I wasted twenty-five years hating my body.
Before the boys-are-icky stage and damn-he’s-fine, I had my first crush on my next door neighbor. I remember his slightly pudgy middle, taller than I, and delightfully dark bowl cut hair. He was the cutest thing in the second grade. Sitting cross-legged on the brown basement carpet, I told his sister that I thought her brother was cute. I liked him, well, I liked liked him(if you don’t understand the importance of the double like, it translates to crushing or whatever the current vernacular is).
But his sister told me, seven year old me who hadn’t hit her growth spurt yet, I was too fat. Her brother wouldn’t like like me back if I didn’t lose my tummy. And we began jumping jacks and sprints around the basement trying to melt away my baby fat middle. It didn’t work. Next, I snuck Slim-Fast powder and made the meal shakes. Nothing changed. I still had the body of a seven year old girl, but my body had become the enemy.
I spent so many years covering up bulges and skipping meals and crying when boys told my friends: ” isn’t she kinda fat?” When I turned my gaze toward the others girls, single sizes and flat bellies, my body suffered even more. Being the right size became a spiritual issue because my body, my temple was too big. So even God hated my fat body. It was my fault for having large hips and breasts. Being a woman.
I wasted twenty years hating my voice.
Now, I don’t mean how my voice sounds. I have a strong speaking voice; I know how to fill a room with sound. But I learned to hate speaking up for myself. I knew how to keep my head down, follow the crowd led by the outspoken males, disagree in the quiet of my bedroom where I wouldn’t be criticized or listen to some ass take my idea as his own. Quiet became my solace.
My voice shriveled with disuse. Perhaps, fear poisoned it. Fear of being too loud and opinionated, potential husbands don’t like that quality in a wife. I shouldn’t speak up in my college classes because it intimidated the boys, and if I turned in better papers or test scores, I should downplay my accomplishments because men have egos to nurse. But I spoke up too many times and earned better grades and wasn’t missionary/pastor’s wife material. Single became my death sentence, and I licked my wounds teaching English in a so-called “Christian” school. Again, my voice silenced so male agency could take center stage.
I wasted too much time hating myself when I should have poured my fear and insecurity into something bigger than me.
Because in the grand scheme of things, my body, my voice, myself are not the enemy. The enemy is a system of power fueled by patriarchy running rampant in the media, in the church, in our places of higher learning. This power represses engaged dialogue, lies to tender-hearted girl, oppresses the poor. Power corrupts, but we have drunken the forbidden wine and are choking on its poison.
What’s even worse, we have become so blind to power’s over-reaching effects.
We allow normative gender roles to influence how we decide custody of children. We praise a system that defines all women as nurturing mothers, and all men as fathers who just foot the bill acknowledged for their sperm donation. And we say nothing.
We allow the poor to wallow in the in the hope that MAYBE they can do enough to move beyond food stamps and government housing. But the reality? Minimum wage is not the same as a living wage. And we say nothing.
We allow our prison system to overflow with minorities who haven’t had a fair shot at justice. We cross the street to avoid a passing African-American man because society has made us fearful of them. And we say nothing.
We allow rooms full of men to debate if women can have access to birth control and OB/GYN care. Women still are being silenced when they have courage to speak out against their rapists. And we say nothing.
We allow preachers to point the figure at women’s bodies as property, women’s minds only good for the Noah’s Ark themed nursery, women’s voices silenced in discussion. And we say nothing.
We need feminism because too many bodies and voices and selves are being abused, hated, and destroyed. We need to stand the fuck up and say something.
Because women’s bodies aren’t the enemy. Because women’s words and voices and ideas aren’t the enemy. Because the poor and oppressed and the othered aren’t the enemy.
We need feminism because our silence is the enemy. This is what’s at stake for me right now as a feminist to speak against power and repression, to rail and fight against those perpetuating harmful gender stereotyping, to dust off my soapbox and proclaim loudly for human rights.
This is why I need feminism.
I learned to love my body’s bulges and stretch marks and to feel good in my skin. I learned to look in the mirror and say kind words to my reflection. I learned to speak up for myself, for my ideas, for what I believe. And lo, there are men who want smart, out-spoken wives, who have no problem thinking for themselves. Hell, I married one.
This is why I need feminism because I don’t want another person to waste so much time hating herself or himself.