Body Politics: In Praise of the Vulnerable Femme: Loving your breasts
Note: This is the full version of the Body Politics piece we published in the Spring 2012 issue.
“My political obligations? I am a Black woman … in world that defines human as white and male for starters. Everything I do including survival is political.” —Audre Lorde
A few months ago I wrote a poem called ‘In Praise Of The Vulnerable Femme’. I composed it as an ode to Femme Of Centre folks and particularly Of Colour (FOCs); as recognition of their beauty, heralding their resilience, and acknowledging their experiences of multiple intersecting oppressions. I began that poem by revealing something vulnerable about myself so I could offer something at the alter of the goddessdom that are FOC. I thought it was important that I offer something so FOC’s know that I come in peace and with humility — Femmes can tell when you are bullshitting and I repeat this so all you reading can get a good lesson in femme respect and worship. FOC brave some of the worst this world has to offer and at the intersection of oppressions to be female and female-identified, to be a person of colour or indigenous person and to add being queer and/or differently abled means that there are several systems of advantage where we are at the ‘bottom’. And still we dare to be sensitive, vulnerable, sexy in a world that decries these things weak, useless and an invitation to violence. When it comes to femmeness, I come softly bearing gifts on my knees, offer love and admiration in great abundance and listen carefully for instructions. I love the ‘hardest’ of femmes, alpha femmes, strong womyn who have raised themselves up to survive in a world hell bent on destroying us.
And I want to say that there is power in our softness, in our vulnerability. When I see us in mirrors, biting lips and furrowing brows, I want to drop to my knees womyn and tell you that we are perfection. But we stand in this all together, carrying with us the whispers and shouts of a glossy photoshopped world that tries to will us into non-existence with size 00’s and I see you worry that my gaze comes with a judgement but I promise you it doesn’t. (And to be clear no shade to my slender sisters, I simply believe that you/we should all get a real number)
Dorothy Allison says “Femme girls dance on razors every day of our lives, and some days it is only bravado that keeps us upright.” And womyn I see you, I see you in your fierceness, your anger and your insecurity and I love you in all of it.
I love the many expression of femme-ness, love the subtly and directness in our sexuality, love the war paint, love us knee deep in the swamp and wide eyed in my arms. I love it when you tell me what to do and love it equally when you have no idea.
I want to shield us from the whole world beautifulbrokengorgeous as we are. I think that your round bellies are so sexy, the way you wrap your tight curls/locks/braids/crown is artful and commanding and when you say something crass/brilliant/provocative/brave I.melt.every.single.time
It can be hard to love femmes as a femme and I think that it came from how hard is has been to love myself as a femme of colour. There is no purity in this system, no place outside of it. The countless implicit and explicit messages that shame femmeness, the historical and contemporary devaluing of the bodies of womyn of colour — we feel it and we wield it at each other. Policing each other’s bodies, actions and voice in ways that hurt the most coming from our sisters. The most powerful tool of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed and I knew that if I was going to love FOC unconditionally (knowing that there isn’t a FOC monolith), that I would have to learn to love myself and take that work seriously.
And I wanted a happy ending, but somewhere along the line, I remembered that my favourite poems didn’t rhyme and some stories start in the middle, I realized that I needed to learn to affirm the strategies for self love I already had as opposed to continuing a cycle of shaming femininity for being inadequate as well as developing new ones. And like the best stories, it is a process, something I read and re read, something that can ebb and flow, but body memory is a powerful thing — so once I had it, once I could name it, it was impossible to forget it. My fall into femme of colour love came from my fight to love my breasts.
My breasts sag.
I am 27.
I have never been pregnant.
I say this because saggy tits are ‘supposed’ to be a product of breast feeding, of gravity, of time. Saggy tits are assumed to be the after effects of perky youthful breasts, saggy tits are cash-poor tits, working class, too tired to wear a bra tits. Saggy tits are ‘African’, anthropological exposition, Black dyke tits.
They told me they were ugly. They said it in thousands of ways. And then they finished by reminding me that ‘it’s what’s inside that counts’. To paraphrase an old trini saying, if wishes were horses then Black Girls would ride.
I wished them higher, smaller, bigger, fatter, lighter, less areola, more nipple— more and less. I wished myself away on a daily basis. I wished away Blackness, Femme-ness, Soft-ness on a daily basis.
So I began this process to love all of me and to do it now. Not in the future when I am more or less, but now as a manifestation of divinity in this world, I had to love them, me, us whole. I share this story to share my strategy of self-love, knowing that all our practices are different and there is enough room at the table to hold them all. There is no monolithic Femme Of Colour identity, I don’t speak for you and you don’t speak for me. There is abundance in voice and representation.
First, it required me being honest in describing my breasts at least to myself. I practiced saying this ugly word ‘saggy’, I tried other words like soft, thin skinned, I described the tiger stripes flowing like rivers to the earth. I thought about them, I wrote about them. I wrote about my large dark brown areolas, the dark, rich blue vein that wraps itself around my left breast and the soft sweet beauty spot that sits above my right nipple.
And then I touched them. I stopped holding them up, cupping them, shrouding them, finding a thousand ways to create the illusion that my breasts don’t sag, because mama’s they certainly do. I wanted to see what they could do naturally, see how they like to fall forward, to the side. I looked at them. I looked at them for a long time. Imagined that they were the only breast in the world. Imagined what it would be like to love them whole, full, whole — love them like no one has told me different.
And then I had to say it out loud, still in safety. With my grrlz, my fr-amily (friends who are chosen family), with all of them as much as I could, I talked about my saggy breasts. I reminded them that I didn’t need to be reassured that they don’t, nor do I need to be told that I am still pretty anyway or that it doesn’t matter because breasts are meant to feed babies. And it was hard for all my sisters to do, to let me say that I have saggy breasts and to agree and acknowledge that I have saggy breasts. They looked at me lovingly and struggled hard because they didn’t want to hurt me and this world and body judgments are often used to hurt us.
And then we talked. We talked about the shame and performance around brown bodies and I realized that in that moment, holding each other’s stories, that I was angry, we were angry and tired. Although we were tired and full of rage, we also knew that had all that we needed — and exhaustion and anger have a place in this revolution especially as it flows forth from our lipsticked mouths, and open legs, and delicious brains. We have all that we need to love ourselves and the world is afraid and threatened by this power that lives within us, our enormous resilience and fyre. And as we spoke with honesty, with shame, with anger and with admiration, I learned that the fact that we are all still here is a profound act of self-love. That was all that I needed to affirm myself as a loving being, as deserving of worship and as resistance to violence.
I love that my breasts sag. I haven’t always and some days are better than others.
But I promise you that I do. This system has been built on the misery of womyn of colour, our joy and our self-acceptance are among the most radical ways we resist on the daily to the occupation of our bodies and our minds. And I want to acknowledge the multitude of ways that we love ourselves to liberate ourselves.