It has always been a seemingly incapable feeling for me—that my appearance and my body are primarily for the consumption of others. I’ve embraced the “dress for yourself” mentality for years and years now, but I mean this in a deeper and much more sinister sort of way. From a very young age, I felt as though the blatant sexualization of the female body was meant to be a sort of milestone that young girls should aspire to. I was made to feel that when I started being seen an object, as something to be held and to be had, it would mean I had blossomed and entered womanhood. It was like a rite of passage: like I was suddenly fulfilling my purpose as a woman (or starting on the path) now that I was appealing to the opposite sex. Even as I consciously fight against it today, I cannot escape the overwhelming sensation of being served up like a suckling pig, a ripe, red apple in my mouth, for society—and, more specifically, for men. It is so painfully dehumanizing to be stripped down to nothing but a body and, even beyond that, just a sum of body parts. The misogyny and violence that are fundamentally intertwined with this (hyper)sexualization only perpetuate and “excuse” sexual assault, victim-blaming, violence and discrimination against trans* women and those who are gender-nonconforming. This is the demand placed upon women and their bodies: the aggressive expectation that we serve ourselves up, with willing eagerness, to be torn apart and consumed.
I made this piece to capture all of the emotions I have surrounding this topic. I especially wanted to create this work because I identify with the spectrum of aromanticism and asexuality: because of this, it is very easy for me to separate the human form from sexualization, even in situations of intimacy. The (hyper)sexualization of women, this engrained notion that close + bodies = sexual, often serves as a barrier to human closeness. Seeing women sexualized in distinctly non-sexual situations makes me so angry and so intensely uncomfortable. It is very difficult and upsetting for me to be made to feel like my body is never safe from the prying eyes of those around me.
This has been something that women have dealt with and fought against since, honestly, as far back as human history goes. But in today’s society, this aggressive sexualization feels like a wild animal that we must constantly try to outrun. It pounces on us, and it rips us to pieces, devouring our bodies with a ravenous and incapacitating greed.
And so I assert this statement with this piece: I will not be consumed. I will not be had. I am not yours to eat.
Ting Ting Chen