I am completely and utterly overwhelmed by the response I’ve gotten from “The body I have.”
On the one hand, I keep checking my stats with ever-widening eyes and a grin that I can’t quite get rid of. “People…are actually reading what I wrote? They like what I had to say?”
Then my introversion comes out, and I think, “I’ll just hide under a rock for a while until they all go away.”
And then my depression and anxiety kicks into high gear, like it has right now, and I frantically feel like I’m a fake and everyone will hate me if I’m discovered — until someone brings me back to planet earth with a reminder like this:
And now I can breathe a little easier.
Why did I write that piece in the first place?
I’ve been asking myself that a lot.
I think it boils down to me being sick of our culture.
A culture that scrutinizes women’s bodies or appearances and proceeds to make judgment calls about their very persons. Fat? You’re lazy and gluttonous and stupid and need to put the Cheetos down. Skinny? You’re vain and anorexic and stupid and need to eat a sandwich. Dress fashionably? You’re shallow and insipid and wasteful. Dress comfortably/unfashionably? You’re hardened and arrogant and simple.
A culture that thinks that women exist for the sole purpose of pleasure, whether visual or sexual. Women in public spaces are subject to sexual scrutiny in ways that men in those same spaces almost never are. Wearing something that shows any skin whatsoever? If you’re a man, you’re probably just warm and dressing for your comfort. If you’re a woman, you’re an easy slut, asking for attention. Wearing something that covers you from head to toe? If you’re a man, you’re probably just cold and dressing for your comfort. If you’re a woman, you’re a frigid prude and need to loosen up. A man jogging down the street shirtless is barely noticed. A woman jogging down the street in sports bra or tank top and shorts gets cat calls and leers. Same people, same space. Different sex, different expectations. The man may mind his business. The woman is expected to perform.
A culture that takes the above even further when it comes to matters of sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment. A culture that doesn’t understand that you can’t touch a woman sexually without her expressed permission. Being married does not give someone permission to your body. Being drunk does not give someone permission to your body. Being asleep or unconscious does not give someone permission to your body. Being afraid for your life or well-being does not give someone permission to your body. Knowing the person does not give them permission to your body. Being naked does not give someone permission to your body. These are things I never, ever, ever heard until the past 2 or 3 years.
A sub-culture in which I spent most of my life that believes itself to elevate women to a higher level of respect and honor, but still teaches that women “belong” to their husbands, are more easily deceived, are weaker, are unfit for leadership, are expected to obey like children or servants. If unmarried, these women must answer to their fathers, until they are “given” to their husbands. To remain unmarried is seen as a sign of an unsubmissive rebellious spirit. They must be pure, they must be silent, they must be sweet, they must be kind, they must endure abuse without a word, they must never “allow” themselves to be in “compromising” situations, they must shoulder the blame for the lust and desire and sexual sins and even sexual crimes of their brothers in the faith. None of this may be intended, but too many of us have felt this weight, and it cannot be the yoke that is easy to bear, the burden that is light.
These cultures, these systems of thought, are pervasive. Good people with good intentions perpetuate these systems unknowingly without understanding the consequences.
But these systems do have consequences.
For me, those consequences included extreme self-hatred — of my body, my personality, my entire existence. They included a deep shame that I still can’t shake — shame over my weight, shame over my breasts and hips, shame over my sexuality (because, oh yeah, women aren’t supposed to be sexual creatures, only sexual objects). Confusion over whether I wanted to lose weight to be attractive finally to someone anyone on earth, or stay fat so I wasn’t a temptation to anyone (not that PCOS gave me much of a choice on that one). The belief that I had to be thin in order to be considered a non-embarrassing love interest.
There are so many things that I never knew until recently. Things like the following:
- It’s not okay to comment on someone’s body if you don’t have the kind of relationship with that person that it’s mutually agreed that it’s okay. In fact, it’s rude.
- It’s not okay to comment on someone’s health if you are not involved in their healthcare or they have not asked for your input.
- It’s not okay to touch someone without their permission.
- It’s not okay to make fun of someone for looking differently than you want them to look.
- It’s not okay to treat women like they are incapable of intelligent thought, self-care, basic and more-than-basic ability to reason and act and make decisions and lead and live.
And the other day, when shopping for pants that fit my size 20 belly and butt and thighs, the ridiculousness of my thought processes and memories and experiences hit me so hard. And I tried to dismiss them, and tried to dismiss them, until finally I thought, “I’ll just jot down a few thoughts to clear my head.”
The more I wrote, the more it all came together. I saw the system of fat-shaming at play from my youth. I saw the system of purity culture and modesty doctrine from my teenhood, that directly fed into my guilt and pain from being assaulted and the victim-blaming that takes place when people wonder if perhaps clothing or actions invited such an attack. I saw the system that told me that I as a fat woman was inherently worthy of less affection, less love, less respect, less dignity.
And it finally, finally, for the first time in my life really and truly hit me that I have the body that I have and it’s okay. And I am the person that I am, and that’s okay. And I am a woman, and that’s okay.
I am okay.
I am almost 26 years old. It has taken me this long to learn that I deserve respect, in large part due to the systems I just talked about.
These systems affect real people. They have deeply affected me.
And that is why I wrote that post.