Thursday, March 31, 2011

Intersectionality and Toxic Body Culture


Seems to be the theme of my life.

When I was younger - it was in ridiculous questions, even from activists friends - like "are you a woman first? or a person of color first?" (answer - obviously, both. no hierarchy of oppressions or identities for me, please)

Now in my professional life, it is among my interests - science and humanities, politics and poetry, the global and local. As a parent, it is between my public life as an academic and my personal life as a mother. You get the idea.

In the context of feminism, and progressive politics in general, intersectionality refers to the commitment that we cannot understand, say, gender oppression without also understanding racism, homophobia, able-ism, global politics, etc.

In the context of even this blog - which is usually all about children's and YA literature - it means having to make room for some posts that have to do less with fairy tales and zombies, and more with transnational surrogacy and the representation of marginalized bodies. I could start a whole other blog, I guess, but that too smacks of an artificial separation, a dis-integration of my various identities. I am a children's writer because I am an activist. I am an activist because I am a children's writer. Same goes with all my other identities - parent, academic, physician, daughter, lover of both 'high' and 'low' culture, etc.

Today, the awesome feminist folks at (namely my new colleague and friend Courtney E. Martin - check out her fabulostic TED women talk here)  published a guest blog by me reflecting on issues of intersectionality toxic body culture. In it, I ask the question: is body image a white woman's issue? The answer, of course is no. Embodiment politics is an issue for ALL of us - but, if we don't frame the question of women's bodies in advertising within the context of capitalism, if we don't talk about size AND sexuality/race/ability/etc., if we don't make explicit the connnections between labioplasty in LA and transnational surrogacy in India (both having to do with the medicalization and compartmentalization of women's bodies) - then we risk limiting the scope of the movement, and alienating some from the conversation - at worst, enacting some of the same hierarchies we seek to dismantle in our work.

So I wanted to share this other part of me here. And not keep my selves separate. I wanted to practice the intersectionality I preach.

To read the blog at feministing go here.

To read an excerpt from the blog, and learn more about the Endangered Species conference go here. (image above courtesy of, and the feministing blog was in reaction to recently having presented at that conference) 


  1. Powerful! Thanks for sharing this on SheWrites. I've also wondered at the hunger that some folks (and occasional activist groups, unfortunately) have to issue competing boxes around our facets of identity, as if we can be anything other than a collective of our experiences. I find it genuine and marvelous that your reflections on toxic body image culture and global oppressions would naturally share space with a blog on children's writing.

    (Also, I love your title's prescription, reading as medicine. I'm definitely on that program!)

    Be well -

  2. thanks for your comments and the visit, Tele! you can learn more about the work of the program here
    more about my work at

    Wholeness I'm getting to realize as I get older - is about being able to embrace our wonderfully contradictory selves into one integrated being, no?
    Not always easy, but feels great when you can do it! :)

  3. I love this pic...the image behind the image. Very you. :)

  4. Thanks Kari - it's from a Marie Claire article on the "wombs for rent" or transnational surrogacy industry in India. It's a really disturbing picture- all exotic and colorful, big brown bellies, but no, er, heads. (supposedly for anonymity but my argument is that it encourages a sort of Orientalizing, or reductive/exoticizing gaze in which the subject is very literally not able to gaze back!)