Oyster Portfolio: Petra Collins ‘Coming Of Age’ For Oyster #113

“If the Internet mimics real life, then there is no doubt that real life can mimic it.”

I’m used to being told by society that I must regulate my body to fit the norm. I’m used to the fact that images of unaltered women are seen as unacceptable. I’ve taught myself to ignore it, as much as I can, and through the Internet and social media platforms, I’ve been able to freely share images and start discussions about these issues. A few years ago, I had my Instagram account deleted. I did nothing that violated the terms of use. No nudity, violence, pornography, unlawful, hateful, or infringing imagery. What I did do was post an image of my body that didn’t meet society’s standard of “femininity.” The image was of me from the waist down, wearing a bathing suit bottom in front of a sparkly backdrop. Unlike the 5,883,628 (the number of images at the time that were tagged with bikini) other bathing suit images on Insta-gram, mine depicted my own unaltered state—an unshaven bikini line. Up until this moment, I had seen and felt the pressure to regulate my body, but never thought I would literally experience it.

I am, however, used to seeing female bodies perfected, and aspects concealed in the media. I wasn’t surprised when TMZ requested to interview me about a t-shirt I made of a woman masturbating but then canceled, because the image was “too explicit for television.” I’m used to seeing women being degraded, slut-shamed, and harassed for what they look like. I’m used to seeing reviews of an award-show performance that critiques a female singer for being “slutty,” that fails to even mention the older male behind her partaking in the act. I’m used to reading articles about whole towns harassing a rape victim until she’s forced to leave. I don’t want to be used to this. I don’t want to be desensitized to what’s happening around me all the time.

I know that having a social media profile removed is a privileged problem—but it is the way a lot of us live. These profiles mimic our physical selves, and can be, at times, even more important. They are ways to connect with an audience, to start discussion, and to create change. The deletion of my account felt like a physical act, like the public sticking its finger down my throat, forcing me to cover up, forcing me to succumb to society’s image of beauty.

If the Internet mimics real life, then there is no doubt that real life can mimic it. That if we allow ourselves to be silenced or censored, it can happen in real life, too. This is already happening; you experience this every day. It’s when someone catcalls you, yells “slut,” comments on all your photos and calls you “disgusting,” tries to physically violate you, spreads private nude images of you, calls you ugly, tells you to change your body. This cannot continue to be our reality. To all young girls and women, do not let this discourage you, do not let anyone tell you what you should look like, how you should be, or that you do not own your body. Even if we are silenced, we must keep moving forward, keep creating revolutionary work, and keep this discourse alive.

© Petra  Collins: Coming  of  Age, by Petra  Collins, Rizzoli New York, 2017