We need to be able to experience our diverse bodies—the varied ways we decorate and move them—as a source of taken-for-granted pleasure and celebration.Susie Orbach.1
Il faut parler. Fort, vite, n'importe comment. Il faut vaguer, oser le vague, respirer à la limite de nos poumons, germer multiples, indéfinies, flotter, errer, indéfinir nos vastes corps.Marie Cardinal.2
DURING THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, our perceptions of others' bodies, and our relationship with our own bodies, have become increasingly defined by the media and technology. Consumers of traditional and online media can be bombarded daily with images of many different bodies. We gaze at the bodies in the media, and, in turn, we cast this gaze onto our own bodies. This self-reflection may engender feelings that can range from self-loathing to self-confidence. People of all gendered identities may feel pressured to transform their bodies to resemble models on the front cover of magazines or they may be inspired by an influencer on Instagram who encourages them to celebrate their body shape. Indeed, images and discourses in the media can both perpetuate and disrupt societal bodily norms. Social media, in particular, has become a platform through which people across the world have increasingly challenged normative societal attitudes towards the body. The media is thus one space in which our bodies are subject to a societal gaze that seeks to enforce certain expectations, norms, and values. This special issue examines a variety of corporeal representations—within both visual culture and literature—and explores how these works have, in turn, critically gazed back at society.
Most relevant to the topic of this issue, we can find a variety of examples from within the francophone world that contest societal bodily norms. In France, various feminist blogs and social media accounts have sought to criticize the 'ideal' beauty standard of the thin woman that they observe in French society. For instance, the online magazine Paulette fills its pages with empowering images of women. It celebrates and foregrounds the bodies of black and minority ethnic women, plus size women, older women, and women with body hair. In this way, Paulette uses digital space to reject patriarchal expectations of beauty and to encourage women to gaze upon their [End Page 1] own bodies in a more positive way. Online campaigns that call into question bodily norms are also found in francophone contexts outside Europe. For example, in 2017, women across West Africa, including French-speaking Senegal and Cameroon, took to social media to protest a Nivea advert in which a black female model is using the product in order to gain "visibly whiter skin." Women responded by using the hashtag #pullitdownnow, highlighting how this discourse of whiteness is a product of colonialism. This movement thereby exposed that advertisements can perpetuate a neo-colonial gaze that valorizes whiteness and encourages black women to see themselves through this lens.
The desire to resist societal bodily norms and expectations is not new to the Internet age. For centuries, consumers of cultural production have been subjected to idealized bodily images in paintings, and subsequently in photographs and films. These images have helped to cement normative patriarchal, western, and colonial ideologies about the body. The majority of these protests against these ideologies have been framed within a discourse of feminism. Women's challenge to the male and colonial gaze have appeared in spaces such as literature, street protests, and anti-colonial resistance. In Algeria, French colonialism sought to westernize Algerian women by unveiling them. Algerian women not only protested against colonialism by wearing the veil, even if they had not done so before, they also took an active part in the Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962). In France, second-wave feminists such as Julia Kristeva, Annie Leclerc, Marie Cardinal, and Hélène Cixous problematized negative patriarchal discourse about the female body such as that pertaining to menstruation, pregnancy, and the menopause. Their works on the body emerged in the aftermath of the May 1968 protests during which women took to the streets to campaign for greater bodily rights and autonomy. The Mouvement de...