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Don't buy the body lie



Gazing out the window of the bus, I noticed a woman seated in the sheltered stoop of a closed office building. With her was a shopping trolley which appeared to be housing her possessions. She was brushing her hair with her fingers, using the reflective window glass as a mirror.

Face with multi-coloured paintI watched on as she fixed a ribbon in her hair, gave herself a small smile, and, standing up, began to push her trolley up the street and out of sight. As my bus pulled out and rounded the corner, I could see that both she and her trolley had joined the line of people queuing outside of the local soup kitchen.

I was maybe 16 at the time, but there was something about that moment that stayed with me. The care she took in fixing her hair before joining the group was such a deeply relatable moment, and highlighted to me the contrast between the humanity which exists in the reality of individuals living in various circumstances, and the way politicians and mainstream media portray them.  

Our understanding of people, cultures, and practices that exist outside our own realm of experience, are greatly influenced by the portrayals of them which we have been exposed to. Much of what we see within Australian politics, mainstream media, advertisements, infrastructure, architecture, and formal education, is heavily reflective of colonisation and the enforced Eurocentric standpoint of 'normal' that came with it.

This empowers, and structurally protects, those who fit and conform to Eurocentric ideals, positioning these people and practices as 'normal', while simultaneously disempowering those outside of this 'norm', positioning them as 'different'. Historically, since invasion, such disempowerment has been intentional and legislated, forcibly placing First Nations People, women, immigrants, members of the LGBQTI community, those who are deemed to not be neuro-typical, or who have various levels of physical ability, in positions where they are treated as having diminished humanity, value, and worth.

While strategic branding and declared goodwill used by various political groups and organisations today would imply that this is no longer the case, the lived experience of many, and the 'gaps' identified within current statistics, demonstrates otherwise. The violence and Eurocentric framework of colonisation continues to impact and be reflected throughout various aspects of life in Australia, influencing the level of privilege, opportunity, advocacy, and representation that a person is likely to experience based on their physical form, rather than their character and actions.

Australia's obsession with this very finite idea of what is normal and ideal when it comes to bodies is not rational. And while there have been improvements, the irrational privileging of white, heteronormative, cisgender males continues to be structural, and pervasive. While women's rights have advanced in recent decades, in the 32 weeks that have passed so far this year, 39 women have been murdered in Australia. But instead of political and media outrage over this figure, instead we are experiencing an increase in race baiting, anti-feminism and anti-immigration rhetoric, and the continued targeting of Indigenous people and activists.


"My safety, worth, opportunities, and human rights should not be determined by the body I was born into. And neither should yours."


Regardless of the news cycle, as a woman I am daily bombarded with advertisements encouraging me to strive to have larger breasts, a smaller waist, thick thighs, no cellulite, and absolutely no signs of ageing — whether that be wrinkles on my face, or hair which indicates I have developed past puberty. As a society we are exposed to more information on how to remove body hair, and minimise wrinkles, than how to identify a toxic or abusive relationship, or how to counter discrimination.

I am not opposed to people choosing to modify their own body, but I am opposed to the constant rhetoric we are force fed that tells us that the body we are born into, and the way it is perceived by society, determines our worth, abilities, and rights. Whether it is for the business of wrinkle creams, or the business of politics, this is a lie being sold to us so that someone else may profit.

As a cis, straight, able-bodied person, born here on this land, I cannot speak to the current treatment of people who have immigrated here, or those who identify as LGQBTI, or (dis)abled. But as an Indigenous person I am acutely aware of an upswing in race baiting from politicians, rising rates of Indigenous incarceration and child removal, increased footage capturing police brutality towards mob, the recent travelling hate-fest of Molyneux and Southern (which I am painfully aware actual adults in our country bought tickets to see), and the broadcasting and normalisation of racism under the guise of 'patriotism' and 'free speech'.

My safety, worth, opportunities, and human rights should not be determined by the body I was born into. And neither should yours. As a society we need to listen carefully to the message being sold to us, and call out the politicians, journalists, businesses, and publications which perpetuate the idea that the body you are born with, and the colour of your skin, determines your worth, character, rights, and value. Because that is a lie being sold to the detriment of our entire society, and I for one, am not buying it.



Amy ThunigAmy Thunig is a Kamilaroi woman, PhD candidate, and an Associate Lecturer in the Department of Educational Studies at Macquarie University. Juggling parenting and partnering, Amy's interests and writing centre around family, Indigenous rights, social justice, academia, and education. She is the recipient of the 2018 Margaret Dooley Fellowship for Emerging Indigenous Writers.

Topic tags: Amy Thunig, Margaret Dooley, Indigenous Writers Fellowship



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Existing comments

A telling article (32 weeks with 39 women murdered this year). Thanks Amy

Patricia Langan | 13 August 2018  

Important essay, Amy, made all the more poignant by the vicious and cowardly race-attack on a Pakistani student on your university campus recently. What seems to have happened in recent times is that the distinction between colour and religion has been merged by neo-fascists into one amorphous group of the excluded, now deserving of our persecution. Keep speaking up so that such wrong doing is exposed and held up to account! 'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good (persons) to do nothing' (Edmund Burke).

Dr Michael Furtado | 13 August 2018  

An excellent article, thank you! While you have mentioned that you don't speak for those of us with a disability, this is certainly a message that many of us wish society would hear as well.

Justin Glyn SJ | 13 August 2018  

"My safety, worth, opportunities, and human rights should not be determined by the body I was born into'. I disagree. I believe that I was born into a human body, and everyone born into a human body has an inherent and inalienable dignity. I believe that we need to love our bodies - whatever their colour, size or state of repair - and - a fortiori - our Body. That's just what we can't seem to do, of course. We'll allow others to tell us what our bodies should look like and under what conditions they'll be worthy of respect. We'll tell other people what they 'should' look like, whom they 'should' love, what parts of them are considered valuable. We don't love ourselves enough, so we can't love others either. Recognizing this isn't new, but it seems as though each generation has to find it out anew. And it's not them. It's us.

Joan Seymour | 13 August 2018  

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