Saturday, February 11, 2006
  On bodies
I've been reading through some of the fascinating posts on the gendergeek Carnival of Feminists and saw that the next Carnival is going to be dedicated to body issues. Which got me thinking...

Body issues are actually one of the big reasons I wear hijab. A long time ago, as a young woman, I saw hijab as the ultimate "up yours" to the cult of sexuality, the abusiveness of the beauty industry, and the objectification of women by hollywood and advertisers that had spawned an epidemic of anorexia and bullemia among young women and its flip side, an epidemic of obesity, and which left practically no women happy with her body. Hijab (and by hijab I mean not only the headscarf, but also the long, loose clothing) was delightfully freeing, a way of stepping outside that game and rejecting it utterly. I knew that this interpretation of hijab was something quite unique to Muslims in the Western world, but I also knew there were plenty of other women -- both converts and those who were born into a Muslim family -- who saw it in much the same light.

Since then, I've grown more and more aware of how, for most of the Muslim world (including many who are living here in the west), the hijab is the mirror image of the cult of objectification of women's bodies. Cover up because women are too tempting and men cannot control themselves -- once again it's the sexualization of women to the exclusion of their personalities, their hopes and dreams, their essential humanity even. That's not a Qur'anic notion -- indeed it is a bastardization of Islam's understandings of gender -- but it certainly is widespread in the Muslim world.

Damned if you do and damned if you don't, as the old saying goes. I wonder if we'll ever get to a society where women are no longer objectified!

The other issue which I've been dealing with for the years since my last child was born was a crisis in my own self-image. The "baby weight" of my last child stubbornly refuses to come off, indeed I've gained a few extra pounds since then, and my willpower to gym and diet has been non-existant. Which puts me in the unusual (for me) position of being unhappy with my body. Of course, many middle aged women have to deal with this issue, not only in terms of weight, but also in terms of wrinkles, age spots, grey hair, etc. I have always been decided that I would not care about these things, that I would age into those one of those wonderful women whose faces proudly bear the years of experience and joy. Of course, saying that and living that are two different things. I don't mind the age spots and the wrinkles, and grey hasn't been an issue yet, but I definately mind the softness of my body. Anyway, I've written a poem about some of these ideas, and I thought I'd post it here.

I stare at myself in the mirror
And see a Renoir nude
Ponderous, pendulous bosoms
Soft slouch of stomach
Dimpled round mounds of buttocks and thigh
I loathe this pale, flabby flesh
Covering my true body
Which lays beneath
Svelte, slim, sexy

I scroll through Renoir’s paintings on my computer screen
Bathers, Seated Girl, Nude in the Sunlight
Diana the Huntress, After the Bath, the Nymphs
Trying to see myself through Renoir’s eyes
Such adulation he stroked upon these women
You can see it in the golds, the browns
The creamy sweetness of their skin
The lush pink of their mouths and nipples
I imagine him lavishing his adoration on my flesh
Painting me in tones of peach and admiration

But the image fractures
My mind won’t compass it
I need a painter’s hands
To hold my flesh
In his brush
A lover’s hands
To hold my flesh
In his fingers
Perhaps then I’ll believe
In voluptuous beauty

Since when, I wonder
Do I need a man to tell me who I am
Or who I am not
Since when do I need someone else
To love this body of mine
In order for me to love it myself
Once, I lived beauty
Once, my flesh knew its own splendor
Without anyone speaking it into being

Why does that sure knowledge now fail
Just when the flesh has filled in
Why does my heart believe
Those who judge me overly abundant
When the clear evidence before my eyes
Ample bodies are glorious, glorious
Allure lies not in thick or thin
But in exultation in God’s bounty
Why do I believe the critics, the judges
And not Renoir
"Oguz women never veil themselves in the presence of their own men or others. Nor does the woman cover any of her bodily parts in the presence of any person. One day we stopped off with a Turk and were seated in his tent. The man’s wife was present. As we conversed, the woman uncovered her pudendum and scratched it, and we saw her doing so. We veiled our faces and said, “I beg God’s pardon.” At this her husband laughed and said to the interpreter, “Tell them we uncover it in your presence so that you may see it and be abashed, but it is not to be attained. This is better than when you cover it up and yet it is attainable.”"
~Ibn Fadlan, "eaters of the Dead" as re-told by Michael Chrichton

One time a non-muslim attempted to pick me up while I was walking in a full tent, I've been commented on my ability to speak English, and there's just something about hijab that cries out to every available bachelor, "hi! I'm pious, and ready for you to ask my parents for my hand!"... but as you point out of course... but don't look at me, I don't exist, and if I did, I would just be a temptress and distracting you from God."

lovely poem.
You can fall in love with an ugly man (or a chubby woman?)...

There is nothing more wonderful than to revel in the beauty of your own body as perceived by the eyes, hands or mind of a lover, whether it be a woman or a man.
I believe we love the body of the person that we love because the other qualities of that person generate love in our mind.

Do women lovers feel differently about body beauty than a male lover with a woman?

They say you must love yourself to be loved by others. When you have a body again that you love, others will love it too.

Just read this. I think it's awesome and I just wanted to jump up and cheer you on. I so agree with your sentiments about objectification and I can't count the times I have wondered why a woman can't just be "a person". I applaud your courage and your poem. Beautifully, beatifully written.

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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Progressive Muslim, feminist, mom, writer, mystic, lover of the universe and Doug Schmidt, cellist, theologian and imam.

What I'm reading now

Cane River
An interesting exploration of the gradual whiting of a family through slavery to modern days.

To see an archive of all the books I've read (well the ones I've read and review since I started the blog) with comments, please click here

Causes Worth Supporting

This is just a short list -- a few of my favorites.

English Language Islamic Fiction. We need more of it. Lots more.
Pay a Teacher's Salary in Afghanistan. The Hunger site actually has a lot of worthwhile programs. You can find them all here .
Muslims for Progressive Values. My organization. We can always use donations, of time or money!
Human Rights Campaign for the glbt community
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
The ACLU I'm a card carrying member. Hope you'll become one too. The organization that has done the most, as far as I can tell, to pull the countries progressive side together.
Network of Spiritual Progressives. Working to reclaim religion and morality for the religious left.

Blogs Worth Reading

Wanda Campbell also known as Nochipa A very gifted poet and a gentle, compassionate soul. Nochipa and I are on the same page on sooooo many things
Writeous Sister Aminah Hernandez, she's got some excellent latino pieces and always has good writing info on her blog.
Sister Scorpion aka Leila Montour - Leila is a fount of energy, quirky humor, and bad attitude. She's also a talented poet.
Muhajabah Very interesting commentary here. I don't always agree with her, but her pieces are always thought-provoking.
Georgie Dowdell Georgie is a great writer and a good friend.
Louise Marley Another great writer. I think Louise is one of the best sf writers exploring faith themes.
Ink in My Coffee Devon Ellington (who has numerous aliases) who is also the editor of Circadian Poems. A truly inspiring woman with a seemingly endless supply of energy.
Ethnically Incorrect With a name like that, isn't a given I'm going to enjoy this writer?
Freedom from the Mundane Colin Galbraith, another excellent writer, from Scotland.
The Scruffy Dog Review This is a new e-zine with an ecclectic mix of fiction, poetry, and non-fic, some really enjoyable pieces here.
Ramblings of a Suburban Soccer Mom Lara, another gentle soul, very thoughtful.
Circadian Poems A journal of poetry, new stuff up all the time.
Ye Olde Inkwell Michelle writes romance and is one of my writing buddies.
Muhammad Michael Knight The original punk Muslim writer. Like him or love him, Mike is always coming up with the unexpected.

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