Beautifying Violence

Day Twelve.

On Tuesday, Brownfemipower wrote a piece about the controversial Miss Landmine Beauty Pageant, in which the participants are Angolan women who have lost limbs in landmine explosions. One of her concerns was "beautifying the violence done to female bodies," and it is a concern I share. I absolutely believe that "imperfect" bodies are beautiful, but there was something about the idea of the pageant—the name, that it's a pageant in which, like all pageants, women's bodies are put on display for consumption and beauty is linked to external approbation, that it's an excuse to sell stuff—that struck me as not broadening definitions of beauty but fetishizing female bodies that have been rendered "different" by violence.

It's a nice thought that this pageant is just about helping women feel beautiful, but—cue broken record—nothing happens in a void. And there exists already, inevitably, an entire subculture dedicated to the fetishization of injured women.

Like the difference between a "chubby chaser," who specifically seeks out fat women because he associates (with good cause, unfortunately) fatness with low self-esteem, and men who merely have a specific aesthetic appreciation for fat bodies or consider them one of many types to which they're attracted, one must draw a difference between men who are favorably disposed or neutral toward "imperfect" bodies and men who seek out "imperfect" bodies expressly because they associate them with weakness, vulnerability, desperation, etc.

Coincidentally, Boing Boing just today covered the Japanese fetish-fashion kegadoru ("injured idol"), in which women (who haven't been injured) wrap their bodies in bandages (as though they have been injured)—but, naturally, it has to be "sexy," with the bandages approximating a bikini + head wound.

[T]he trend is meant to appeal to the kind of man who wants an "injured doll" -- and says that the white bandages denote virginal grace, while the black ones mean wickedness.
So here we have the fetishization of violence against women, without any actual violence, just playing to the idea that women who have been injured in some way are weak and vulnerable. The ultimate in fragility, which is summarily translated into the ultimate in femininity.

It's a weird kind of backlash against women's equality and increasingly accessible images and examples of strong women. Years ago, as the internet was just beginning to explode, I remember my best friend's brother showing me some of the "weird porn" he'd found—and one of them was a fetish site serving men who are attracted to women in casts, slings, and bandages. There were pictures of women in traction, pictures of women in toe-to-hip casts for broken legs, women in neck braces. The site was not frequented by egalitarian feminist men, but violent misogynists who clearly hated any show of female strength. One of the comments was: "I like the bandages where you can see a little blood poking through from underneath."

And now being turned on by female injury has become a discernable fashion trend (if not a mainstream one), with the accoutrements of its execution being openly sold, in at least two major cities (Tokyo and London). Um, yuck.

Which brings me back to the pageant. I don't know if a pageant can possibly reconcile promoting "imperfect" bodies as beautiful, when those bodies were made thus by violence, without in some way, as Brownfemipower says, "beautifying the violence done to female bodies." Especially when there preexists a subculture already fetishizing it.

And it strikes me that women of color are disproportionately associated with the beautification of violence done to female bodies—which complicates the issue yet further.


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