BODIES: Shame

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Three of the top propositions I had to face up to as a young girl and woman:

„Don’t make such a fuss!”

„Nobody’s going to steal anything away from you!”

„She really is embarrassed.“

It is true. I sometimes am kind of bashful.

As my native language is German, when I started thinking about this topic I looked up the German term ‘genant’ which is to be translated as ’embarrassed’ and stands for the restraint and the prudence one can feel regarding the disclosure of their own body. I found these synonyms among others: Squeamish, prim, prudish.

Then it occurred to me that most of the time, when I read the words ’embarrassment’ or ‘shame’, they are usually related to some sort of guilt. Somebody feels embarrassed because they accidentally dropped the dishes. Somebody feels ashamed because they have been bitching about a workmate and so on…

However, these notions do not only describe a guilty conscience. The bashful feeling of being ashamed is also a basic human instinct that protects our intimacy.

Of course, one can exaggerate this bashfulness and it can grow into a serious problem, but as long as it keeps within boundaries it is not as negative as our use of language suggests.

To me, intimacy is beautiful and rare. Therefore, my personal privacy which entails this intimacy is of high value. When it reaches a certain level, liberality can also make me feel like I am trivializing my own body. Other people feel differently about it. And isn’t that just okay?

Liberality needs liberty.

I deeply respect every woman who seizes her liberty to show her body openly and unveiled, because she feels like it. After all, I am of the opinion that nobody should let her or his own appearance be restricted by a fear of other people’s reactions.

When it comes to liberty of the body, some of us are afraid to be reduced to our physical appearance and to be objectified.  Many are afraid of sexual harassment. Others simply fear that their flaws and blemishes might get spotted.

All these fears are absolutely understandable. But when they are the reason for a woman to hide herself it means that her decisions are not free, but compelled.

We should ask ourselves: Which decisions are truly our own and which only originate from our acquired morals and stiff system of values? Sure enough, it is difficult to draw that line.

Meanwhile, this doesn’t change the fact that one can also, irrespective of all the insecurities and constraints, just m a k e    t h e  d e c i s i o n to reveal less of ones self. Simply, because to some people having more privacy is more comfortable.

So if anyone would rather change clothes behind a closed door or doesn’t feel good in shorts that barely cover their behind, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this person has or poses a problem. It can just mean that this nakedness doesn’t fit their conception of privacy.

It bothers me when people act as if I am prudish or as if I take myself too seriously, only because I sometimes consciously dodge the eyes or touches of others. I ask those to not directly suppose I have inferiority complexes because of my body.

At the end of the day, what counts is that every human being is allowed to exist within their individual comfort zone and without instantly being eyeballed or judged.

In body politics we should get over the assumption that there is any universal value system and understand that we don’t have to adapt to other people’s values, but also that our own genuine standards do not have to apply to everybody else.

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Text by Madina Frey

Photos by Hannah Wolny 

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