We live in a society that puts women’s bodies in the middle of repression. Women are faced with certain aesthetic standards and continuously fed ideas that we are simply not good enough. Nor will we ever be. Maria Ribeiro, a Brasil-based feminist photographer believes that everything we want is to grow old in peace with our bodies, our curves, our marks because from the moment we fight against ourselves, we have already lost. Maria says that our bodies bring us so many good things; they take us to so many incredible places, it makes us able to feel a hug, a kiss, the rain on our face, sea water, the sun, a warm breeze, sex, and life. Our bodies deserve to be loved!
The obsession with perfection
I have been working on this, through photography, through this process of meeting, of recognition, of forgiveness. Let’s forgive our bodies for not being “perfect,” Ribeiro states.
Naomi Wolf has said that “the obsession with female thinness is not an obsession with female beauty, but rather with female obedience. Diets are a powerful tool in the process of women’s submission, for a passively insane population is easily controlled,” Ribeiro explains. “That’s because this insistent and systematic programming is installed in our unconscious since we understand ourselves by people in the sense that we are imperfect, insufficient and flawed in our body. The consequences go far beyond the physical issue. It can turn us into an insensitive, incapable and unhappy mass.”
Female beauty is linked to personal fulfillment, merit, love, success and happiness. Everything that does not fit the imposed standard is considered plain wrong. The media is pushing unrealistic standards of beauty, and the regular female body, the one with flaws and all, has become taboo.
“When did a woman’s body, the real body, become forbidden? It can not show folds, marks, streaks, cellulite, wrinkles, everything we have,” says Ribeiro. “Everyone knows that everyone has them. But we can no longer show that. It is a surreal antagonism: we know that the body is a body, but we believe that it is that plastic that we sell in magazines.”
Deconstructing the concept is a long-lasting process
Ribeiro told us: “Deconstructing concepts is a process. A laborious, time-consuming process is not easy and can be painful. But nothing is worse than the constant pain of the search for an illusion. A struggle that cannot be won, because within this concept we can not even grow older. And, believe me, we’re all going to age.”
We were bombarded by repressions and judgment for a long time. The repressions and unrealistic standards have been absorbed into our subconscious selves very deeply. Artists like Maria Ribeiro plant the seeds and we need to water them every day.
Maria Ribeiro’s feminist work
Ribeiro considers her work more than a photographic essay. “It’s a ritual,” she says. “There is a whole process in which I try to lead the union of the woman with her own body. I try to record that moment in the form of images. Images that are powerful, capable of initiating a process of a beauty still unknown even by ourselves.”
She created the project “We, Madalenas – A word for feminism”. She photographed a hundred women of different bodies, colours, and contexts with the word that represents feminism for each one is written on their bodies. The project has become a book that brings, in addition to the images, a testimony in the first person where each participant shares her own story.
Ribeiro recognizes documentary projects rescuing the history of specific groups in Brazil, like sertanejas, quilombolas, and indigenous women. UN Women selected her to present her work. She presented it at the CSW61 and the Youth Feminism Forum in March 2017 in New York. Her work was chosen because of the relevance to the empowerment of women in her field of action.
We do not want to fit in the molds
“We can conquer a society where we do not have to fit in the molds built by the patriarchy, but in our own criteria,” says Ribeiro. “We will not do things “as a man” but rather as women. The “manly” way of doing things is crumbling, and a new moment of being, of relating to people and nature is emerging. The “woman” way of doing things. A society of free, strong and accomplished women is the greatest danger to patriarchy. So, sisters, the revolution will be feminist. No, it already is. And we’re building this together.”
All photos by Maria Ribeiro, posted with permission.