I was recently contacted by a truly eloquent and articulate woman, who questioned how Mude could be considered feminist when it portrays 'barbie doll like' figures and engages in 'the commodification of feminism'. Rightly so! Here's my response...
Please let me know what you think; I'm always striving to make Mude more intrinsically feminist, through partnerships and the likes.
On a fundamental level: yes, Mude has turned into a self-sustaining business model, but it's main aim has always been to give accessible pathways to allow women (and men) to reclaim control over their nudity.
An Open Letter.
Commodity Feminism, a term first coined by Goldman et al. as early as 1991 (society has been pants for much longer than that but at least someone finally put an academic name to it), is something that I am personally very interested in, and academically invested in. I am currently writing a research paper on the commodification of feminism, and the rise of Fourth Wave Feminism among millennials. So I'm super happy to get into the real nooks and nuances of this idea.
First I'll explain the use of the 'barbie doll like' female forms in Mude art...
For me, Mude never started as a 'commodity'. It is my art. I use myself as a life drawing model, for ease and to make each sketch as natural to me as possible. I personally feel offended that you think because my body is the way it is, it can't portray a feminist message. I started Mude because of my insecurities with my body - I have been over-sexualised by males my whole life because of my frustratingly petite frame and my unusually large breasts. My body has been used against me, it has been sexualised without my consent; on the street, by boyfriends, and online. I have been reduced to 'the girl with the big boobs' my whole life. I started drawing women, and my own nude form, as a way to reconnect with my body - the portrayal of my body in my art is my way of sticking two fingers up to the society that shames and censors my natural shape and fleshy mounds. I can completely see your point of view, that the female form of Mude is 'barbie doll like', however that is the point. No matter what shape, size, or colour, a woman will be judged. My large breasts, and 'barbie doll like' body has been labelled a 'slut' or 'up for it' more times than I can count. Likewise, my girlfriend, who is a gorgeous, curvy, masculine shape, has been labelled negatively by society her whole life, as a 'less than female'. There's no body shape or type that doesn't attract unwanted male, female and societal judgement.
Secondly, I want to explain my justification for the commodification of feminism in my art.
I agree with you somewhat, that the commodification of feminism is extremely dangerous. Corporations have reduced feminism to mere signifiers and cues (slogan tees with 'equality' plastered across the front, as if that's going to solve anything). It is heart breaking...but to me it is only heartbreaking because huge corporations have hijacked the meaning of feminism. As Zielser states in her book (highly recommend, now we're sharing book tips; 'We used to be feminists: from Riot Grrrl to Cover Girl, the buying and selling of a political movement) - "The fight for gender equality has transmogrified from a collective goal to a consumer brand”. My current research has really made me reflect on my start-up, Mude. I never started out with a desire to sell my creations, in fact I gave away my first few pieces to friends and family (one of these first designs was a bright blue threaded design, based on myself, with purple pubes..). Then, strangers started getting in touch, appreciative of my new found skill (I would still consider myself a rookie at embroidery, but it's therapeutic for me and the results are beautiful) and of my designs. From here I set prices based on my time spent creating each piece, and have remained at this price, paying myself the bare minimum. And so, Mude turned into a hobby/business. Having had time to reflect, after my extensive literature review, I am comfortable with what Mude stands for: I am a small, independent artist, balancing my art alongside my studies. I embroider interpretations of the female form (based on my own body type, for ease and for the reasons aforementioned). My battle is with the shaming and the censorship of the female form, of any shape or size. I follow a lot of incredible women who are fighting the battle for body-positivity, and doing a much better job than me at that. Moreover, when you say 'commodification of the female form is never a feminist act', usually I would wholeheartedly agree - however Mude is in partnership with multiple charities (PADS (a society that spreads awareness of the issues women face in Leeds, which includes Basis Yorkshire charity which helps female sex workers in Leeds), and I have recently donated £113 to PSC Support to support an incredibly strong woman). My thoughts: my 'commodification of feminism' has helped me to fulfil feminist acts that I would never have been able to do, without a business model.
Also, the 'commodification' of the female form by males, for males, and by huge heartless corporations..is always shit. I use my female form to reclaim the oppression of women, by men. I am a female artist, creating art for women - males painted females in the nude, as you say, however I am 'painting' myself in the nude, thus empowering myself and relinquishing the control held by the male gaze. Mude's 'commodification' has allowed me to enter the usually exclusively male sphere of entrepreneurship. The point of my 'commodities' is to make my art wearable...to spread the message, to spread awareness, to make feminism accessible.
I'd like to say, that feminism is not about bashing each other's definitions - we all fundamentally believe in the same thing. I'm grateful for your thoughts and opinions, it's always intriguing to know how Mude can be perceived, but I am also always ready to fight my own corner and my own definition of feminism...
Lots of love,
Leave ya comments <3