if the personal is political

Please read this poem :

if the personal is political then

is there any part of my body that

does not belong to the movement?

can my lung breath for itself or

must it also gasp for the revolution?

do my feet walk for themselves or are

they only preparing for the march?

does this brown exist outside of struggle?

does this queer matter if it’s no longer transgressive?

this gender if it can no longer dissent?

if the personal is political then i wonder if

the revolution asked for consent

wonder if i gave it the first time i

picked up a microphone and pronounced

‘PAIN’ and the papers reported ‘POLITICS’

the next day

and i wonder if there are politics without pain these days?

when we must use our tongues as knives and scrape off all

of the color, all of the violence

and place them in petri dishes for you to consume

like soundbytes,

like each piece of me is an intersection for your theory,

like all we are is a constellation of trauma

and quotes and broken

if the personal is political then do i own these samples?

do i own the pain?

do i own myself?

or is this the reward for the job completed:

how many tears i make you shed

how many paradigms i make you shift

if the personal is political then how many hours

can i sleep tonight? how many boys should i kiss?

how many lies must i tell?

until i prove myself activist

or rather

prove myself boring

prove myself happy

if the personal is political than can we be happy

when our politics resemble the nightmares

we are trying so desperately to wake from?

if the personal is political then will you love me

when i turn off my phone? will you forgive me if i

am late to work? will you respect me if i miss the meeting?

will i matter if i am incapable of crying?

will i matter if i am incapable of bleeding?

do we matter if we are incapable at all?

(ALOK VAID-MENON  –  2014-06-02) 

Alok is a nonbinary trans femme south  asian  writer,  performance artist, and community  organizer based in NYC, involved in DarkMatter

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 11.52.24

We matter politically because of our personal appearance matters politically. We matter politically because our bodily appearance classifies us, implicates us in the system. Are we, as Alok says, incapable of changing this?

Brazil has per capita cosmetic surgery rates 5 times that of European countries (Edmonds, 365). Cosmetic surgery in Brazil, plásticais ‘integral to the roster of middle-class aspirations’ (Edmonds, 364). Around the country there are fully public hospitals, supported by federal and municipal budgets, that offer free cosmetic surgery, therapeutic breast reductions / enlargements, face lifts, nose jobs etc. The therapeutic rational behind these free procedures is autoestima (self-esteem). Nationally, there is a common understanding that aesthetic beauty is a form of social mobility, and aesthetic beauty is an obtainable right for all under the scalpel.


If the personal is political, what about the relationship between the body and the state? And how does this affect the relationship between the body and the market? A right to aesthetic (or vitruvian) enhancement is a manifestation of the market, globalisation and pathology. Beauty equals capital – thus nature be created / modelled to unlock such capital.

* * *

Plastic surgery rates in the UK are nothing like Brazil, especially in young generations, it’s simply too expensive to have ever taken off in the same way here. However, drives to aesthetically model oneself definitely do exist – drives to mute, morph, unsignify the body so as to fit the norm.

‘Normcore’ is a fashion trend I read about in an article about Amalia Ulman, an artist who either got plastic surgery and instagramed it to comment on body anxiety, or instagramed hoax pictures giving the impression she had a boob job to comment on body anxiety…it’s unclear, but don’t bother reading it. But what interested me in the article is ‘normcore’.

Normcore (according to Vogue lol) comes from the William Gibson sci-fi novel Pattern Recognition.  The inspiration for the fashion was based on this description of Gibson’s logo-phobic protagonist Cayce Pollard as wearing: “A small boy’s black Fruit of the Loom T-shirt, a thin gray V-neck pullover purchased by the half-dozen from a supplier to the New England prep schools, and a new and oversized pair of black 501’s, every trademark carefully removed.”

Kate Crawford has put the fashion trend of normcore in the context of big data and surveillance. “I think it captures precisely this moment of mass surveillance meeting mass consumerism,” she explains. “It reflects the dispersed anxiety of a populace that wishes nothing more than to shed its own subjectivity.” 

I guess people choose to not buy in to brands for lots of reasons, monetary reasons – fashion is so expensive and fleeting and unobtainable for most, and political reasons – fashion is a strong manifestation of consumerist capitalism. But what about anxiety, as Kate Crawford says, a modern anxiety of wanting to shed subjectivity. This echoes plástica, for Brazil’s norm national identity is one of racial mixture, and frequently in striving for the nationalist beauty myth, individuals choose to change signifying and stigmatised features like the nose, though they reflect subjectivity.

This links to Alok. The personal is political, thus, ‘we must use our tongues as knives and scrape off all / of the color, all of the violence / and place them in petri dishes for you to consume / like soundbytes, / like each piece of me is an intersection for your theory’. 

Extra reading:

Edmonds, Alexander. 2007.‘The Poor Have the Right to be Beautiful’: Cosmetic Surgery in Neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13: 363-381


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