no longer precisely in vogue. However, it contains points that have not magically become invalid, so I've decided to post it anyway.]

Fairly recently, Lisa Khoury posted a reply to the public outcry against her article "Why Put a Bumper Sticker on a Ferrari?". It's called "The Day I Met the Internet" and can be found here. It's a standard Lack of Apology letter, largely citing the forms of name-calling she's endured (some of which, particularly the gendered, threatening, or otherwise inappropriate slurs, were genuinely Not Okay) and asserting that her piece was misinterpreted. "I took the woman's stance and said I'm beautiful without a tattoo," she says. "My tattoo column, along with its counter point, was supposed to generate a discussion about tattoos. That's what journalism does. It continues the conversation people are having among themselves – at least that is what my instructors say."

Well, all right, Lisa. Let's take a look at what you said.

Why Put a Bumper Sticker on a Ferrari?

I'm inclined to at least consider that this was not intended to reduce women's bodies to objects, but the analogy is made so often (and in such problematic contexts, such as the old house burglary = rape analogy) that I can't just let it slide. By setting up an analogy where bumper sticker = tattoo and Ferrari = women's bodies, she has, once again, reduced women's bodies to possessions.

I get it. It's the 21st century. You're cool, you're rebellious, you're cutting edge, you have a point to prove, and you're a woman. Awesome.

And with this, Lisa makes her first mistake: her article is about women. This is not longer an opinion piece about tattoos, but about how Lisa feels that tattoos are inappropriate on women's bodies. 

Ladies, I know you're at least at the legal age of making your own decisions, but before you decide to get a tattoo, allow me to let you in on a little secret. A secret you may have not fully realized yet thus far in your life. What you must understand is, as women, we are – naturally – beautiful creatures.

Seriously, though. Your body literally has the ability to turn heads. Guys drool over us. We hold some serious power in our hands, because – as corny as this sounds – we hold the world's beauty.

Are women beautiful? Yes. But so are men. So are non-binary people. Everyone's attractive in some way. But not to Lisa! No, only women can be pretty, it's just a statement of fact - sorry, "opinion". Not only that, but she helpfully implies that women are interested only in male attention and that this somehow confers power, rather than reinforcing the idea that women exist to be looked at, not listened to. Notice that there's nothing about our minds catching attention. No, just our bodies. And everyone has the ability to do this, not just the conventionally attractive.

But something girls seem to forget nowadays, or maybe have not been taught, is that women hold the world's class and elegance in their hands, as well. So what's more attractive than a girl with a nice body? I'll tell you what: a girl with class. Looks may not last, but class does. And so do tattoos.

Problem number one: class tends to imply wealth, excluding those who are poor (sorry! Can't be attractive if your income is low!). Problem two: I'm sorry, the answer to "what's more attractive than a girl with a nice body" is "a woman's personality", not "class" (there she goes, limiting this discussion to women's bodies rather than minds again). Problem three: only women can be elegant, really? I'm learning so much about society!

An elegant woman does not vandalize the temple she has been blessed with as her body. She appreciates it. She flaunts it. She's not happy with it? She goes to the gym. She dresses it up in lavish, fun, trendy clothes, enjoying trips to the mall with her girlfriends. She accentuates her legs with high heels. She gets her nails done. She enjoys the finer things in life, all with the body she was blessed with.

But marking it up with ink? That's just not necessary.

I'd just like to get this over with: no one is required to flaunt their body. Lisa also brings up a lot of uncomfortable religious connotations to referring to bodies as temples and blessings. Bodies are not temples. Bodies are not blessings. They're bodies. If a woman (or anyone, really) is not happy with it, chances are it's because society has forced her into thinking of herself only in terms of conventional models of what bodies should look like, or she suffers from some form of disability (note: this is not to say that women have to or should dislike their bodies because of disabilities, just that it's a possible reason), or any other number of reasons.

The gym is not a solution. Many people suffer from physical disabilities that prevent them from exercising, many cannot afford the money or the time to expend in exercise, and still others just have bodies that are not going to conform to conventional standards of attractiveness, gym or not. Clothes are not a solution. This again comes down to money for many, but probably at least as many women just have no interest in clothing. Can clothing boost confidence? Of course! But it stems from doing what you want with your own body (in this case, dressing it up in things you like), not because of some magical powers that new, "trendy" clothing confers. (I'm not even sure how to approach the comments about girlfriends and malls and high heels. It's like a remnant from a bygone era that assumed all women love shopping with their platonic "girlfriends" and modifying the way their bodies look with high heels, because all women are the same. And I'm not even going to touch the valid medical reasons that can prevent women from wearing high heels, even if they want to.)

Possibly the best part of this segment is the reference to "[getting] her nails done", followed immediately by derision for women "marking up" their bodies. Makeup and nail polish are presumably okay for women to use because those are the approved methods. Tattoos are just gross and not in any way artistic or beautiful, because... why? 

I'm not here to say a girl should walk around flaunting her body like it's her job – that's just degrading. Instead of getting a tattoo, a more productive use of your time would be improving and appreciating the body you have been given, not permanently engraving it.

A quick summary of the previous paragraph: women should flaunt their bodies. If they're not satisfied, they should devote time to changing the way it looks (but not permanently, because tattoos = bad). And now she's saying that no, women shouldn't flaunt their bodies. Well, which is it? And I notice that she's still dancing around the body issue with suggestions like "improve" and "appreciate". Allow me to be blunt: many people suffer from varying degrees of conditions like body dysmorphism. Some of them will get through this on their own. Some of them will need professional help. The solution is not to tell them to make their bodies better, but to help them learn to make peace with and maybe even love the body that they have. And by all means, if that includes exercising a bit more or consciously trying to make healthier food choices, then may the Force be with you. But sometimes people need to hear "you're amazing the way you are", not "well, maybe if you worked out more or bought newer fashions..."

Can you get meaning out of a tattoo? Arguably. If you want to insert ink into your skin as a symbol for something greater than yourself, then maybe you are proving a point to yourself or the rest of the world.

But at the end of the day, are you really a happier person? Has this tattoo, for instance, caused you to learn something new about yourself? Has it challenged you? Has it led you to self-growth? Nothing comes out of getting a tattoo. You get a tattoo, and that's it. You do something productive, though, and you see results. That's a genuine, satisfying change in life. Not ink.

Allow me a moment of sarcasm.

Lisa would like you to engage in meaningful interactions with your body, like wearing high heels and buying more clothes and putting on nail polish. Not like those shallow tattoos, which are just pieces of artwork chosen by someone to be displayed on their skin. It's just not productive.

It's okay to like clothing. It's okay to like high heels. It's okay to like doing your nails or going to the mall or hitting the gym. It's okay to like tattoos. They can all be shallow or deep, depending on the person. Many people I know of have tattoos that mean something to themselves on a personal level, but it's equally as valid to get one just because it's pretty or funny or just strikes their fancy. Nail polish can have a personal meaning for people (I've seen some really gorgeous designs, and any form of art has the capacity to really have a message). If it makes you feel happy, then who cares?

Oh, right. Lisa does.

Invest your time, money, and effort into a gym membership, or yoga classes, or new clothes, or experimenting with different hairstyles if you're craving something new with your body, not a tattoo.

I promise, it will be a much more rewarding experience, and you won't find yourself in a rut when your future grandkids ask you what's up with the angel wings on your upper back as you're in the middle of giving them a life lesson on the importance of values and morals.

God knows the last thing this world needs is another generation of kids questioning their basic values and morals.

I love the heavy implication here that tattoos somehow negate morality, and I'm even more amazed that her example was that of a set of angel wings (because as everyone knows, a set of angel wings denote Evil Devil Women). The last that I checked, tattoos largely indicate the presence of tattoos, not "anything that comes out of this person's mouth is a dirty untruth". Another gem is that a simple question about them would cause a rut ("Grandma has wings because they're beautiful; now, about judging people based on superficial characteristics..."), or that it should even be taken into account when deciding what to do with your body.

Essentially, this article can be boiled down to: "Don't get a tattoo because I don't find them visually appealing, and you shouldn't do anything that will diminish other people's enjoyment of your body". It's just another refrain in an ongoing message, and it does nothing but reinforce gender norms and the concept of women's bodies being public property to be "admired".

And gods know the last thing this world needs is another generation of kids shaming each other for daring to take control of their bodies.

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