For this post, we’re going on a trip to Bitch Planet.
I put to you the comic by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro, gloriously recommended to me by a friend, and one of my comic book store guys. So, fuelled by my “two separate recs” rule and feeling spend-y, I picked up it up this past weekend…and then read the whole thing in basically one sitting.
The story takes place in a not-so-far-off future in which women who cause problems are branded as “noncompliant” and sent off to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, better off known as (say it with me) Bitch Planet. The inhabitants are there for a myriad of different reasons, from infractions such as murder to being obese or anorexic. Either way, if you’re stepping outside of the status quo, you’re getting shipped off in space to lady prison.
I loved the first volume. Besides the fact that it’s intersectional as hell and has a campy 1950s sci-fi soul, BP also represents a huge range of female body types, unabashedly drawn with honesty and not a sense of voyeuristic pornography. My favourite character is the goddess-titan Penny Rolle.
She’s a big, unapologetic, badass woman. Spoilers ahead, there’s a scene where the prison authorities hook Penny up to neurotransmitters, trying to ascertain her ideal self image—they want an end-goal for the “self improvement” they’re about to force on her.
The thing is, when that image is revealed, it’s Penny exactly as she already is—larger than any other character in the book and happy to be that way.
So here’s what I’m getting at, the notion that reading this book clarified to me: being a body-positive feminist is hard when you’re trying to lose weight. Personally, I feel the goal doesn’t align with my values—not on the surface anyway. They are two core beliefs and desires in a wrestling conflict, and neither of them wants to give up.
I can talk forever, claiming that all I want from this journey is health until I’ve run a marathon with my mouth into a smaller dress size, but—the facts are, I dream of the day I can walk into an H&M and grab one of those size 10s easily, without hunting around for the elusive size 14.
Wanting to lose weight for non-health related reasons feels like I am holding myself to a double standard. I love the body positivity movement. I love women, and people in general, who embrace what they have, and can truly look on themselves with a warm, loving light. Some days, I even see a bit of that light in myself—it just isn’t all the time. I can admit I’m delicate on the touch and go of this—one day, I’ll find inquiries about my workout routine encouraging, the next, an off-hand comment about a jacket that will fit someday has me grinding my teeth to dust.
One of my favourite Instagram accounts, run by self-proclaimed “fat femme” Jessamyn Daniels, is proof enough to me that the body is capable of some truly astounding shit at any size.
Yet still, I look at myself in the mirror after a sweaty yoga session, or a strong run and think that my own body is not good enough—that I’m not there yet. I know we’re our own worst critics, when we need to really be nurturing and understanding of ourselves. I try to be that, but it doesn’t always work.
Worse, my lack of self body positivity folds back on me, to make even my healthy efforts seem like awful traps. Simply put, sometimes my brain makes me feel bad for making healthy choices, because I should just be happy with how I am right? How messed up is that? And it asks me, how, how, how can you walk around, hating on societal standards, when somewhere deep down, there’s a part of you pushing to conform to those standards? I’m not asking rhetorically, I genuinely have no idea. Maybe these notions and motives make me a hypocrite.
The only way I’ve almost managed to square off with myself on the subject, console that these efforts aren’t destructive, is that no matter where these beauty standards came from, this is my choice. For me, feminism is about giving all women all of the options they deserve and want. If a woman chooses to stay at home and raise her children in a traditionally feminine role, it’s still a feminist decision, because she picked that path for herself.
Similarly, I have to reason that wanting what I want for my body isn’t anti-feminist, it’s just what I want. This is my path, and I am finding the strength to walk it. If I am aware of all of the trappings of body shaming, and body standards of society, and I’m aware that I don’t have to change—but I choose to try…
Is that feminist? Or is that compliance?