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Shame, Shame, Shame!

"Women are taught to hate themselves."

My friend Lucy

“(...) unrealistic and idealised notions of motherhood that circulate (and) are popularised in contemporary culture, media and society which worry, shame, and threaten to overwhelm real mothers.”

F. Cooper, The Fantasy of Maternal Autonomy and the Disabled Mother.



"Of course you felt that way growing up, we were taught to hate ourselves."

 

Lucy and I are walking through a crowded gallery in Mayfair. I feel slightly out of place.

Olivia Coleman just showed up. She looks fresh and sweet like a rosebud.

There is something endearing about her smile.

She reminds me of my mother.

 

Lucy and I end up in a pub around the corner.

I feel better once out.


How deeply rooted is my shame?

 

I am a round-cheeked 6 year old. Aurelie makes fun of me. She says I am fat. Others start doing it too, year after year. I am utterly convinced that I will never be pretty. I just want to be left alone. I develop a pretty strong sense of humour as a coping mechanism, although I also realise girls aren't supposed to be funny.

My Middle-Eastern nose gets bigger. I find it disgraceful. My breasts grow, my hips widen. Older men notice.

They say things to me. On the street. At the beach. In hotels and restaurants when my parents are not looking. They make me feel scared and nauseous.

I am now a thirteen year-old teenager wanting to burry herself under the ground never to be found.

Instead of burying myself, it is those feelings I burry deep, deep inside .

I can tell no one is interested anyway.

After all, I am not supposed to look like this.

It is too unfair.


I am a forty year-old woman, mothering two girls.

My hips are wider yet. My breasts lower. My thighs thick. My stomach softer.

None of the things I have done I could have without that shamed body of mine.


I invite you to take a look at Finnish artist Liu Susijara's intense, sometimes absurd, sense of self-mise-en-scène, which journalist Roberta Smith from the New York Times called "discomforting". And at Julie Scheurweghs' intimate, beautifully honest photographs. Both artists capture female body elements and lives with a benevolent, sometimes amused, never shaming, gaze.

 

A mother or pregnant body is easily shamed since it is exposed, at the mercy of societal scrutiny.

One example of this oppressing phenomenon is the speculation around female stars' pregnancies/lack thereof/choice to not engage with. In effect, celebrity magazines invite readers to “deploy critical, penetrating gazes on the bodies of maternal or “potentially” maternal women”*. Moreover, this scrutiny, which involves a heavy dose of judgment**, encourages readers to point a finger at women for not fulfilling their purpose (whatever that may be). There is then no place for nuance, balance, or explanation: a situation is presented as the result of good or bad life choices. This binary worldview is both the result and the starting point of a loop of shame, the gaze imposed on others becoming self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, for every finger pointed AT, there is a finger pointed IN.

What is perceived bad becomes labelled as such and the other way around.

 

 A shameful mind is a restless mind, as there is always a potential for labelled "wrong-doing".


If women were taught to hate themselves, perhaps it is time to deconstruct that hate and let its bare foundations remind us of struggles that belong to the past.

 

The resting place is in genuine compassion. We make ourselves available to feel what is 'feelable'. That’s where the healing is for everyone.”

Chris Germer on Unlocking us, a Brené Brown Podcast 


*Motherhood Misconceived

Representing the maternal in U.S. films - Addison, Goodwin-Kelly, Roth

SUNY (State University of New York Press, Albany), 2009

** the writers mention a specific "heavily-edited show" episode of Dr Phil on working-mothers: “In effect, the Dr. Phil show opted to construct a spectacle of combative mothers rather than airing the original conversation which, through the inclusion of many voices, spoke to the need for real change in our social structure regarding mothering and domestic policy.”




 


Protection (2021) prep drawing by Arlette, pencil on Fabriano paper


Peak

 

Lumps and bumps

And landscapes of my body

Twisted yet moving

Still yet alive

Burnt

from the inside out

Scars on the surface

Interior compressed

sparks

For one

For you

And for ever

For me

 

Arlette 

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