I've been thinking a lot lately about bodies and representation, visibility, marketing and mainstreaming, particularly in light of some of the news and blog postings of the last couple of weeks (SB1070, the re-emergence of discussion in the mainstream media about what a terrorist "looks" like, so on and so forth). I mean, this is a thing I think about daily anyway, but my attention to it has been ramped up for several reasons.
While I am under no illusion that the inclusion of bodies of different shapes, sizes and hues (and class signifiers, and ability, and queerness) in advertising and mainstream media/pop culture doesn't generally constitute anything more than pandering, an attempt to make money off of a particular submarket, there's something unintentionally powerful that happens with that inclusion of variety - a lifting of shame and stigma, a widening of the definition of normalcy. It's AMAZING how many people come out of the woodwork to protest about how offended they are whenever a non-normative body is highly visible (for an easy and timely example, see any blog comments about Gabourey Sidibe, who is an inspiration herself in many ways). Obviously this unintentional effect shouldn't be overstated, but it shouldn't be understated either. When we keep pressing to widen the boundaries of what is "normal," what is "acceptable," we open up space for the beautiful and unexpected.
That said, there are problems with the idea of mainstreaming an image beyond just ad-pandering (though I do love the fact that with the widening of the definition of the normative body there is a chance to screw with capitalism a little - just as we are target markets, we are also taught to conform to certain standards because products used to create those standards are being marketed to us. The anxiety created by such marketing of conformity/idealized bodies is flattened a bit when the spectrum of what's normal is expanded). There's a chance for complacency in there that makes me worried - that if someday we achieve some kind of magical pop culture utopia in which all kinds of bodies are presented as normal, with the ability to achieve happiness and success, we'll stop and rest there. (When your life involves constant vigilance and fighting, particularly, it's a total luxury to just stop and hang out and disconnect for a moment. At the same time, there's the potential for inertia there.)
Becoming included, destigmatized, defetishized - that's only the first step. That includes us in the discussion as opposed to putting us up as props. (Also: those of us who are non-normative in some ways should be reminded to check our privilege because chances are there are ways in which we ARE normative, things we don't have to think about every day because we're not confronted with them constantly.)
P.S. I've been rereading Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition for a book club, and it's definitely been influencing my thinking this week in a large and visible way (and reminding me where I picked up some of these perspectives in the first place). Arendt's book mentions some of the ways in which technology shapes society, and I've been thinking a lot about the power of representation in an age in which so much of our communication is done via internet, text, etc.