Warning: Triggering language below.
Whether it’s your first time here or you’ve been a reader for years, I firmly believe that talking about lingerie doesn’t mean just talking about bras and panties. Lingerie is also an excellent lens to talk about other, important things that are happening in our world. Very often, these other conversations center around topics like body image or self esteem or beauty standards, and I very much see today’s blog post as a continuation of those discussions.
In the conversation on beauty standards within the lingerie industry, especially as related to body shape and size, there are usually only two sides represented: thinner women and thicker women. But women don’t just come in two sizes or or two shapes or two body types, and all the body celebration talk can start to feel a little exclusionary if you have a build that’s neither ectomorphic (thin) or endomorphic (thick). And as I was thinking about some of the unique issues mesomorphic (muscular) women deal with in the lingerie and fashion and beauty industries, I also began to think about some of the related (but by no means identical) issues transgender women face in the same spaces. And all this stuff has been percolating in my mind for the last few months, until I finally felt like I had to talk about it.
In the previous paragraph, I mentioned transgender women. I’m not a transgender woman. The gender I was assigned at birth and the gender people see me as is also the one I personally identify with. I’m aware that puts me in a privileged position, so I want to be clear that I’m not speaking for or on behalf of anyone. This is specifically an article about my personal experience with the word. However, I understand how difficult and delicate talking about these topics can be, and I hope this article serves as a spark for conversation within the comments section or even a guest post from someone within the transgender community. I’ve also tried to be as aware and careful as possible in the language I’m using (which does include some offensive/potentially triggering words), but if I’ve made a misstep, please do tell me. And of course it goes without saying that transphobic and/or homophobic remarks, of any kind, will not be tolerated here.
As many of you know, there are lots of photos of me online, usually in the pinup style. I have pretty stable self-esteem, so I’m not terribly bothered when people call me ugly or what have you. If I’m not your cuppa, great. But about a year ago, as TLA was starting to get a lot bigger, I noticed the beginnings of a strange new pattern. People started calling me a “tr*nny” in the comments of some my photos. Even now, as I’m typing this, my brows kind of furrow into a confused expression.
It’s not that I’m offended and appalled anyone would think I’m transgender (because, obviously, there’s nothing wrong with being transgender), it’s just that I’m a bit taken aback people would attempt to use gender identity as an insult. 1) How is being transgender a bad thing? 2) Why in the world are you still using those slurs?
But as it happened more and more (never what I’d call “frequently,” but often enough to take notice) and as The Lingerie Addict established itself as an anti-bullying environment, that whole thing got me thinking about body snark. One of the most offensive aspects of body snark is that it’s used to delegitimize women (as the popular phrase like “real women have curves” makes clear). Suddenly, instead of just being a woman, full stop, there are degrees of ‘real’ womanhood to aspire to. And if you don’t make the cut, then I suppose you’re a fake woman. Which is just weird. And silly. And wrong.
As I mentioned early on, the conversation on body snark is very often limited to just thin and thick women (the “skinny vs. curvy” thing) as though women only come in only those two body types and no more. That makes women with my kind of build (muscular/athletic), feel like the ‘odd chick out’ because it’s not only alienating, it also makes us invisible…which makes insulting us easier. And as highlighted in a Blisstree article by Samantha Escobar last year, muscular women face a very specific kind of body snarking, described in detail in the excerpt below:
“We all know that our society often fat shames people they deem overweight and sometimes body shame those declared too thin, but many men and women consider very muscular women to be “gross” or “unappealing.” I find this strange, since — while I don’t remotely condone it — fat and thin shamers tend to at least cite health as a typical reason for being assholes. When it comes to insulting muscular females, this logic makes no sense; typically, those women work out frequently and eat incredibly well in order to achieve the bodies they have. Why insult them?
Well, it goes back to that “balance” thing regarding our bodies. We’re “allowed” to be strong and toned, but give us some solid definition, and bam — suddenly females are not “feminine” enough anymore. They’re constantly accused of doing steroids or being men, which is both absurd and insulting. On television, ultra-muscular women are typically cast as transgender (which is by no means a negative identity, but most muscular women were not born men; plus, television tends to insult the transgender community through most of these plot lines, as well).”
I definitely empathize with this Catch-22. In my past, pre-Lingerie Addict life, I was an avid martial artist, runner, and weight lifter. My particular body type allows me to build a lot of muscle very easily, and that also means I appear muscular and ‘in-shape’ with very little effort. I’m asked at least twice a week about my ‘killer arm routine’ when the honest truth is…I don’t have one. And I’ve had some very awkward conversations with guys saying they couldn’t date me because I was “too strong” and they were worried I’d “beat them up,” (as an aside, needing to have a partner that’s physically weaker than you is very interesting to me…but that’s a subject for another time).
What’s even more distressing is how often these claims of being “overly masculine” or “inappropriately muscular,” are also linked to race. While prepping this article, I spoke with a couple of models I know who are black, and they revealed that the “you look like a man” remark was unusually common for them as well…at least far more common than it was for white models they knew.
It’s like people are so confused/threatened when you don’t have a ideally feminine face or body or build, that it becomes open season on questioning your gender. It’s, in effect, saying “Your body is so unattractive to me that I have decided you don’t even count as a woman anymore. You are a fake woman. You are incorrect. And you need to conform.” Rest assured, it’s body snark, taken to a very ugly extreme. But that’s not the worst part of all this. My experiences with obnoxious gender policing aside, being called a “tr*nny” has made me think even more about how marginalized actual transgender people are.
When someone calls me that, whether they’re attempting to be insulting or not, I’m able to say “no” and move along with my day, confident in the knowledge that the conversation is over. But I wonder…if I really was transgender and said “yes,” what would happen? And it’s not a pleasant question to think about when you consider the extreme and horrifying violence that transgender people (especially transgender women), face in our society.
If I was a transgender woman and out and publicly visible about my transgenderness, would people feel like they had the right to be awful towards to me? To insult me or harrass me or encourage violence against me? While these particular possibilities are mostly a thought experiment for me in this context, they are very real concerns for transgender people. And I can’t imagine what it must be like to constantly worry people will turn against you and want to hurt you (verbally, physically, or otherwise) over circumstances you literally have no control over.
From my perspective, someone’s gender identity is their own personal business. Whatever’s happening below the neck has nothing to do with you. And asking if someone is transgender is not the kind of thing you casually inquire about via Facebook comment. Not all women are “thin” or “curvy.” Some of us are broad, muscular, powerful, athletic types. And if you do feel the need to ask if someone is transgender or not, first ask yourself why. Why is it your business? Why do you need to know? And will it change anything you think about this person? Finally, just avoid the word “tr*nny,” altogther (along with its analogues “shemale,” or “he/she”). Gender is more than your body shape, and one’s gender identity is not a slur. So let’s move past all that.
I know I’ve talked about a LOT of stuff in this article, so it’s definitely time for some conversation. What do you think about the snark against women with muscular body types? How do you feel when someone uses the words mentioned above as an insult? And have you ever personally encountered any of the things I’m talking about here? I’m looking forward to chatting in the comments.