I don’t look like Actress McSuperstar.
I never have, and it used to break my heart. I have wept many, many times over the course of my life because of the state of my body. I wanted a flat stomach so badly. I wanted smaller boobs and a perky butt. But neither my body, with its so-called “flaws”, nor Actress McSuperstar’s “flawless” body shields us from the inescapable public judgment, of our bodies as well as our souls. As a ten year old, as a teenager, and as an adult, I’ve constantly been jerked out of my everyday life, out of my private sphere, by some asshole who’s decided to let me know that he (or she) has the right to cast judgment on the body I dare to carry around with me. The way it moves, the way it wears clothes, the weight it carries, the character inside it. My body is visible, and if it has caught someone’s attention, therefore I must be showing it off/be a slut/be asking for it. My first reaction to public judgment or qualification or appreciation of my body has never yet been anger. It has always, ALWAYS been shame. Shame that clings to me for hours, days, years. “I should never have worn this.” “Dear god, what was my body doing to merit this?” “My body is wrong.” “I am wrong.” “I am shameful.”
Please help me fight the shame, Internet. I want my first reaction to be anger, righteous and almighty. I want to wear a bikini to the beach because it’s comfortable, dammit, and not spend the whole afternoon sucking my belly in or fretting over stretch marks. I want to wear figure-flattering clothing and towering heels without worrying about riding home on the subway. I want to go into a lingerie store without feeling like I should apologize for my size. I want to dance and laugh and love and be joyous without “giving someone the wrong idea.” I want the women around me to do the same.
I herewith refuse to “get the wrong idea” about someone else.
I will not respond when the magazines gleefully implore me to judge (and condemn) the Actress McSuperstars of the world.
I will not participate in body-bashing conversations, about other people or about myself. I will acknowledge if I’m having a day where I’m feeling badly or I’m struggling with body confidence, but I will never give voice to outright contempt or self-judgment.
I will not discuss another person’s weight or figure or any changes thereto. Period.
I will not criticize the “appropriateness” of a stranger’s clothing.
When we talk about this public judgment/evaluation and catcalling, it goes beyond “ooooh, poor me, I’m so attractive and all these peons keep distracting me with their compliments.” Let’s be clear: I am not talking about friends who compliment an outfit, partners or lovers who tell us we’re beautiful, or a co-worker who likes our shoes. I’m not even talking about a stranger who passes us, makes eye contact, smiles and says “I just wanted to tell you that you look beautiful today.” There’s a difference between “you are beautiful” and “I should be fucking you”. I’m talking about the invasions, the assaults, the internalized criticisms. The whistles and leers that come even if we’re on our way to the pharmacy in sweatpants and unwashed hair. The voice in our heads that says “Mom/Friend/Coworker/Celebrity says she hates her butt? Gosh, I wonder if I should hate mine.” These are dialogues that are omnipresent, overwhelming, and insidiously powerful forces in women’s worlds. These are dialogues we can reject, and we must, so that our daughters’ first reactions will never, ever be that burning, tearful, silent shame, but will instead be anger, righteous and almighty and wonderful.