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The Art of being Unfeminine: Taking back our body image

Do women really owe you pretty?

Two hands hold up a cardboard sign that reads "I am more than a body" in red paint.

CW: This article discusses eating disorders and self-harm which may be distressing to some readers.

It is summer 2022 and whilst the Earth licks her wounds from a global pandemic and tries to move forward, it seems the lives and particularly the bodies of women inhabiting it have taken a colossal step backward.

Women’s body image since time immemorial has been under constant control, scrutiny, and surveillance. Stemming from Victorian England (please don’t ever bring back the corset!), we can look back through history at the ever-changing expectations of women’s bodies with the underlying current of the feminine mystique. The notion that women are fulfilled from housework and motherhood. The rules set by society of what it mean's to be feminine and how to fit the mould of desirability.

From the Golden Age of Hollywood, think Marilyn Monroe and big boobs! We descend the timeline of what pretty is. The swinging sixties, peace, love and thin, the eighties leotards cut to your chiselled abs (“Alexa play call on me"), the 90’s with Kate Moss’ “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” We arrive at the here and now, an era of “healthy,” where you need a bottom like Kim Kardashian but a tiny waist and even smaller views on women's bodily rights.

A person with pink hair stands in a crowd of protestors, their eyes are closed and they seem to be shouting. They hold a sign that reads "my body my choice"

Within every historical feminist movement comes an attempt to reclaim the rights woman have to their own bodies. Within our, very necessary current effort, I'd like to humbly suggest women embrace the art of being "unfeminine."

So what exactly is unfeminine? Here is a wonderful thread for us all to educate ourselves, some of my personal favourites being, pushups, tattoos, a terrible cook, not wearing enough make-up, wearing too much make-up, and drumroll please.. driving.

In reality, beauty is you as you are. Unmodified, unedited, uncompromisingly courageous. Defying gender labels and being free in your own skin. It shouldn't need a label, but for now, let's coin it "the art of being unfeminine."

A person stands in a dark room, they are wearing an outfit made entirely of PVC and leather. They have one leg up on a desk. Their hair is cropped short and orange, they are wearing a lot of dark make-up.

Nothing is more evident in the modern-day ownership of women’s bodies than the views on women with tattoos. As an identifying female with several tattoos, I have faced many a comment such as; “you used to be so pretty”, “but you’ve ruined your body” and my personal favourite “but, now you look butch.”

"Being butch is a rejection of commodified femininity, but that does not mean it is not still femininity."

Despite the views that women’s tattoos are a “promiscuity stamp,”, or that they are “ugly and a turn-off” and my personal favourite “they [women] look like they’ve been rolling about in the dirt.” (gasp, clutches pearls). A 2012 study concluded that in the United States 59% of women had a tattoo compared to just 41% of men. So, and this might come as a shocker, but women aren't getting tattooed for you. We are controlling the rights to our own bodies, enhancing our own perceptions of body image, and rejecting the chokehold of beauty standards.

Surely women already get enough looks, why seek more?”

The daunting thought of not being ogled at, the judging stares from strangers, or being considered unfeminine is an excellent and comical motivator to get a tattoo. It's no hindrance if Barry from HR won't find me womanly anymore. Tattoos can safeguard us from a life built against women. With that said, here is why I and some fellow weirdo women in my life get the ink.

A woman's back is to the camera, their whole back is covered with tattoo's, off camera, someone is holding a tattoo gun and giving them another tattoo.

As a pretty rebellious teen, my relationship with food and self-harm was spiralling out of control at the age of 15. To compensate, I got my first tattoo. A tiny black heart that was poked into my hip bone at a dodgy house party. It healed terribly and subsequently, I have recently had it covered with a sacred heart. Still a heart, yes, but also a homage to that 15-year-old girl, who couldn’t see a way to ever love herself inside or out.

Now, as an adult, I have a weird relationship with my tattoos. If I am feeling overly self-conscious, I suddenly hate them and find myself in a despair pit, why oh why didn’t I keep my legs glossy and tanned like the Instagram girls.

But most days when I am feeling semi-ok, I love them and they’re as familiar to me as the skin I live in.

"To take the bold step of putting something indelible onto yourself, it's a bit of a leap of faith."

In comes, Bee singer/songwriter and unreal cake maker.

It's nice to feel like a canvas, I guess.

To take the bold step of putting something indelible onto yourself, it's a bit of a leap of faith.

You’re wearing somebody’s artistic talent (hopefully).

My favourite one happened in my mates' kitchen, we were both drunk, it's terrible and I love it. There's nostalgia.

I don't know, this is a good question, why do we do anything anyway?

"I was like, why do you care what's on my body?"

Emma coffee connoisseur.

I think initially I was trying to be different.

It was also probably a rebellion against my parents who were pretty against tattoos.

They have had a huge positive impact on my body confidence, I have always struggled massively with body image but I feel like my tattoos give me so much more confidence. I feel way sexier with my kit off.

I never regret them and in fact, when I’m feeling shit about myself, I want to get more.

I think nowadays most people think I look sick, but on a train once a woman read out my tattoo that says “my body, my choice” to her mate and rolled her eyes.

The irony wasn’t lost, I was like "why do you care what's on my body?"

The background is black, in the middle of the image is a neon photo box that read "I hate nothing about you" next to the photo box is a neon red heart.

So, there you have it, tattoos are a statement of self-love. A middle finger to patriarchal opinions on how YOUR body should look. A constant reminder of the "unfeminine" and its growing strength in loving yourself enough to shed gender expectations.

If you get one, class. If you don't, cool. But if you’re going to get one in another language, please check it doesn’t actually mean fish fingers.


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