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Oh, The Horror: Body image

Hana Shafi

The last place I expect to feel bad about my body is when I’m curled up on the couch watching a horror film. Guts being ripped out of peoples stomachs and demon vomit splashing across the screen should hardly make me question whether I’m pretty enough. But then there’s the rest of the horror film. And that’s where the problem starts.

Like every other movie genre around, horror confirms to the same white hetero and cis normative, able-bodied standard of beauty. Your leading lady scream queen is almost always checks off all those boxes: beautiful, thin, able-bodied, cis, straight, white. Horror movies have abundance of scenes where said perfect model actress is walking around the house in her underwear or taking a steamy shower. The self-esteem crushing thoughts usually pop up here: “She has no cellulite. Why can’t I have no cellulite? How does she have such a flat stomach?”

It’s disappointing. Horror is supposed to be the outcast genre. Even the best horror films don’t often receive the prestige and praise of other genres. Unlike other genres, horror has a huge underground movement. Indie horror is vastly popular, and the endless streams of horror B-Movies are constantly flooding out, due in part to the fact that horror is relatively cheap to make. But if the genre is the renegade of the film world, why does it still conform to the Eurocentric mainstream beauty perception of beauty?

The horror genre asks so many deep questions about who we are as a society It taps into our sadomasochism, our strange attraction to violence, and our most uncomfortable fears. And with all this insight, the genre still fell for the same skinny, hairless, cisgender, straight, able-bodied, white woman trend. The genre is rife with fatphobia, exploiting fat actors to be extras struggling to run away from zombies and the like. Those with visible disabilities are practically non-existent. And those with invisible disabilities (mental illness) are stigmatized as rampant axe-murderers with evil alter-egos. Horror breaks so many boundaries, smashing through our comfort zone, and pushing our perspective on what crosses the line. And yet the boundaries of mainstream body image stand as strong as ever.

The importance of showing different bodies and identities in horror has two major benefits: the first is obvious, we can destroy conventional ideas of body image and propel horror as the genre that is the most socially progressive. But the second is also purely for the intelligence of the genre: it’s simply not realistic to keep having the same people appear throughout horror. Diversity in horror means better and more realistic plots and more interesting character development.

I love horror because it is such an outcast in so many ways, and it appeals to outcasts. But when the stars of the film are the same billboard babes that made me feel bad about myself throughout my adolescence, that outcast comfort falls to pieces. Generic conformity might work for mediocre, money-making romantic comedies, but it just doesn’t suit horror.

Next week, I look at religion in horror and where horror movies are lacking in religious diversity for horror origin stories.

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