Wellbeing / Body Image

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"I want to get a tattoo or a piercing, but my parents won’t let me. How do I explain to them that this is how I want to express myself?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Allyee Whaley Says:

When I was 13 years old I wrote my parents a 10 page paper on why getting my belly button pierced was an expression of my true self, with lots of facts and research supporting my argument. My parents didn’t really know what to do with the paper, but they did end up letting me get my belly button pierced. Then my nose. Then my lip. Then my eyebrow (you get the picture). Tattoos were always off the table. Around 16, I went behind my parents back and got a tattoo anyway, and my parents felt like their trust was broken. Now almost a decade later, I am covered in tattoos and piercings, my hand is fully tattooed and all hope is lost that I will ever fit into mainstream society. And guess what? My parents still totally love me and support me. But not everyone grows up in Oakland, California with feminist queer parents who always encouraged us to be fully and authentically ourselves, so here are some things I would keep in mind when navigating this path:

1.     Always try and partner with your parents first. If you want a specific tattoo that means something to you, explain what it means and why it is important. My first tattoo was a quote (that I misquoted, on my arm), “For Failure Isn’t Falling Down, But Staying Down.” I was def a “wild child” who was committed to being the best at being the worst, but I was trying to turn things around. I explained to my parents this was the first quote I ever heard that made me feel like I could change, that I could be more, I could be happy. I explained that every time I wanted to give up, I couldn’t, because I would look down at my arm and be reminded of my commitment to betterness. As mad as they were that I lied to them, it was pretty hard for them to fight this explanation. I definitely don’t think tattoos haveto have meaning to be important, I think body modification in itself is a meaningful practice, and has been throughout human history.

2.     It is super important to weigh that people with tattoos & piercings still do face discrimination, especially if you count in other forms of oppression working with them (race, religion, ability, orientation, gender, location, etc).  Only in recent years has the culture around tattoos shifted in America, as they are becoming mainstream. Parents often don’t support their kin getting tattooed, not only because they don’t want them to suffer (from the pain of body modification), but because they often don’t want us to be seen as “society’s deviants”. A lot of people say this is why family can get initially spooked when LGBTQ+ young people come out, because they instinctively want to keep them out of harms way and they know by being LBGTQ+ they will live a harder life. The same logic can be applied for tattoos/piercings. If you let your parents know you have considered this reality, it can help them understand you are weighing all the consequences and still think it’s important.

3.     “But what if you regret it?!” – the number one argument against body modification. The most common response to this argument tends to be, “tattoos can always be covered, they can always be removed,” but I think it is important to point out to your parents that body modification can also teach us a hell of a lot about acceptance. I think it is pretty normal to have different feelings towards our tattoos/piercings as we grow. For years my lip piercing was such a part of my identity, my face, my reality, I never once thought to remove it. Now that it’s been out for years I laugh at old pictures of myself like “why world!!!!” but I don’t regret it. I appreciate how much it meant to me, it showed the world from the get go that I was different, I was badass. Body modification has taught me to not only accept myself, my past, my future, but celebrate each part of my journey as uniquely my own. Beyond regret, let your parents know that body modification can also be a tool for radical self love & care. Getting tattooed was one of the first times I realized what it felt like to actually love myself.  With each new piece, I stare in the mirror filled with joy thinking, “damn, look at how awesome I am!” Tattoos and piercings were also one of the first things to show me how to physically care for and nurture my body (because body modification takes lots of daily care, anywhere from 2 weeks-9 months, and beyond). Radical self love, radical self acceptance, those are things body modification can teach us if we let them.

4.     Not all parents are going to be okay with tattoos or piercings. Some might never be okay with them. Your safety and the value of your relationship with your parents are super important to weigh as you decide to embark on this lifestyle. I have adult friends to this day who hide their tattoos from their parents. Most of the time my friends hide their tattoos so they can retain their relationship with their parents, and therefore also their community/culture/religion. That is their choice and something they have considered the pros and cons of, so I encourage you to do the same. Some parents might say stuff like “if you ever get a tattoo, I will no longer speak to you.” This is something to weigh: is getting a tattoo/piercing right now worth losing XYZ?

5.     If all else fails and you decide to go behind your parents back and get one anyway, please consider a few things. Any tattoo/piercing shop that is working on someone under the age of 18 without their parents consent is doing something very illegal, and could lose their license for doing so. From my experience, these shops tend to also be doing other illegal things, including but not limited to, not being up to health codes, as well as not being very experienced at giving out tattoos or piercings. These things increase the chance of infection, injury, transmission of things like HIV through needles, and very very very worst case scenario can lead to death (usually from infection). Also, they tend to not give out very good tattoos, but hey, that’s relative, right? All this to say, I’m totally a harm reduction gal and if you weigh all these things and still think it’s worth it, then go for it. That is your choice. I know my first tattoo saved my life over and over again when things got dark– I wouldn’t take it back for the world. I also would have gone about it TOTALLY differently if I was to get it now, but whatever, that’s all a part of growing up, learning and changing.

Wanting a tattoo and/or piercing is totally normal. You may or may never convince your parents to let you get one while you live under their roof/they feed you or finically support you. They may never acknowledge, support or appreciate your body modification even after you move out. If you’re lucky, they may come around one day, but if that day isn’t soon enough for you, it’s up to you to weigh all the pros and cons and move forward. It is your life, your body, and your choice.

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Allyee Whaley has long strived to create balance in the universe by listening attentively, advocating ruthlessly, and loving compassionately. She is an openly polyamorous queer based in New York City who will talk your ear off about anthropology, human sexuality, social justice, and mystical creatures. Please help support her and all of our incredible contributors here on Patreon.

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“I’m a larger queer girl, and I’ve just started experimenting with clothes that I like to wear, and not the frumpy things that everyone tells me I should wear. I don’t want to cover myself up anymore, because so much of that is based in shame for me. But I still get weird looks from people if I wear something more revealing. Should I stop wearing these clothes, or stop caring what they think?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Bethany Rutter as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Bethany Says:

Definitely the latter. One solution you propose is a short-term solution, the other could stay with you for life. You know you don’t want to cover yourself up anymore, and you’re ready to find out who you are. I know everyone likes to pretend they’re somehow above image, but clothing can be such a liberating way to express yourself—especially if you belong to a group whose image is policed and controlled as much as fat girls’ are. You rightly acknowledge that all the rhetoric that’s dictated your clothing choices up until now is “based in shame,” so I would say for you to stop wearing stuff because of how people look at you would be a step backwards.

I get it’s hard: puzzled or hostile stares from the general public will always wound you a little. But once you build your own armor against them, you’ll find it sort of rolls off you. Consume lots of media (probably all found on the internet, to be honest) of fat women wearing whatever the hell they want, or wearing nothing at all. This is a Tumblr featuring a lot of diverse fat bodies that is regularly updated, and this is a list by Bustle on a few online fat positive resources. Not to blow my own horn, but I blog at ArchedEyebrow.com and keep everything 100% fat-loving 100% of the time. I also love Nicolette Mason’s blog, and Jessica’s Tumblr makes my pulse race with joy.

Buy/make/trade clothes that make you feel amazing. Put them on at home, take 10000 selfies, and look at how empowered you’ve become by being yourself. Remind yourself it’s possible, and that you’re allowed to leave the house wearing what makes you happy.  I 100% promise you that shaping your mind to be positive about your fat body is so much harder than dealing with patriarchal body-shaming normative bullshit – but it’s worth it. I can tell from your message that you already know what you need to do for yourself, and I have total faith that you can see this through and show the world just how amazing you feel about your fat self.

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“I’m a fat girl, and mostly pretty ok with it. However, I can’t help but compare my body to my girlfriend’s, especially when we are naked/having sex. She’s thinner than me and I always end up feeling self-conscious. How do I deal with this internalized fat phobia?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Bethany Rutter as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Bethany Says:

Dear Fat Babe,

I’m really glad to hear you’re mostly pretty ok with your body- that’s a lot more than a lot of fat girls, unfortunately! As for your current predicament, and I know quotes are gauche, but as a famous old white dude said: “comparison is the thief of joy.” And I really believe it is.

As someone who dates people of any gender, I often find myself particularly self-conscious when I date and sleep with women, because I know how invasive and pernicious fatphobia is among women, thanks to oppressive patriarchal body standards. But then I just have to think to myself: do I trust this person? Because that’s what it comes down to. Thinking ‘she’s judging me, she’s judging my body, how could she not be?’ stops me from appreciating the fact that she’s there, now. Your girlfriend probably thinks you’re hot as hell, or she wouldn’t be hitting the hay with you. You have to trust that, trust your girlfriend’s excellent taste in women (you).

Your message gives no indication that your girlfriend has expressed dissatisfaction with your lovely fat body, and it sounds like that most of the beef is coming from your own insecurities. I know how hard it is out there for fat babes, but I also know that it’s something only you can change. Having romantic, sexual and platonic relationships with people who treat you great (mind, body and soul) is a good place to start, but if you don’t make strides to keep up with them, then it’s easy to let your insecurities push them away.

My top tips for getting your fat-confidence up are firstly: get to know your body and what it looks like from every angle. You can’t really love something without knowing it intimately and having a frank relationship with it. Look at yourself in the mirror, see what your girlfriend sees when you’re in bed together. Secondly, I would recommend you look at photos of other hot fat babes and reflect on how beautiful they are. Normalize your relationship with attractive fat bodies. Again, put yourself in your girlfriend’s position: try to understand what true beauty she’s beholding when she looks at you.

Ask your girlfriend to tell you why she loves your body, what makes you sexy, why she’s drawn to you. Start to see yourself as she sees you, rather than participating in a patriarchal race that, in this case, has no winners. Comparing yourself to your girlfriend and feeling bad only makes sense if being fat is bad, and it isn’t. You’re undoubtedly a delight, and you’ve found yourself a partner that wants to get naked with you. Don’t waste these great things on self-consciousness and shame!

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“Does it make me any less trans* if I don’t want to physically transition?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Liam Lowery as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Liam Says:

The short answer, and the one I want to get out most is: no. Being trans is like being in a state: I am not any more in New York than you (presuming we are in the same state) because I am in Queens and you are in Syracuse. No one is more or less trans than another, we all just are.

Often, we use the term “physical transition” as shorthand for medically altering one’s body through the use of hormones or gender-affirming surgery. The notion of “transitioning” from one gender (female/male) to another (female/male) has always been and remains the home base of talking about gender identities, because of the pervasiveness of the gender binary. This way of thinking about physically transitioning, while less complicated than an alternative, perpetuates regressive ideas about gender that exclude non-binary gender identities—it implies there is a right and wrong way to transition, and that it must involve medical steps.

It’s this representation of physical transitions that lead to the very question you posed: whether one way of being trans is more trans than another way of being trans.

For me, my physical transition didn’t start when I began taking hormones or got a surgery. It started when I got a short haircut (an overly floppy and now embarrassing mohawk) two years before that. Because that was a change that made me begin to feel whole, it was the first step I took in aligning my body and my gender identity.

We—every living human being—are all physically changing, all the time: our hairs and nails are growing longer, our skin cells are sloughing off and regenerating. This is a key part of our embodiment, for all of us. None of us stay the exact same, and therefore we are all always physically transitioning. But rarely, if ever, do we pause to reflect on and celebrate these changes.

For those of us who are trans, however, this has a special meaning: claiming ownership of our bodies means rectifying our bodies and our gender identities. This can mean deciding we do not feel the need to make physical changes, or that we need to make a lot of changes. But the important thing is the decision making process, the recognition that when your gender identity changes, your relationship with your body deserves some consideration in light of that change.

Really, all of us trans folks have a physical transition, even if we never so much as trim our hair or buy a new shirt (let alone start using hormones or get surgeries) because the act of checking to see if there are changes we want to make to our bodies by affirmatively deciding what does and doesn’t jive with our gender identities means transitioning the way we relate to our physicality, making a physical transition. And no one’s physical transition—whether it takes five seconds or five decades—is invalid, the process is different for all of us.

This difference between the shorthand version of “physical transition” and the version based on the interaction between your gender identity and your body is also meaningful when thinking about cis people. Lots of people who do not identify as trans or gender non-conforming use hormones or have what we might call “gender affirming” surgeries, but taking these steps doesn’t mean anything about your gender identity inherently, it’s the reasons for taking the steps that count.

Whatever conclusions you draw on what a physical transition means won’t change how trans you are. Nothing ever could. Being trans is what makes you trans—the rest is just figuring out what it means to you.

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