I suppose this is sort of a follow up to my last post on Zumba.  I stumbled across a series of videos by Petra Collins (for BB Dakota) called Making Space.  They are basically the kind of short film I tried to make in college, except much better.

I’m not sure that I love Collins’ work completely, or if I am just saying that because I’m super jealous of her for being so successful and so young, but I found the series of videos fascinating.  They invite me to reflect on the female body and how to find freedom in it.

The series focuses on high school girls in the south who, in their own ways, are all involved with dance.  As we watch the girls dance and smile and move in front of the camera, we listen to their thoughts on their art, their bodies, their relationships with other girls, and their thoughts on the future.

I was especially drawn to the first part of the series.  The girls are beautiful, and they remind us that wisdom comes from all ages.  “How can somebody who likes me, make me feel so bad?” one girl questions.  Yes, why do we teach our girls to accept any male attention as something they should accept and appreciate?  Why do we teach them to love abuse?

The images are simultaneously real and yet also dreamy as we often watch the girls dance and move in slow motion, while listening to their open, honest voices.  It invites us to watch their bodies, but in a way that invites appreciation (rather than appraisal) and also teases out the girls’ strength and their lack of shame or apology for their bodies being visible.  We get to witness the infinite possibilities of movement from an infinite number of body shapes and sizes.  This feels liberating and new to me.

I almost wrote “lack of shame or apology for their bodies being on display” above.  But I didn’t because I think there is a wrongheaded assumption in our (rape?) culture that when a female body is seen, then it is somehow being put ‘on display’— meaning that its visibility invites comment, response, reaction.  That this is its intention in existing, and that women are implicated in extending this invitation when they allow their bodies to be seen.

I have experienced this first hand, being told that I am dressed inappropriately when I wear an outfit that fits guidelines but flatters my figure.  I’ve seen it happen to other women, sometimes around different body parts than mine, sometimes not.  It becomes our responsibility to somehow prevent our bodies or parts of our bodies from existing because of how someone else may interpret it and interpret our motivations for allowing them to be visible in certain ways.  Even though this expectation is impossible to satisfy completely, while demanding shame and self-hatred.

I think about this when I see coverage of celebrity women who “show off their slim legs” when being snapped by the paparazzi after a yoga class, or “display their baby bumps” when walking down a street in NYC.  These women are not on a red carpet or in a photo shoot, rather they are merely existing while in their bodies.  Yet the language we employ and accept around their visibility exposes this assumption about women’s bodies.  Us seeing their bodies somehow translates to an intention on the part of these women to be seen— that by being visible they want to be consumed, they want to be commented on, they are putting themselves “on display.”  Except they are not.  They are merely existing while female.

I do not mean to say that women never put their bodies on display.  I mean to say that women do not put their bodies on display all the time.  And yet that is how we interact with their bodies.  We need to practice ways of interacting with them differently, as these videos try to.  These girls are not dancing to display their bodies, they are dancing to be in them.