Monday, 16 May 2011

Goths and body image

Well, I survived my first day of work... but I won't bore you with that now, instead I will save up my corpgoth outfits and experiences and spam you with them at a later date. You're welcome.

This is a post I have been thinking about for a long time... hopefully I can lay my thoughts out straight and not muddle them up too much! I have been wondering what your views might be on the Goth scene and body image; in the media and online, there are two definite extremes, with Goths being depicted as overweight, slovenly creatures with bad make-up or tragic, bone-thin teens struggling with eating disorders and other issues. Clearly, neither of these stereotypes promotes a healthy self-image for young men and women interested in dark culture.

Even some forms of media aimed at Goths propagate these caricature versions of 'the Gothic body'; Goth: Undead Subculture by Lauren M.E. Goodlad describes Goth as 'idealizing an emaciated death chic', and online Goth zine Take A Bite frequently refers to the stereotype of Goths taking drugs to maintain an emaciated physique.

Source: Tumblr
Some girls may prefer to look thinner... but some of us are very slim naturally, without resorting to extreme measures of starvation or drug abuse. The model Razor Candi (not pictured) recently stated in an interview that she is told off for being too thin, but it's her natural shape.
However, when socialising in the Goth scene, I have noticed that neither obese people nor very thin people are in the majority. In fact, even if you look online at videos and photos from large Goth events, you will notice that the majority body type, particularly for Goth women, is simply toned and healthy. Of course this is relative to each person's natural body shape - some of us have more curves than others, for example! (I was never visited by the breast fairy...)

As you may know, I previously went through a troublesome time with eating and body image, although in honesty this was more to do with what was going on around me rather than any real problems with my appearance; I tend to internalise negative emotions and turn them on myself. During this time, I personally found that I could use Goth culture to push away some of my body image demons - the models I enjoyed looking at both online and in my favourite dark culture magazines were rarely, if ever, stick-thin creatures; rather they were normal-sized women with a healthy, toned shape, which over time I came to realise I could be if I took care of myself a little better.

Not once have I felt under pressure from Goth media or other Goths to change my body shape or attempt to lose weight - one of the definite perks of the Goth community is that the culture as a whole is very tolerant and welcoming. You don't have to fit a certain image to feel part of the group or to be accepted, which might come as a relief to those suffering from various weight or body issues, who may feel somewhat stigmatised in outside society.

Overall, there seems to be a fairly healthy balance; ultimately, as with religion, sexuality and all those other important topics, each person who is part of Goth culture is able to make up their own mind about how they choose to look. For example, Adora BatBrat states in her blog that she prefers to look very thin; whereas Tumblr icon Miss Superstar proclaims that 'thinspo can kiss her large rubber ass'.
The character Gypsy Vale in the cult movie Gypsy 83 reacts with disdain to being told she 'could be a pretty girl': "I AM a pretty girl! Big is beautiful, haven't you heard?!"
Interestingly, this acceptance was helpful for me as a younger teen; during my school years, I felt very self-conscious (I can't believe I'm actually going to put this in the public domain) about my *ahem* lack of chest, and the fact that I am somewhat Amazonian in build (Emily Lynn described me as having 'dancer's calves'. Which is true, but not actually from dancing. I naturally have broad shoulders and reasonably muscular limbs - just call me Xena) and tend to tower over all my friends.

Since becoming part of the Goth community, and seeing women of all ages, races, sizes and builds looking DAMN FINE in the most amazing and outrageous fashions, I've come to care less and less about other people's opinion of how I look - in fact, as of right now I'm really happy with my body, and I feel I can partly claim that this is because of being a part of a culture that actually lets women be women, rather than forcing us to conform to one of two 'fashionable' stereotypes - curvy and busty or twig-like and waifish.

Speaking of waifish, I also feel compelled to mention the amount of 'Goth and emo thinspiration' that you can find on pro-anorexia sites all over the net. Frankly, this is not a realistic representation of either a) what most Goths aspire to look like, b) what most Goths actually look like, or even c) what most Goths think of as 'Goth'. Concerned parents, worry not.

So, readers, what's your take on this? Have you found the Goth community to be accepting of how you choose to look? More so than mainstream society? What would you describe as the 'ideal' Goth physique? What do you think of those 'all Goths are fat/all Goths are anorexic' stereotypes? And how do you feel about your body and self-image?

Goth gossip: Shut up, Jo Whiley. The DJ whines, "I really wish I hadn't been a goth. I became a goth at college for two years and crimped my hair endlessly. I'd got sucked into this whole community, probably because my boyfriend at the time was into it too. But it was miserable and intense. I was being someone I wasn't. It was only when I started doing local radio at Radio Sussex and I met lots of interesting people who liked the same music and things as me that there was light at the end of the tunnel and I cheered up." Miserable and intense? 'Sucked in'? Honey, you weren't a Goth, you were an angsty babybat... please don't judge the entire scene by the group of grumpy losers you hung around with. The Goths I have the pleasure to know are some of the most cheerful and vibrant people I have ever met.


'The Obscurialist' Dr. Sheridan Cult: said...

I love the movie Gypsy 83! Watched it past week for the second time to be honest. And not because of Clive (okay a little bit then ...).

Anyway: I've been thinking/writing on concept already also about 'body sizes & shapes'. And I realised that I will simply never HAVE a size 36 simply because I don't have the body for it. Yeah I'm a Xena to when it comes to that .. just like you (thought I had a little visit from the boob fairy ...).

Desdemona said...

I can see why one would assume that goths go for the thin ideal. There are a lot of tight lacers in the goth fashion. They aren't necessarily thin, but the achieved extreme difference of the hip-waist proportions certainly creates the illusion. On the other hand, alt fashion was the first place where I've heard all body sizes to be present.
I'd say our local goth scene consists of average body types.
I wouldn't say the goth scene is a magical wonderland of full acceptance, there are bad apples everywhere. There are those who will comment on either the "fat" goth or the 6 ft tall "twig". But yes, in general they do seem a bit more mellow and unfazed about what someone else is doing/looks like.

ultimategothguide said...

@ Desdemona - I agree, you will find the bitchy ones everywhere, but I strongly feel that despite the occasional snarkfest from a random idiot, Goth is more accepting of various body types and appearance in general.

GlumPlum said...

Well, I found this post to be quite interesting. To your questions, I think that yes the Goth culture is much more accepting to various looks. Though, I have never outright experienced any derogatory comments on my look from any non-Goths. I think mainstream society doesn't care as much as long as you look decent in their eyes (i.e. not slobby or messy, or stains and wrinkles, stuff like that cause plenty of people are alright with grungy looks as long as it's stylized messy not done without knowing.) And I have heard the fat/anorexic stereotypes and from personal experience, most fellow Goths I've met are relatively average in that department. They're all pleasant to be around and that doesn't really phase me so I can't tell what someone else might say, but I don't find any of them all skinny or all fat. I would think most Goths look a certain way as that's how they want to look when they look in the mirror. The skinny Goths I've met are skinny because they like to look skinny, not because the culture specifically "says" to look so.
But back to what I was saying originally, I do believe the Goth culture is more accepting because most Goths know or have felt rejection from other groups or society itself. I wouldn't say all have but I think the Goth culture as a whole is so accepting because they don't want to be compared in anyway to mainstream society. I have to say personally about the whole self-concious thing that everyone is self-concious about something, I just think Goths are more worried about how raggedy their dreads look or if their make-up designs will hold up to the rain (I know I am!) :)

Qwack said...

I myself have a curvy yet boyish figure... A naturally (as in no tightlacing) thin waist, broad shoulders, small chest, and I'm pretty short. I have huge thighs and calves, though.
I don't really care about body image, I want to be healthy over overly thin and muscular over fat.

Jacqueline said...

I'm naturally very thin, but I feel very awkward around my more goth-inclined friends. They're all overweight, and I feel like they've had very different experiences than me which has left them bitter. I kind of want to tell them that maybe a tiny miniskirt and lowcut shirt with no bra on them isn't the most flattering look, but I've seen them snap on other "anorexic bags of bones" who were just trying to give them fashion advice before, so I don't say anything.
In the same way, I have to be really careful about what I say regarding my own body. I remarked once that I was suprised that I hear so many stories about people being abusive to goths, and I've barely ever experienced negative reactions. They jumped down my throat and said "well yeah, you're thin and pretty! you could wear a chicken costume and still get no negative reactions!"
I really wanna ask them advice on corsets, since they wear them all the time, but I'm scared they'll say some comment about me being skinny enough already .-.

Serenity said...

Soo true. The goth acceptable figure is tall, thin and waifey, but not many are naturally this way. I've lost 20 pounds and I look great, but I still have a "thick" body. I know that I'll never be this thin, waifey person, but for now that's okay. Veronica Varlow and other curvy ladies have helped me embrace my self-imposed "thickness" and I still look good being goth. It doesn't matter if you fit in to the stereotype anyway- we're a culture that has deviate from the mainstream and, if we're pointing fingers at one another over such superficial aspects, how can we say that we are enlightened from "modern media" and society? In this case, we're just a bunch of people wearing black. <3!

Chloƫ Noir said...

I never really thought about this. When I was young and just starting, there was an article saying, that if you want to be goth, you must be thin, and looking like on drugs or with anorexia. but it was a not very funny, but still just a joke (but still..that was to first time I heard abou goth :D).
I´m satisfied with my body, even when it has inadequacies. I saw some goth models that are so thin (for example RazorCandi), but I never saw one that wouldn´t look healthy (not like some topmodels, that look like zombies..and not in a good way), and I saw some "bigger" people, who just looked great.
I don´t care abour figure of others (when they are satisfied with themselfs) and
I don´t really think there is some ideal goth physique. At least not for me. :)

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Kitty Lovett; A Charming Notion said...

Amy, the more you post stuff like this, the more I'm going to have to respond on my own blog (I'm working on it. Prepare to be embarassed across the internet).

I, too, was shamefully neglected by the boob fairy. The butt goblin loves me, though. Athough I can't believe I just said "butt goblin". My ex girlfriend was visited frequently, though...I do not envy her size ten body and her G-cup boobies. Heather got all of my boobs, though. Fret not, itty bitty titty comittee. Without enormous boobs, it's far easier to get clothes to fit. Plus, you know, no back issues.

High Arka said...

My own personal experience has been either fat, fleshy goths, or skinny ones, but this is an American perspective. Here, the resistance to popular culture (even if/when not fully understood by the resister) expressed itself in a desire to not strive toward what the corporate media presented as the ideal body type: male muscular or female slender-slash-curvy. As a result, the body expression of goth became "let the body go," which resulted in tendency toward being overweight or being skinny, as helped along by genes and food preference.

Since then, the media has co-opted goth imagery and, helped along by Anne Rice movies, Tim Burton and Twilight, focused on a heroin chic mishmash of autocultural retromodern kitsch. This has, not coincidentally, coincided with the rise to prominence (via adjusted advertising dollars and allowable screen time) of "dark" bands that may either lack the substance of what was originally goth music, or have that substance downplayed, much in the way the media has neutered hip hop.

Rallying against that image, be it fat or emaciated, is in itself a concession to said powers-that-be. Whether or not the battle is won, to have the argument at all tacitly concedes to the mainstream the power of ultimate definition. Remember: anyone, Donald Trump included, can put on cool black clothes with chains and studs. The spirit of the expression, not the expression itself, is what ultimately matters.

MissGracie said...

I have a basically ideal body shape for both Goth and mainstream societies, although I wish my waist was a little tinier, but I love cakes and cookies too much ^_^ I try to do my sit ups everyday... I love my body but I do wish I was just an inch or two shorter, I think it would make me cuter. And I am all about being cute, it's my ideal.

I think that Goths tend to be on the bigger side. It may seem like the girls are usually skinny but that's only because the most ubiquitous Goth images are of models, who tend to be thinner. If you were to look at the majority of regular everyday Goths, they would be average and up, and average isn't as skinny as you would think.

VictorianKitty said...

A very interesting and thought-provoking post, indeed! I have to comment on this one, having been naturally slim all my life. Now, let me establish that I don't believe for a moment that "thinner is better" or that you have to be thin to be attractive. All different body types are beautiful, and each individual looks best at whatever size is most natural/comfortable for them. But I have to say, it's just as hurtful to slim women when they are insulted or judged for their weight as it is to a heavier woman.

I've gotten EVERY kind of negative comment, from assumptions that I am anorexic (mostly when I was a teen, although I never had anything even close to an eating disorder), to people assuming that I am inwardly judging them for NOT being thin (which I am not; don't be so paranoid!), to flat-out verbal attacks or thinly-veiled insults about my figure. All from women, who *should* be treating me as they would want to be treated. But, the comforting part is that it is mostly "normal" women who feel the need to comment on my person in negative ways. Goths really do tend to leave each other alone, for the most part.

Serenity has it right - we're all just a bunch of people wearing black. :) What's underneath that doesn't matter, as long as we are happy with ourselves!!

gothic biker said...

The thing is, believe it or not, most of us guys (even if we dont publicly say it) actually prefer our ladies with a few curves. Gypsy Vale is absolutly stunning

Anonymous said...

my mom will not let me dye my hair black, i've begged and egged, i even wrote a note! its soooo frustrateing -_-

Lily Rust said...

I daresay, a small chest is helpful. Men always look at my eyes. Cuz there ain't nothin to see elsewhere, har har. Being able to run without getting hit in the face with yourself is good, too.

LisbethSalander said...

People say to me all the time that i am too skinny and that being skinny is not really girly.I also have small breasts :P I was so desparate and i was trying to get fat...i would never insult people for their look,cause i believe that everyone is pretty on thier on way, but they insult me all the time :((((

Anonymous said...

I am very relatively normal sized, I think. I'm only 13, so it's hard to tell for sure. However, the thigh fairy visited me much sooner than everyone else my age, and this bothered me quite a bit for a while. The acne troll also appeared sooner than expected. (I think that would be 'spots troll' for all those not from America)

Anonymous said...

I think the gothic community is generally more accepting and including when it comes to different body types. There's "something for everybody", so to speak. I love the diversity, how goths can look amazing regardless of body type! Short, tall, skinny, curvy, athletic, petite... Most everything works. Some subtypes may favor some bodies more (for instance, slim-but-curvy is more normative within fetish type styles with latex and chains, whereas a petite frame may be more normative within lolita type fashion) but overall I think practically everyone can rock it no matter what the genetic lottery has given them! I personally was, like you, not endowed with wonderful breasts, but it still works with a lot of stuff. Many Asian fashion companies on eBay have lovely stuff which is actually made for a less busty shape, and I also like to occasionally wear somewhat more masculine things (like rocker-type punky vests or aristocratic shirts) and that looks quite nice with my shape. Besides, what I lack in the chest area was compensated for a little further down, so I can do a bunch of really nice skirts and shorts and such to make up for what I lack ;) Again, there's something to make it work for everyone!

The only hinder, the way I see it, is health. Anorexic skinny or morbidly obese is not healthy - it's not about the look or accepting people for their appearance, but it's literally dangerous. So be who you are and work with what you've got, but stay healthy! <3

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