Let It All Hang Out: Thoughts on the Sneakily Radical New Wave of Female Body Confidence


The movie Obvious Child starts with actress/comedienne Jenny Slate talking about her underpants. Specifically how gross they are by the end of the day. Later in the film, she has sex with a cutie and in the morning, there’s some crusty fabric bunched up by his face—did he drool overnight? No, it’s her underpants, which she now discreetly commandeers.

On Comedy Central’s Broad City, the character Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) is shown in one episode getting her mustache waxed. In another episode, she takes an enormous dump that she can’t flush while her crush is in the next room. (Her BFF Ilana is there to help remove the evidence, my new bare minimum standard for friendship.) And I won’t even tell you guys the fate of a missing condom.

On the same network’s Inside Amy Schumer, a focus group of males is asked to share their thoughts on Amy. “Her tits are good but her face it just okay. Way less face,” one guy says. They all agree that they’d “bang her” as long as nobody had to know. (Keep in mind that Schumer wrote that sketch.)

On HBO’s Girls, the average-sized Lena Dunham defiantly strips down at a moment’s notice, spending almost the entirety of one episode in an unflattering bikini.

Meanwhile, over at Jezebel.com, the glorious essayist/humorist Lindy West, who is plus-sized (and would laugh me off the Internet for using that euphemism), takes on all haters, defending her right to be big and shaming the body shamers with ferocious glee. (Her essay, “My Wedding Was Perfect—And I Was Fat as Hell the Whole Time” is a must-read.)

What exactly is going on here?

In my mind, these young woman are part of a sneakily radical new wave of female body confidence.

Whereas previous generations of women hid their bodies—including all secret beautification rituals and messy bodily functions—these women let it all hang out. They’re not afraid to be a little gross, gloriously imperfect. It’s downright liberating.

For men, this kind of body confidence comes fairly naturally. Fat guys are perceived as funny, big-hearted, perfectly acceptable. An actor like Seth Rogen doesn’t have to worry that showing his flab is in any way going to impede his career. If anything, he’s celebrated. Think of the millions of dollars women spend every year to get waxed and plucked and laser treated. But why would a dude be ashamed of those things? Hair on the back, the legs, the armpits, the chin—they’re perfectly natural parts of being a male.

And it extends to more private rituals: I remember once hearing a bunch of frat guys sitting around a table and boasting about the size of their own dumps. As a woman, this was nothing short of astounding to me. Women are taught to be ashamed of going “number two,” so much so that we’ll make ourselves sick before going to the bathroom in public. (In her new book, I Didn’t Come Here to Make Friends: Confessions of a Reality Show Villain, Bachelor contestant Courtney Robertson admits that the contestants were given laxatives because so many became constipated from holding it in.) Everyone Poops, as the children’s book points out. So why are only women ashamed of that fact?

It’s impossible to say how much body shame has held women back throughout history, but I’m going to go on a limb and say: a lot. If our bodies are something to be ashamed of, doesn’t that make us somehow lesser? If we hide huge parts of ourselves, doesn’t that suggest that we, in fact, deserve to be hidden?

It heartens me to think that today’s young girls are growing up with these bold women as role models. In my mind, this body confidence is the next wave of important feminism. They announce to the world: This is who I am—flabby, hairy, stinky, poopy. Like it or fuck off.

Photo courtesy of Walter Thompson/Comedy Central

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