I like Apple products, I like the way they look, I like the way they work, I like my MacBook Pro slightly more than I like some people. But even as a committed Apple lover surely I am justified in questioning whether the iOS 13.2 breast binder wearing ‘merperson’ emoji could be just a step too far into semiotic solipsism?
On Tuesday October 29th Apple released its latest update to the iOS software that runs the iPhone – iOS13.2. the update contained a variety of ‘gender inclusive’ emojis which have largely been lauded by the transgender and non-binary as a positive step towards increased representation. Containing such emoji as a beardless ‘gender inclusive’ turban wearer and a ‘gender neutral’ vampire its superfluous to say that the update provokes a fair amount of questions in its pursuit of inclusivity but I hold absolutely no shame in saying it is the seemingly innocuous ‘gender inclusive merperson’ that I am most troubled by, because ze is wearing a breast binder.
Increasingly popular with ‘trans’ and ‘non-binary’ identifying women and girls; breast binders are designed to flatten breasts to create an ‘androgynous’ levelled appearance. Breast binders help obscure female secondary sexual characteristics in order to better present as anything other than female.
Although I have a tiny amount of sympathy for women that choose to bind as a reaction to an increasingly pornified society; the choice to include not just a top but specifically a binder on the ‘merperson’ emoji concerns me not only because of the mental implications of rejecting the biologically female body but also the choice to normalise a trend that has such largely unexplored capacity for harm to their wearer’s physical body.
Indeed the studies that exist (trans identified females are hugely understudied) support the arguably obvious assumption that consistent binding of a complex tissue system can provide great physical risk to the binder; a 2016 study into the health impact of chest binding among transgender adults revealed that:
“Over 97% reported at least one of 28 negative outcomes attributed to binding.”Health impact of chest binding among transgender adults: a community-engaged, cross-sectional study – Sarah Peitzmeier
Indeed even the much maligned Cosmopolitan Guide to Chest Binding even contains the following warning:
“Sofia B who suffers from Crohn’s disease, says her nausea would get a lot worse when she would bind her chest, so now she limits binding to only a few times per year. It’s tough to say why that happened, but since improper (and even proper) binding can cause shortness of breath and other issues, talk to the doctor you see for any medical conditions before you start binding.”A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Chest Binding – Lane Moore
Is this really a garment that requires it’s own (albeit covert) emoji representation?
I have many friends that have; whilst in the grip of eating disorders and deteriorating mental health engaged in purgative and self injurious behaviours, do we therefore require an emoji representation of these activities, should there be an orthorexic centaur, a mothman with needle tracks? Or do we accept as a society that such an idea would be grotesquely dangerous to vulnerable individuals that deserve better than their attempts at self destruction and denial verified every time they look at their iPhone keyboard? If so then surely I am right to question why it is that a garment that results in negative outcomes in 97% of cases should be celebrated with its own representation? Why is our narcissistic urge to see every element of our lives reflected in the media we consume being put above the need for women and girls to embrace their biological bodies? Considering Facebook has recently attempted to ban the use of the peach and aubergine emojis in an update to their Sexual Solicitation section of the company’s Community Guidelines we know that the innocent emoji has grown past its original ‘smiley face’ origins, why has our capacity to recognise the potential for harm not similarly expanded?
In an age where a vegetable is the widespread symbol for a phallus does anyone really need the representation of a breast binding mythological being? Sorry Apple, you’ve gone too far.