I am livid.
Here’s a cliche I am amazed you still cannot grasp: you are not entitled to my body. You are not entitled to measuring it, ranking it, giving or taking value from it. Your evaluation of how I look is certainly not something I should be concerned with, but your words are so biting, so cruel that they crawl their way in, steadily hammering away at security and self-respect and pride.
I want to be brave. I want to possess a cool non chalance that allows your unforgiving assessments of my body to roll of my back like water off wax. I can certainly disguise my discomfort when you call out crude observations about my hips and my thighs. But I go home to a mirror that now exaggerates every bit of my body I hated to begin with. I go home with the feeling that I am, despite the power of positive self-affirmation, simply not enough.
I want to float out of my body. I want to dip into the bodies of people on every end of the spectrum and just once, feel entirely satisfied. How would it be, I wonder, to live in a world where your body is neither a source of pride nor a source of pain? Where your body isn’t carved with markers of character, of ability, of sexuality? It seems sometimes that the white body is the only one left untouched, interpretable by the owner rather than the beholder. Everyone else is left playing a game of catch up, trying to lighten the skin, stretch out the torso, flatten the hips, shrink the thighs, sprout hair that has the ease and silky sheen of the blonde, the brunette and, on occasion, the diversity hire redhead model.
For we all want to be desirable. We quell that desire the moment we realize our bodies simply cannot conform, take on the shapes we want them to. We pretend not to care, laugh off the callous comments that make us cringe and glare at our bodies with horror, swallowing the urge to hurl accusations of insensitivity in an effort to seem chill. But the unease lingers long after we decide against standing up for ourselves, leaving us subdued and vulnerable.
Why should I be ashamed that your words hurt? As though your insensitivity and ignorance is somehow a result of my inability to fit the mold you see me in. It is hardly my prerogative to absorb your assessments of my body while you continue to spew vicious, undermining opinions with the careless ease of a slave owner who has every right to dictate how the people around you should look.
Here are the things I didn’t ask you: whether you like makeup or not, what I should wear to make you happy, your opinion on cleavage, your opinion on my thighs, YOUR FUCKING OPINION ON MY BODY. It is a lump of flesh; your gaze makes it an object, a source of shame. If I choose to aesthetisize my skin, you are not the audience. If I choose to wear clothes that express an identity you feel uncomfortable around, walk away. If I choose to let my body embrace its form instead of trimming away at the hedges to suit your fantasies, don’t look. The female body has been colonized, violated, written over, hidden, over exposed, sexualized, erased from history. Whether you acknowledge it or not, your words are a part of this tradition of objectification.
How can you disavow rape culture without ridding yourself of slurs on the body? The expectation that your constant reminders of the inadequacy of my body are just to be brushed away are a covert extension of the expectation that you can sexualize and harass me and I should just learn to deal with it. And yet, none of us are comfortable being that person. The prude who calls people out for mild humorous objectification. The insecure female stereotype that can’t handle a subtle dig about skin color or breast size or weight.
Why aren’t we all that person? Why do we choose to let taunts and insults and skin deep assessments of ourselves go by unchallenged? As a culture, we have consecrated being “low maintenance” and “chill”, touting these words to dismiss emotion and anger and hurt. It is our collective weakness: we are ashamed of strength. But words sting and torment and oppress. They are the knives we refuse to shield ourselves from. We must fight. This is no longer my struggle, it is ours. We cannot allow our bodies to be a canvas for others’ judgement. Raise your voice, even when your instinct is to retire into the mild, submissive mould reproducing a hierarchy that muffles the female voice, ensuring that she continues to endure abuse without complaint. Raise your voice when you are hurt, belittled, angry and be proud of those emotions because it is your right to feel, not theirs to question your worth.