Oral History and Feminist Knowledge Production

Discussing Sexuality, Gender, and Body Image: Antigone Lambros


“And it’s silly but literally from that moment forward I was like I’m the only one telling myself that I can’t do it! And why would I be the one to tell myself that?” 

Perhaps the most telling nature of Antigone Lambros’s feminist consciousness formation is emanated through her astounding ability to self reflect and persevere. Despite obstacles during her coming to age period pertaining to familial acceptance of her sexuality, the struggle between balancing her queer and religious identities, and increasing external pressures to fit into rigid behavioral structures; she nevertheless preaches self appreciation and a desire to retain a greater register to learn from others. Surrounded by the mountains in Missoula, Montana Antigone finds a safe refuge from the oftentimes overstimulating daily exhausts of Los Angeles while working in her family’s hometown restaurant during the summer and winter breaks. She gleefully boats about her strong familial ties which are easily facilitated through the close proximity all extended and immediate relatives have to one another.

Influenced by her physical environment, Antigone describes her early self as extremely active, an aspect of her childhood that guided her to become a now twenty year old collegiate cross country and track athlete at Occidental College. While staying active is a large part of Antigone’s identity as it helps condition both her physical and mental health, having the space to be creative and design art also constitutes a large portion of her free time. She tributes this creativity to the international school she attended in her elementary years. This environment provided art sessions everyday, a stark contrast to her high school experience in which art classes were offered once a month. 

When asked if she considers herself to be a feminist, Antigone excitedly replies, “Yes! I consider myself to be a feminist. We should all be feminists”, exactly replicating Chimamanda Ngozi's simple yet revolutionary words. One aspect of Antigone’s life that led her to this confidence in her stance as a feminist is the relationship she observes between females, their bodies, and food. After learning about her friends in high school who struggled with disordered eating, Antigone came to conceive that “the main aspect of feminism that I’m most passionate about right now would be like this area of disordered eating and like body standards for women specifically, it can happen to anyone...and the more people I realized struggle with this like no one talks about it and it’s way more common than we think and eating disorders have the highest death rate of any like mental disorder too, like higher than depression. So yeah and people don’t really talk about it and in nature it’s really secretive”. 

Certain parts of women’s bodies have been strategically territorialized for scrutiny and controversy within political campaigns, religious institutions, and daily interactions. Lacking in the conversation of women’s bodies is an analysis of the relationship between women, food, and the effects this link has on mental and physical health. Because of this, calling forth the recognition of the various factors that contribute to a woman's sense of self appreciation serves as a political and rebellious act. Antigone acknowledges the secrecy behind eating disorders and relates it to the opaque attitude that has traditionally been taken to address this disease. In doing so she reverses what has typically been dedicated to the private sphere and forces it into the public. By addressing this issue openly, Antigone also alludes to the role of heteropatriarchy in this realm as, “[b]y virtue of acculturation and socialization in a sexist society, women’s lives were and are different from most men’s. Whether women have played out public roles or adopted the traditional female role in the private realm, their lives have been governed by ...a special rhythm” (Gluck, 3). This rhythm refers to the manufactured pressures produced by heteropatriarchy to look certain ways, to confine bodies, to hide struggles, and to contain the possibilities of consciousness building. Speaking out battles these predetermined rhythms by elevating the space for women to form a collective in order to address the systems of power that unequivocally enforce themes of female oppression. Antigone begins to uncover these necessities in her interview.

The topic of disordered eating/body image is one in which Antigone relays she feels the most comfortable with posting about on social media as she has extensive knowledge on the subject. Identifying as a politically active person who draws inspiration from social justice issues, she finds herself frequently called to bring awareness to problems on social platforms. A large portion of her foundation of her feminist consciousness stems from her reflections on her own positionality in relation to speaking up about subjects. Antigone assesses which spaces she can speak up about while simultaneously takes a step back and recognizes in which spaces it is more constructive for her to excuse herself from a conversation. While seemingly confident in her social media presence and the areas of discussion she takes part in, Antigone describes the anxieties she feels when she posts about her sexuality online. This could possibly be due to lingering trauma from her parents dismaying reaction to her claim of queerness. 

Coming out to her parents, Antigone expresses confusion over the lack of positivity emulated after her identity claim. Seeing as her family frequently invites other gay couples to their home, the absence of acceptance for her own sexuality seems disorienting. “Well it’s different when it’s your kid,” her mother responded when Antigone felt comfortable sharing her queerness. Acknowledging the existence of prejudice in her own family Antigone describes how notions of acceptance can be tried when confronted by difference, “So I feel like-like even if people appear really like accepting we have a lot of ingrained thought patterns that actually like-have more bias than we think it does and when someone isn’t very close to you are fine with it and then all of a sudden like yeah one person and you’re like woah what”. Sexuality thus becomes a currency, an exchange system that is utilized to bestow or to recoil trust, familial ties, and acceptance. Despite claims of her family’s liberal stances, her mother’s words exhibit ways in which prejudice manifests in all persons’, proving, “[c]constructed notions of sexual behavior and sexual identity have become primary organizing categories for many key aspects of social life including but not limited to marriage, family, politics, religion, work and education” (Ingraham, 2). Antigone’s excerpt exposes the heterosexual imaginary, as it presumes itself to be organic and natural; a structure that stands on its own before any else. Her mother legitimacies heterosexuality as a social institution that policies others and creates hierarchical binaries. These binaries work against Antigone and her queerness “[b]y giving primacy to sexual behavior in these arrangements, [which makes] secondary all other factors in various human relations-intimate, platonic, or formal” (Ingraham, 2,3). Her mother upholds “relations of the body” higher than other categories of interaction. 

However, Antigone fights the infrastructure of heterosexuality through describing her coming out narrative. In detailing her interactions she deconstructs androcentric bodies of knowledge and points out the hypocrisy of heterosexuality. Even though her mother’s words echo themes of a historical denial of lesbianism as she, “accompanies the persistent refusal to acknowledge the variety and intensity of women’s emotional and erotic experiences”, Antigone combats this notion through her story (Cook 60). Antigone refuses simple binaries and pushes against austere dichotomies of heteronormativity. Her willingness to share her history invaluably rewrites the ways in which sexuality gets to exist. Since “[o]ral hisotry is a critical element in all of these revisionist histories, if not a centerpiece”, she begins to denature the normativity of a heterosexual constructed center and instead promotes the reality of multiple positionalities (Gluck, 67). 

Despite the earlier passage on her sexuality, most of the interview centered around topics of eating disorders, body image, and self esteem. This came as a surprise as I expected Antigone to talk more directly on topics of her queerness. Even with a preceding relationship base of teammates/friends, reasons for a concentration on other topics could consist of a hesitation to open up about deeper past trauma in relation to her sexuality, or a general greater interest in matters of the body. At a particularly interesting point near the end of the interview, Antigone asked me a question. This act alone inverted the researcher to participant relationship, and I even felt my face blushing as I got to experience the vulnerability that accompanies being asked intimate questions.This moment of reversal seemed to me a point of transference, a comfortability in the relationship that the hour of talking had enhanced. Any formalities that existed before that melted away and the interview truly became a conversation piece; dialogues between two friends about similar pressures felt to have certain body types in sport. I believe our similar positionalities including race, class, and status as runners helped to coax a moment in which Antigone felt as though the barrier between interviewer could be dissolved as, “the subtle cues to which culturally similar women can respond might mean the difference between a good and bad interview” (Gluck 7,8). The presence of these cultural similarities possibly aided in the degree to which Antigone felt comfortable transgressing the typically highly valued duality between the opposite research positions. Of course, the haunting distress about the feasibility of discursive danger that rests within the researcher’s position solely as a writer cannot be ignored, “[l]ocation and positionality should not be conceived as one-dimensional or static, but as multiple and with varying degrees of mobility. What it means, then, to speak from or within a group and/ location is immensely complex” (Alcoff, 16,17). The potential that a researcher has within oral history proves to hold some epistemological power that could impact the interviewee as well as any subgroup or identity they claim. The misrepresentation within language must then be carefully avoided,  and the construction of subjects should be presented in a way which acknowledges these hazards. Of course, even with these precautions in mind, it is not feasible to create a subjective recount of one’s history. Even so, Antigone embraced the interview process and kept an open minded attitude all throughout the questions, and even stayed ten minutes after I had stopped the recorder to continue our conversation about body image and self esteem. 

                                                                                Works Cited
​​​​​​Alcoff, Linda. “The Problem of Speaking for Others.” Cultural Critique, no. 20, 1991, pp. 5–32. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1354221.

Gluck, Sherna. “What's so Special about Women? Women's Oral History.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, vol. 2, no. 2, 1977, pp. 3-17. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3346006.

Ingraham, Chrys. Thinking Straight: The Power, the Promise, and the Paradox of Heterosexuality. New York ; London: Routledge, 2005.



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