Kindness everywhere, body positive: do we still have the right to complex?

Publicly taunting generous buttocks is no longer an option. But in the mirror, we continue to hate his knocked knees in silence. The white-haired woman paraded, sensual bombshell on the red carpet in Paris or Milan, but in Clermont-Ferrand her high school son found that “all that gray doesn’t look a bit old, right?”. Philosophers praise in ultra-modern radio broadcasts the right of everyone to imperfection, the virtues of failure and failures of appearance, but, in the playgrounds, the increasingly cruel standard keeps beautiful days ahead of her.

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Will we end up regretting the blessed days of ordinary complexes? Because what to do, what to say when they are raised, in 2021, to the rank of true subject of a philosophical thesis? This is because now exposed or invisible, valid or invalid, microchipped and augmented, even transcended, the body is at the heart of contemporary battles. The tools supposed to free it accumulate, creating in their wake so many reformatting.

For the anthropologist David Le Breton (1), who writes on all ages and probes the beauties and faults of all generations, “our society has been, since the 1990s, marked by what I call a“ concern for the body ” . This is linked to the growing individualization of the social bond: we are sent back to our freedom as individuals. In an uncertain world, however, the body remains what we can control for reassurance – a way of anchoring ourselves in a world that escapes us ”. Is the right to complexes itself threatened under the leaden cover of trivialized benevolence? Ideas for reflection around our body – adored or hated – and its representations in the midst of a revolution.

I can’t seem to be perfect, is it serious?

Flawless skin. Swollen breasts. The hyperpulpous mouth, the feline eyes, the disproportionately arched eyebrows… Since the advent of social networks, at the turn of the 2010s, the injunctions to have a perfect body have become more urgent. All generations are concerned, but it is especially generation Z, the one born with a smartphone in hand, which suffers, some engaging earlier and earlier in cosmetic surgery with the vain hope of making the fantasized digital image coincide. and prosaic reality.

In September, the Wall Street Journal revealed excerpts from an internal study conducted by Facebook on the effects of Instagram (owned by Facebook): body image problems are believed to affect one in three teenage girls. If David Le Breton castigates “a tyrannical image society” because of social networks, he also underlines “the need not to think in terms of univocity about the world of adolescents”. Because they are also the first to break free from normative shackles and to celebrate differences, notably through the body positive movement. In short, we are there: between injunctions to conform to this yoke and injunctions to accept oneself as one is, the contemporary world has never been so paradoxical.

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What if naturists were body positive before everyone else?

Born in the 1990s in the United States, the body positive movement advocates the acceptance of all bodies and encourages diversity. Since the 2010s, it has experienced spectacular growth, especially via social networks: the keyword bodypositive has nearly 18 million occurrences on Instagram. Bodies perceived as “too” (too big, too thin, too hairy, too black, etc.) can finally assert themselves and be visible.

On naturist beaches, regulars smile: it’s been a long time since the gaze has been focused on bodies that do not conform to hypernormalized canons of beauty. A real liberation for Alice, 44, who spends all her summers on the Landes coast, the Mecca of French naturism: “Naturists look at best for cool babes, at worst for swingers. But we must distinguish between nudity and sexuality! Most people don’t understand that here nudity brings a liberating form of anonymity: in the end, you are hardly visible in a crowd of naked people. We live fully in our body, in a form of exaltation. ”

The body positive current in its broad sense has certainly not escaped the notice of advertisers. For Amélie Tehel, doctoral student in information and communication sciences at Rennes who explores the symbolic modes of construction of the body, “marketing recoveries often produce new injunctions. In fact, bodies that depart from the standard are accepted, made acceptable, only insofar as they subscribe to other standards. The conditions for emancipation are therefore limited: we can be fat as long as we are beautiful, we can be black as long as we do not evoke systemic racism … “Freed, freed from our complexes? Not so sure.

Can a body said to be invalid be sexy?

Still on social networks, where these “different” bodies are more and more visible, some people make what could previously be perceived as a handicap the banner of their personality by “turning the stigma around”. And we are witnessing the birth of influencers of a new genre, like Xiao Yang, a young Chinese model with a leg amputated (20,000 subscribers on Instagram). His credo? Ultra-sharp and fashionable images, and an incredible prosthesis – jewel designed by creators, like a work of art. Luc Bruyère, actor, model and dancer born with one arm, poses, for his part, frontally and without modesty on his Instagram account (@lucky_love_). He has become an activist icon.

Luc Bruyère.

Just yesterday, who could have admitted finding a disabled person sexy? Today, the younger generation has come a long way. Lucile, 18, is under the spell of this dark boy who is both dark and playful: “I don’t even ask myself the question of his handicap. What I like is his personality. And I don’t mind at all imagining having sex with someone who has a body like theirs, like Maeve and Isaac in the Sex Education series. ”

In the world of live shows and in particular that of performance, certain avant-garde artists have for some time been seizing on these questions to deconstruct our view of so-called invalid or sick bodies. For Caroline Ferreira, artistic director of the Move (2) dance festival at the Center Pompidou in Paris, “art allows us to offer other subjectivities, other stories. I am thinking of the dancer and choreographer Raimund Hoghe or Lisa Bufano, who questioned the notion of “validism”, which wants a body that does not conform to standards to be excluded in our society ”.

What if the so-called non-compliant body was increasingly visible to the general public? The Tokyo Olympics dramatically shed light on the bodies of Paralympic athletes. A progress ? Amélie Tehel qualifies greatly: “The representations of disabled bodies are progressing but nevertheless fall within frameworks which promote the overcoming of the condition of disabled person. Basically, one can be handicapped as long as one achieves exploits. “

Is the body of the elderly woman the last taboo?

In the corridors of the metro, she appears, smiling. She is a 60-year-old woman, white hair, in lingerie from the Darjeeling brand, her belly wrinkled and… soft. The image, rare, calls out. And echoes that of Corinne Masiero at the César last March, when the 57-year-old actress appeared entirely naked, slogans in favor of the intermittent show scribbled on the body. Social networks were then ignited, some deputies even going so far as to accuse the actress of “exhibition”. Faced with his detractors, Masiero replied: “Me, my strength is to be ugly, popular and vulgar.”

Because ultimately, more than his words, it was comments on his exposed body that agitated the networks. With, at the bottom, a question: do we have the right to show a body of quinqua in all its truth? Would we have done the same thing for a man’s body? For Marie Charrel, author of the recent Who is afraid of old women? (3), the body of the elderly woman is frightening – too close to death that it is. She recalls the “double standard” in aging, as described by Susan Sontag in 1972 (already!) In her founding essay The Double Standard of Ageing : men get better with age, while women who enter old age become like decrepit. After “a certain age (we love the expression), women’s bodies lose all power of attraction, until they disappear from public space: they become invisible.” And the complex disappears?

What is a “beautiful vagina”?

At the beginning of September, a young woman by the name of Maeva Ghennam made the buzz on social networks: this ex-candidate for reality shows, who has become a very popular personality, claims in a video that she was “rejuvenated her vagina” thanks to ” radiofrequency and mesotherapy without injection ”. Before adding: “I think it’s super important to have a beautiful vagina, I really have a beautiful vagina, I don’t have lips that stick out. There, it’s as if I was 12 years old. “

Outcry from feminist associations, which denounce remarks that “sexualize 12-year-old children” and “incite pedophilia”. On Twitter, the association Dare feminism! goes further and accuses the patriarchal system of thought, internalized by many women: “When a woman confuses vagina and vulva, and treats her body as an object of aesthetic performance to be improved according to objectifying and pedophile standards, it is up to her that we must tackle? Or the patriarchal system that instilled these notions in him? ”

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For Amélie Tehel, this heartbreaking anecdote is proof that “every corner of a woman’s body is now subject to injunctions of perfection”. And to note that “the real stake is the control of the body of the woman. The idea is to keep her in an always imperfect state, which needs to be improved, to the detriment of her health – or her emancipation ”.

Fortunately, happy and liberated Internet users offer another, less normative, vision of the female sex: this is the case of Laura Stromboni – Couzy (4), who, via her Instagram account (@mydearvagina), celebrates, in a miscellanous way, the diversity of anatomies through photos of flowers, fruits or even trees very… evocative. Decidedly, the intimate is political.

In the future, will we all have an augmented body?

This is the great fantasy of transhumanists, these intellectuals and researchers who, since the 2000s, dream of “improving” the human species through computers, genetics, robotics or nanotechnologies. This is called biotech. In Silicon Valley, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and even Mark Zuckerberg invest heavily in cell reprogramming start-ups, such as Altos Labs or Unity.

Researcher David Le Breton cannot be resolved: “The ultimate fantasy of transhumanism is the disappearance of the body, the body being the place of death. But this imaginary does not make sense! All the flavor of the world passes through our body. When we lose the body, we lose the world. ” Who said it wasn’t complex?

(1) Author in particular ofAnthropology of the body and modernity, Ed. PUF.
(2) Move Festival, until October 24 at the Center Pompidou, in Paris.
(3) Who is afraid of old women?, by Marie Charrel, Éditions Les Pérégrines.
(4) My Dear Vagina, the diary of 365 vulvae, by Laura Stromboni – Couzy, Éditions Larousse.

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