When I came home the other day my husband Kevin was interested in how I would view this promotional video (above), shot to highlight fitness model, Muay Thai practitioner and lifter Aurora LZ – who I’ve followed on Facebook for a long time – and lifter and fitness model Sophie Arvebrink, who I previously didn’t know. Kevin said: I have never really seen female bodies portrayed in this way before. So, I sat down for a look – video above
I included the movie poster for “Bad Boys” because this whole slow motion walking sequence, looking badass, comes out of movies like this. Just strutting away from an explosion or all the Reservoir Dogs walking in formation. It’s a man thing, usually. We get slow motion walks of women but usually it’s an upward pan from the high-heeled feet to the hair flip. Not the same. These women are doing the badass walk; you don’t fuck with these women.
What’s a bit odd to me is that I didn’t find the “gaze” in this video to be sexually objectifying. The reason that’s odd is that when I paused the video to grab still images, the still images were very different from the way I felt about the video – some of those felt like a sexualizing and objectifying gaze, mostly of asses barely covered by shorts. But those exact same shots didn’t come off that way when I first watched the clip. I think it’s because the bodies are doing work in the motion pictures – the camera pans around and you’re looking at these completely sculpted bodies, you can see the intention behind every single crevice and bulge: “I made this; I did this,” is what the focus says to me in those moving pictures. It might feel different if these two women were rolling around in sand or making “duck face” while pushing their hair up. The women who have sculpted their bodies through diet and exercise and maybe some implants and makeup for the visual consumption of (mostly) men perform the “kittenish” rolling around thing for the purpose of how that appears to the viewer. But there’s something different, to me at least, to these two women demonstrating the process of their own empowerment, whether sexual or otherwise. These women are sexy – hot damn – but maybe the difference is that watching them work out, even though it is clearly visually sexualized, is that it doesn’t feel like they’re doing it for you. And maybe the still images reduce that difference and make it seem more voyeuristic.
“You can’t be what you can’t see.” – Marie Wilson
I’ve written about media portrayals of female body ideals. From the aesthetic discrimination Bev Francis experienced when trying to break ground as a highly-muscled female Body Builder in the documentary Pumping Iron II: The Women – The Markers of Gender and The Problems of Definition ,to thinking about how the female bloodied face has been absent in female Muay Thai fighter portrayals (though that is changing): Celebrating the Female Face – Bloody Face Photos from Female Fighters. How women are portrayed determines what we are able to do and become, because the genesis of becoming is imagination, and the imagination is seeded by what we see of ourselves, outside of ourselves.
When I was growing up, our Sega Genesis was the best. My second-favorite game was Golden Axe, which was a kind of Conan the Barbarian style game with only three characters to play as. One was a woman, wearing a red bikini (the man also wore pretty much nothing; only the dwarf had a shirt). The female character had the weakest fighting range but her magic was pretty good.
One out of three characters being a woman isn’t bad! But in most of the games in our house, there were either one or zero female characters. We also had a Nintendo, which was certainly a more popular console at the time, and Street Fighter II was the most frequently played game. There was only one female character, Chun-Li, and I’m pretty sure she was the first playable female character in a player-to-player fighting game. I liked to play as Chun-Li but I’m a button-masher and she’s not the best character for that “style,” so I mixed it up also. But there was always the suggestion by my brothers and their friends that I play as Chun-Li because “she’s the girl.” The girl because I was the girl. One of my oldest brother’s friends liked to play as Chun-Li, which never got any kind of razzing attention from the other guys at all, because it’s just a video game. You’re not cross-dressing, you’re just picking a character based on her set of strengths and weaknesses against another character, with other strengths and weaknesses. But there is something to the fact that these are playable characters, so you are that woman to some degree within the game – especially newer games like Resident Evil, where you remain that character for the hundred or so hours it takes to complete the game, and rather than having particular skill sets, like in fighting games, playing as the man or as the woman changes the story arc. I think it means a lot more for gamers to play “as women” in those games, both for male gamers accepting these female characters as whole characters and for female gamers to see themselves within the playbook. Then there are games with more than one female character – like, it’s an actual thing. Eventually, the pixelated princess who Mario was always saving became a playable character in Mario-Kart. That’s a huge difference; having women as background or props in games vs. being playable characters is being able to see yourself as an active part of a game; even if you don’t play as that character. But you could. And sometimes you can even choose between different female characters, with different skills and strengths and story lines. It’s part of the game.
Aurora as Fighter
Aurora who used to be at Tiger Muay Thai is/was a Muay Thai fighter. You can watch her in this 2011 fight against Gerry Rawai who is a marvel herself, fighting at about 43 in this fight. Keep in mind Aurora seems to have a size advantage here, maybe a pronounced one. She is 6’0″. Gerry has said that this fight really dispirited her, even made her think she should stop fighting. But she focused herself year and a half later she won the WMC title at the age of 45. She is still fighting in Phuket at 47. Aurora looked great in this fight though.
On the issue of body, I have a muscular physique and I’ve written about some of the pros and cons of this in Thailand if you’d like to read on: Body as Evidence – Masculine Frame and Status in Muay Thai in Thailand. Becoming more coded as “masculine” as a woman is not always the easiest to bear. Portrayals of muscled power in women, still coded as feminine, seems like a compromised way forward, empowering women to set out on their own path of aesthetics and capabilities.