Thursday, August 5, 2010

“Honor Thyself” (originally posted 3/31/08)

This discourse isn’t so much directly related to Gothic Bellydance has it has to do with body image and respect, and particularly young women.

I’d like to think of myself as a somewhat balanced person when it comes to sex, sexuality, and the human body. My parents weren’t exactly hippies, but they have always been far from being tight-laced/conservative in general. Our house was full of art books depicting the greatest collections of art from museums all over the world (i.e. lots of global nudes). The Playboy magazines weren’t hidden (quite easily accessible in my parents’ bathroom), and my mom was never weird about getting changed in front of me at any age. I never got in trouble for drawing nudes (at least from my parents, at school, it was another matter…somewhere around 5th or 6th grade, I draw the backsides of a boy and girl in transparent gowns to show purity for some religious exercise we were doing, and that caused a small ruckus…). I do remember when I was about 7 or 8, popping in “Flashdance” in the VCR one morning, and my parents deciding that wasn’t appropriate for me to be watching by myself, but it’s not like I understood what was going on, I just wanted to see the dancing! Basically, I emerged from my upbringing with a healthy respect for the human body, both male and female, and no bias towards sexual preference/orientation. I have no issues with strippers, I love GOOD burlesque, and think the female body is just magnificent in all shapes and sizes.

So with that stated, I recently witnessed something that made me question the state of our society, and feel somewhat ashamed to be a woman, for lack of a better description. Now, there have been plenty of times while listening to NPR, reading the paper, seeing the news on TV that I’ve felt ashamed of being HUMAN, for what we do this planet and other people, but to feel distress as a woman is not a familiar situation for me. Ok, maybe that’s a tad melodramatic, but I AM a Goth, I’m allowed that.

Recently I attended an alternative modeling contest. It was the first time I attended this particular event, and was picturing something more akin to the model competitions we see on TV, but for Goths. I have witnessed several Gothic fashion shows, and often marveled at the beautiful diversity of the models, and when I walked into the venue to set-up for vending, I was met with a sea of beautiful freaks – all sorts of different colored hair, tattoos, piercings, all different and wonderful. It was a lovely sight to behold. It made me super excited for the evening’s events – I’m a huge people-watcher – I LOVE studying people, how they dress and carry themselves and interact with each other. Gothic-anthropology perhaps?

The competition was set up boys and girls – meaning each gender had it’s own category. The contestants were given a top from one of the sponsors to alter as they wish, as long as the logo was intact. There was somewhat of a slut factor involved in the presentation of some of the girls, but I didn’t think much of it. Short micro-mini’s are rampant (or were, they seem to be going out from the latest batch of Gothic trends), but it was mainly a lot of boob gesturing, but hey, if you got ‘em, flaunt ‘em right? The boys were more tame in general. Both groups seem rather inexperienced with the concept of modeling, especially with walking, but hey, competitions can be nerve-wracking right?

The second round for the ladies (I’m not sure what the guys were doing in the second round) was to model corsets provided by the sponsors. A few of the girls came out with not much more than the corset on, but I chalked this up to not being prepared (as some girls knew about it, some were wild cards and didn’t know if they were going to be in the next round), and being cheeky and spontaneous to make up for the lack of more clothing. I made an emergency bustle out of 3 yards of glittery bat fabric and safety pins for one of these gals, and she looked elegant and lovely.

The third round was freestyle – the model’s own choosing and to really show off their stuff. It was here that my brain had nothing short of a minor meltdown. Out of perhaps 20 girls, no more than 3 didn’t do something akin to stripper routine, and even then, they were borderline. Again, I don’t have anything against strippers, and I love burlesque, but this wasn’t burlesque, and I’m sure better strip shows could be had at the Foxy Lady’s “Legs & Eggs” morning strip events. (New Englanders everywhere just cringed massively.) Apparently “crowd reaction” was a judging category for this round, and the great majority figured that the best way to do this was to strip. After the first few, it was “oh look, another set of boobs and pasties” again and again. I was surrounded by male colleagues and they weren’t impressed in the least (and yes, they were mostly straight). I wondered what the boys would do…

The boy’s third round was a much different story. Yeap, there were a few strip routines in there, but the majority of them danced and really showed off their moves, their agility, and their PERSONALITY…mainly, it was a reversal of the girls’ round.

In the realm of my brain, it struck me that something was terribly wrong. Why did these girls think that the best way to show themselves was to strip? Someone said that a lot of them WERE strippers, but I highly doubted that, unless maybe I just expect there to be a lot more talent involved, or at least better stage presence. Maybe I’m just getting old, but it worries me greatly that girls who are 10-15 years my junior (and come on, I ain’t THAT old) automatically reduce themselves to objects. I know modeling often involves nudity, but this didn’t have anything to do with the artful display of the human body and it’s wondrous nature. It lacked introspection and depth, it lacked a sense of personal identity. It wasn’t sensual or even really sexy. It was very painful to witness. It was a prime example of “Less isn’t More, it’s Less.”

In the end, the winners were the ones who showed personality and really showed off the clothes in how they presented themselves (and for the most part, kept their clothes on.)

I know there’s tons of debate about bellydance and stripping, and the infuriation of the two being confused, then add Burlesque to the mix, and you’ve got a whole other can of worms. Really, that’s the least of my worries. I find that the majority of people who confuse the two REALLY are essentially ignorant in general about the human body and sexuality. No matter what we’re up there doing and how we present ourselves, there will always be a moron who thinks otherwise.

My concern is for our next generation of girls and what they think of themselves and their bodies. It’s like society went from being prudes to teaching absolute violation of the body (while simultaneously punishing both extremes). I don’t think it’s about being open and forthright about sex, I think it’s about a lack of self-respect and true understanding about the beauty, power, and mystery of our bodies.

I really wanted to go backstage and talk to these girls and see what was in their heads. And share secrets with them: that if you show less, you say more about who you are as a person, and create a story. We really don’t want to see it all, we’re happier to allow our imaginations ponder what’s hiding. That true beauty doesn’t come from the exposure of skin, but the careful exposure of the self. And for others to really see that, you need to begin with honoring yourself, body and soul.

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