By STELLA YOUNG
The series is striking and beautiful. One of the women featured actually has a body a lot like my own.
I found the images familiar, not confronting.
However, these are naked people. In all of the link previews (you know, the image that appears when you post something to Facebook) I’ve seen, a disabled woman’s naked breasts are clearly visible.
The exhibition statement says, “People with disability in most cases feel the discrimination of not being considered entirely as a man or a woman: instead they feel treated either as children, either as beings belonging to a third gender, neutral with no libido.”
This is true. People with disabilities and in particular those of us with non-normative bodies are routinely desexualised, degendered and infantilised. Sexual identity and even gender identity become secondary to our bodily identity. Throughout my life I have often been mistaken for a man, despite the fact that I choose to present as a very feminine woman. I have short hair, but so do a lot of other women. Many of my disabled male friends routinely have similar experiences.
But back to the photos. I’ve had friends who have had their Facebook accounts suspended for posting images and links to naked breasts, even images of breastfeeding and women who have had double and single mastectomies following breast cancer. To be clear, I do not agree with this kind of ridiculous censoring of the female body. But I do question why this link has been doing the rounds for a good week now, and the shares are increasing. It is apparently not violating Facebook’s “standards” in the same way as breastfeeding does.
Why is it that we find some breasts sexual, and other breasts art? What is it about these particular breasts that means instead of being reported for nudity or pornography, they’re being praised as edgy social activism?
The sexualisation of the female body seems not to apply here. A naked body like mine is a curiosity, a statement, a rebellion. But a naked body that conforms more closely to our socially constructed ideals of beauty, even if that body is performing a biological function and not a sexual act, is pornographic, indecently exposed, censored.
Do I want to see more bodies like mine represented in art, fashion and media? Of course I do. But seeing a reflection of my naked self pop up regularly in my Facebook feed with nary a NSFW warning in sight has served as a reminder that my body is not considered sexual, no matter what I do with it.
Could it be that our tendency to asexualise and pathologise the non-normative body means that we’re just not looking at this through the same lens? Art is supposed to make us interrogate what we see and what it means in a social context.
Let’s make sure we’re asking all the questions.