We Are Not Spared: Trans Women, Media Blitz and Body Image

14Oct09

I’m going to start this post with one statement to all of my sisters out there:

You are beautiful. No exceptions. No dismissals. You. Are. Beautiful.

What brought this on? Well besides the obvious (that more of us need to be built up instead of being torn down) I recently spotted a search term that led someone to my blog. Normally these are trolljob bullshit terms, with a few exceptions. But this particular one seemed sincere and made me feel sad. Someone searched “im a trans girl, can i ever be pretty” on a search engine and came here. She may not be around anymore (this search term was a bit earlier) but maybe I can still reach her and help some folk learn a bit in the process.

Feminists are acutely aware of the media blitz. A veritable plethora of damaging signals regarding what is acceptable among body types, what is wanted, what is unwanted and how one’s body ought to be treated. This blitz operates in such a way as to strip self esteem, create very harmful impressions about worth and break down the capacity to create safe boundaries because of an expression of ownership over bodies. Neglectful and cissexist erasure of trans women in the media doesn’t mean that these signals don’t meet us. Unfortunately an awful lot of feminists like to cling to this idea that these signals don’t reach us, mostly based on the flawed concept that trans women inherently have all the aspects of male privilege prior to transition (if they so choose to transition). It comes down to a complete lack of understanding (or willful ignorance regarding) the concepts of gender dysphoria, bodily dissonance, and self conceptualization.

Gender dysphoria is heavily related to self conceptualization (in a two way relation). These aspects will not only negate many elements of male privilege (through making the way that society treats those perceived as guys as inherently damaging through triggering and worsening that dysphoria) through turning the events described by it into cissexism and transmisogyny they also open the signal dish of the mind. Guys don’t have that self conceptualization. That’s why they’re guys and not girls. So they don’t apply these signals to themselves because they’re not associated with themselves. There’s no psychological ping to the brain that says, “this shit is about people like me”. On the same token there are folks who are female assigned at birth but are not necessarily trans (more gender indifferent) but don’t really have that self conceptualization and don’t apply these signals to themselves. (you can also spot this with a good chunk of trans guys and nonbinaries that started on the F side of the equation, where they reject and ignore these media messages because it isn’t about their people).

Just because you have a vagina doesn’t mean the signals will hit you. Similarly, just because one has a penis doesn’t mean they won’t (I won’t get into the situations of IS folk here as I lack the background to say anything of use on them). Trans women are women. No exceptions, no dismissals. And trans women are affected by these media messages just like cis women, perhaps even worse.

Even just bodily dissonance alone or as a progenitor to gender dysphoria can lead to shit from the media blitz. For those that just started with the dissonance, self conceptualization often soon follows. It’s the primary reason why I do refer to my experiences up to a certain point (the point of my trans realization regarding my own bodily dissonance, which is what I described here under dysphoria. I rather like the word dissonance more.) as male privilege. For me, that bodily dissonance hadn’t translated to gender dysphoria and self conceptualization so when I saw things relating to women, I didn’t think of myself. That’s not to say the signal didn’t reach me at all, in fact we all pick up things from the media that we associate with those its specifically targeted at. Those subconscious trainings stuck in my head until my self conceptualization flipped and then I got nailed with a flood of preconceived notions that suddenly applied to me in very unpleasant ways. Other women of the trans variety, who are hit with it right away, have an even worse erosion of self esteem than I experienced (or even a prevention of it growing at all taking into account the fact that self esteem isn’t easy to come by already due to bodily dissonance, gender dysphoria and systemic oppression of trans folk). This is psychological fact. Undeniable by the cis feminists that use ignorance of the concepts to justify cissexist views (not that this stops them from trying, mind you).

The particular differences that categorize cis women and trans women do in fact make the media blitz more harmful to trans women (this is actually fairly normal for virtually any intersection of oppression in any context). The dissonance and social treatment by society already is damaging to self esteem and body image. The difficulties with articulating that dissonance especially often leads to conceptual translations of feeling ugly or disgusting, which further translates into self esteem and body image damage there too. Piling on media images and impressions that are unrealistic and wrong by any measure (even cis only measures) can only worsen this self esteem spiral. It isn’t just dissonance now, in addition these body types that are created through photo manipulation and these minority images of only certain types of women, create an even more damaging standard, made especially worse by the fact that the physical traits some trans women have are considered far from that standard.

The operative piece of wisdom here is constructing only one type of body as healthy, valid, sexual, attractive or of worth is not only sexist, ableist, racist (among a host of other isms), it is entirely cissexist too. The old adage, “women come in all shapes and sizes” truly applies to trans women but we lack even the counter measures of the cis feminist movement, who so easily cuts us loose from that saying. The media may not knowingly apply this blitz with the purpose of erasing our bodies, attacking our self esteem and rendering us socially invalid (hell they probably don’t intentionally do it for cis women either) but it doesn’t change the fact that those are the results. Feminists I hold to a higher standard, as they’re abundantly aware of what this blitz can do but often work to remove any defenses we would normally get from them against it. They ought to know better.

Well then, time to mount our own defenses.

Your body is beautiful. You are beautiful. The shape, the size, the form of your body does not make you less of a woman. You are not ugly and anyone that dares to say such garbage to you is ignorant and steeped in not only cis privilege (or internalized cissexism for the trans folk that pull it) but a social training built of falsehoods and lies, delivered through glowing screens and glossy paper. The media lies when they present only certain images of certain women. The media lies when they claim anyone who doesn’t fit these models is unattractive. The media lies when they construct an able bodied, white, thin, cissexual, north western European descent American woman who is within a certain height as the end all be all for what woman are and should be.

I am a trans woman. I am beautiful. And you are too.

Learn that. Repeat it. Own it.



11 Responses to “We Are Not Spared: Trans Women, Media Blitz and Body Image”

  1. Thank you so very much. You are beautiful!

  2. 2 piecesofstring

    Oh how sad, I just want to hug that girl. Wonderful post :).

  3. Thank you for this post. I’m a pre-transition trans woman myself, only recently coming to accept this. The fear that I would “be a very ugly woman” (combined with well-meaning remarks on my attractiveness as a guy) certainly played a role in holding me back from giving serious consideration to transition for quite a while. I still worry about being an “ugly woman”. :-/

  4. It slays me that feminism isn’t more inclusive. I may even go as far as to say that one of the movement’s greatest ironies: empower women, but leave a different kind of woman in the dust because they’re just not important enough.

    I guess all that’s left is to say the obvious: we are beautiful. ;)

  5. There’s no such thing as an ugly woman. Women are beautiful. We come in all shapes and sizes, all beautiful. No matter what cis feminists say, you’re included in that adage.

    You’re beautiful.

  6. Yeah, it’s just somewhat dismaying to go from a relatively attractive male-bodied person (and, when I dissociate myself from a photograph, I can admit that that’s a decent-looking guy) to a not-so-physically-attractive woman.

    Of course, this also plays into our society’s emphasis on physical attractiveness for women, far more so than for men, and other internalized patriarchal BS. :-/ I’m a good, kind, person, one who makes an effort to understand others and makes an effort to change her views and behavior when she does screw up, who owns up to her mistakes and corrects them. THAT is more important than physical attractiveness! (Besides which, I really have no idea what I’ll look like after transition anyways!)

    But, it can be hard to accept that on an emotional level. :-/

  7. What it really comes down to for physical attractiveness is personal taste. And that changes so much between people that no one has a basis to call themselves ugly. No one. We’re all beautiful. And it doesn’t matter if a few people don’t find us attractive. Others do.

  8. Oops, didn’t see your reply before!

    Yeah, that’s true. Besides, now that I’ve begun to recognize this dysphoria for what it is, and have been able to look more objectively at myself, I think I may very well turn out to be what I would consider attractive, even if it’s not the mainstream idea of attractive. :-) But, hell, the mainstream idea doesn’t attract me too much anyways, so who cares what they think? ^_^


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