What is a normal body?

“What is a normal body?” the Association of Chronically Ill and Disabled Students (ACID) asked participants at last week’s panel discussion on normative body standards.

The panel intended to deconstruct normalized body concepts. Panel members included Olivia Auriat, a disabled individual, Alex Anderson, a transgender male, Emma Hassencahl, a Maliseet woman and member of the Indigenous Support Group, and Katharyn Stevenson, president of the Women’s and Gender Studies Society.

As the discussion developed, the normalized body was identified as the idealized body. Panelists agreed that size and weight heavily influenced their perceptions of the normalized body.

Auriat, who has a prosthetic arm, understood the normalized body as having symmetrical anatomy, or, as she said, “a body with two arms.”

Hassencahl commented that today’s beauty standards directly speak to Eurocentric features. “Skinny is the most popular ideal body type. White, blonde, blue-eyed. Beauty that is very white-washed,” she said.

Stevenson explained that although the conception of the normalized body includes being thin, it is not limited to one’s appearance, as it extends to other features of “being cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied.”

The panelists concurred that media play a major role in creating what is understood as the normalized body. Hassencahl explained that Indigenous beauty is tied to white beauty standards. “A lot of times [people say], ‘she is pretty for an Indigenous woman,’ as if she is missing something.”

Anderson explained that body image issues for members of the LGBTQA+ community are just as common as they are for heterosexual, cisgender individuals. “There is a pressure to pass as [the] gender, not as your physical body.”

Anderson said that while trans persons in the media tend to pass as their desired gender, others in the broader trans community do not appear like media representations and are consequently dismissed by society.

Anderson brought up the desire for gender-neutral washrooms, which sparked a heated debate about the changes these restrooms would have on society. One attendee expressed their concern about possible assault in these open washrooms. Another attendee rebutted this statement by claiming that no sign on a washroom door would stop someone from committing an assault.

“[The idealized body] is held up to this impossible standard. We see it as something to strive for,” Stevenson said. “If we don’t see our body represented in the media, then we may think we are not good enough.”

Stevenson believes that capitalism plays a major role in defining body standards. “In order to love your body more, you can buy certain things to make yourself look like the norm. A big part of everyday life is how you choose to look every day and that is linked to how you consume as an individual. I don’t think body standards can be separated from that.”

The discussion had a lengthy conversation on gym culture and the problems people felt about attending the gym, which to Louis Sobol, a first-year student, felt unnecessary.

“That’s just [how] most people [feel] going to the gym and basic self-consciousness. It’s not a societal issue,” he said.

Nearing its end, panelists discussed the dangers of body stigmatization. They described how individuals who do not fit the normative body type proposed by media are more likely to be subjected to violence.

“Guys like me get killed because we are trans,” Anderson said. “If I was to dress the way I do in certain parts of the world, I could be killed because I do not look like how a guy [is expected] to look like.”

The discussion closed with the panelists describing their relationship with body acceptance. Although complicated, Anderson explained that it is possible to begin to appreciate yourself for more than your body. “With time, and a lot of self-love, it is possible to accept that your body is your body and it is not necessarily all you are.”

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