I felt nervous as I shuffled into the yellow glow of the classroom. Everything appeared as it normally did every other Tuesday night. Perhaps the night’s still life wouldn’t be as mortifying as expected. Yet, as I nervously laid out my drawing pencils, I couldn’t shake the embarrassment and anxiety swirling in my stomach. I’m not sure what detail of the assignment shocked me more: drawing a nude model or the fact I’d be doing so for three hours! I understood the artistic value of the human figure, but something about drawing it still felt explicit to me.
Despite my obvious naiveté, I was startled to learn how quickly I was able to dehumanize the naked individual sitting in front of me. It sounds harsh, but I quickly learned to stop thinking of the model as anything more than a vase or a chair. Muscles and bone rapidly transformed into mere lines and angles. While it made the drawing process easier, I felt ashamed for reducing a living, breathing human to a mere object.
That’s exactly what society trains us to do. We minimize. We reduce. We extrapolate select characteristics and use them as ideals for the rest of humanity. Reduction is the only lens society looks through to view the human body — particularly feminine bodies.
Currently, women’s bodies are walking billboards to sell anything from hamburgers to hot rods, but even eye candy must be whittled down to the right size. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, “up to 24 million people of both genders and all ages suffer from an eating disorder” and “86 percent of students report the onset of an eating disorder before age 20.”
Society dismisses these structures of bone, flesh and muscle that house minds capable of creativity and imagination. They hold hearts capable of immense love and compassion and are vessels carrying magnificent souls. Instead, the most important assets of a woman are the sacks of fat resting upon her chest and the flesh encased by her jeans. Humanity is taught to simultaneously glorify and vilify these anatomical structures. Women are expected to shed pounds, their self-confidence and concerns for their health in order to amplify these features and give guys something to gawk at. However, while the world treats us like sex objects, women are warned to never embrace their sexuality, for fear of appearing improper.
There’s an even darker side to the minimization of women’s bodies. According to statistics from the World Health Organization, “more than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated.”
In Africa and the Middle East, young girls can be subjected to a cultural medical procedure known as female genital mutilation, where genital tissue is surgically removed to help ensure they exhibit proper pre-marital behavior and resist “illicit sexual acts.”
Even in the United States where FGM is illegal, there’s still a need for concern. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that “150,000-200,000 girls in the United States are at risk” of undergoing FGM. There’s even possibility of girls being forced to leave the country to have the operation illegally — known as “vacation cutting.”
There’s no medical reason to perform the procedure. Rather, FGM dehumanizes women and threatens their bodies by exposing them to numerous health problems such as “cysts, infertility, hemorrhaging, and need for later surgeries.”
Women’s bodies weren’t created to be shrunk, purged or spliced. We aren’t objects to be tweaked or manipulated to guarantee good behavior. Society needs to stop placing women’s health on the line to placate the populations who enjoy objectifying us.
Melissa Scholke is an LSA junior.