It's time we put an end to these ridiculous inherited categories.
Waiting for the Tube, I am suddenly confronted by my non-existence. Looking down at me is a larger-than-life poster from Sport England's This Girl Can fitness campaign with a female running along a footpath accompanied by the caption 'I jiggle therefore I am'.
I have already seen the This Girl Can video advertisement and understood its intentions. The ad attempts to reclaim objectified, idealised female flesh from the male (or what I prefer to call societal) gaze by liberating it in all its varieties on our TV screens. Women of all shapes, ages and sizes Get Their Freak On to Missy Elliott to show us why more women should take up sport and physical exercise, and not fear judgment from others.
Despite its aims, there has been criticism of the This Girl Can campaign with regards to the manifest sexualisation of female bodies. It's undeniable that the camera and the clichéd language of the captions focus attention on the female body as an instrument of empowerment, implying it's our only one. The tongue-in-cheek innuendo "I kick balls" suggests female empowerment and exercise must be in opposition to men as if in revenge -this conception is damaging to equality and breeds the stereotype of feminists as man-haters who think they can get away with anything.
I do appreciate the pointlessness of producing a fitness advert which doesn't focus on bodies at all considering exercise helps improve our physical and mental health. What's more, I think the video does portray positive outcomes of sport and fitness unrelated to desirability, such as achievement, friendship and teamwork. What I cannot accept however, is the fact that a poster and TV advert renders my female identity void with the phrase 'I jiggle therefore I am' - all because I am skinny.
Over the last few years, as a result of my coeliac disease, there have been times where I have struggled to put on weight. Campaigns like This Girl Can and participation-led online sites encouraging women to share their 'real-life shame-free beach bodies' run the risk of perpetuating social categories of not only 'real' and 'fake' body types, but also of 'real' and 'fake' identities. Must we all strive towards self-improvement to be classified as an authentic human being? And must I jiggle as I run down a flight of stairs to prove I have not succumbed to image obsession and artifice? American singer-songwriter Meghan Trainor reiterates this problem alarmingly well in her mock-empowering song 'All About That Bass': according to Trainor I am no longer human, but a skinny bitch - a 'stick figure silicone Barbie doll' who can't 'shake it, shake it' like 'I'm supposed to do'.
There's nothing new here. As a result of patriarchy being deeply ingrained in language, women have always been confined to doubled categories - the real vs. fake snare is a mutation of binaries such as virgin/whore, victim/seductress and conventional/unconventional beauty. I like to think the primitive days of expecting a real man to pay for everything during a date are gone, but when I search 'real' men online I am convinced otherwise. My screen is flooded with dating advice features, hardcore workout videos for 'real' men and at the other end of the spectrum, ridiculing content which suggests real men are entertaining, useless slobs like those from The Hangover. Although it should be noted the label of 'fake' men doesn't quite deliver the same results or conjure the same associations as 'fake' women. And surely this is because women are still locked into an inherited, representational cage where their only options are to be categorised by binaries or temporarily perform male roles?
This real vs. fake culture is perpetuated by dating apps such as Tinder where you can reject a match at the click of a button if they don't fit your image checklist. The digital world of avatars has not offered the freedom it once promised because there is an ever mounting pressure to prove ourselves as authentic online and use our phones as extensions of ourselves - whether Snapchatting a photo lifting weights at the gym, uploading edited couple photos on Facebook or taking Instagram photos of no-carb, New-Year-new-me meals and bodies.
Feminism should be about questioning the way female empowerment and identity is appropriated and represented, just as much as applauding its growth and popularity seen in the likes of Herself.com and Emma Watson's HeForShe campaign in association with UN Women. No politics or idea should be monotheistic or total, because that leads to identity itself being viewed as a whole that can be split in two - a human being that is only ever real or fake.