For many decades, protesters have utilized public spaces to spread awareness, construct political arguments, and provide an outlet for oppressed communities to demand equality. Whether individual or collective action, these calls for social and political justice are most powerful in the public. Social media has ignited these messages, enabling each issue to spread like wildfire across millions of computer screens. It’s easier than ever to share, like, or comment on the current social issue that resurfaces to the top of our Facebook newsfeed.
In most recent years, brave and vibrant women have taken to the streets in order to spread awareness of issues surrounding reproductive rights, gender inequality, and body shaming. Activists deploy their bodies by engaging in demonstrations and marches, painting messages across their limbs, or waving signs with clever slogans to directly express their stance.
Body shaming in particular remains a large part of our view of both men and women’s body stereotypes and our understanding of beauty. So much of our culture revolves around standard views of beauty, which greatly negatively impacts the majority of people whose physical appearance doesn’t fit into a small box of unattainable qualifications.
Women recognize that the best method to reclaim their bodies as their own is to participate in public movements to take on societal inequalities head on. Many social activists that seek an end to discriminatory –isms (sexism, racism, ageism, sizeism) have aligned themselves with social movements that utilize public demonstrations to spread awareness of these oppressed communities.
In June 2015, Adipositivity Project took on sizeism by body-painting nude plus-sized women outside of the New York Public Library. In addition, the GoTopless Pride Parade and a variety of topless protesters have taken on Times Square. By painting parts of their bodies while remaining topless in public, these women claim their bodily freedom and liberation from gender stereotypes.
On the individual level, Jae West conducted a social experiment in London’s Piccadilly Circus where she stripped down to her underwear, blindfolded herself and stood next to a sign that read, “I’m standing for anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder or self-esteem issues like me…To support self-acceptance, draw a heart on my body.” It encouraged others to love themselves and their bodies.
West risked her own vulnerability to make a powerful statement that hopefully affected those that walked by or wrote on her body that day. While there is power in numbers when it comes to collective action, West’s one-woman social experiment created waves throughout social media as a video of her grabbed the Internet’s attention.
Dozens of articles were published after Kiran Gandhi, age 26, ran the London marathon without a tampon – embracing her period and breeding freely for the 26.2 mile race.
Gandhi wrote the following on her website: “If there’s one way to transcend oppression, it’s to run a marathon in whatever way you want. On the marathon course, sexism can be beaten…I ran with blood dripping down my legs for sisters who don’t have access to tampons.”
Public political protest in combination with social media makes for effective social awareness of the cultural issues women face in the world today. Taking to the streets advocates for equality between the sexes, allowing women to claim the public space for their voices and opinions.
Cover image courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter.