This post is part of Blog for International Women’s Day.
One of the prompt questions for this year’s theme, “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures” is, “How can we, as a culture and as members of the global community, involve, educate, and inspire girls in a positive way?”
I don’t know the answer to this. I’m not sure anyone can know because, just like adult women, girls are not a monolith. I only know what I wish I’d known, what I wish others had validated before me. For me, this involves being recognized as a whole person — and learning to unpack all of the voices (direct and indirect, personal and societal) that told me I was wrong about myself or that my self was wrong.
And so I invoke that maybe trite artifice of a letter to my former self (let’s say, age 10 or so).
You are entitled to live in your body and to take ownership of every part of your body.
This means you get to use your legs as you see fit — for running, riding, working, lounging. Use them to explore life, to walk away from home (far or not so far, for a little or a long time) if you decide that’s what’s best for you. And ornament them — shaving, not shaving, short shorts, long skirts — as you like, but remember that your legs are more than ornamental.
You are the gatekeeper of your cunt. No one is allowed in without your say-so. When people try — and they will, some will even succeed — they will be wrong, and so will anyone who suggests that you “let” it happen. At the same time, it is okay to share your cunt with any willing partner you want — regardless of third party opinions on the matter. There will be a lot of people who tell you that you should have sex with zero people, or one person (usually, one man, one’s husband), a lot of people, or some undefined and changing number of people that is just enough but not too many. They are not the boss of you, and you are under no obligation to make your cunt fit their Goldilocks definitions of “just right.” You may choose to share your sexuality with (a) partner(s) — and that’s awesome — but it exists for you.
Your gut is right, both physically and metaphorically. The shape of your midsection — no matter how wide or thin, curvy or straight, visibly muscled or cushioned with fat — is totally okay. Deviating from the pictured norm does not make you deprived, emaciated, anorexic, a skeleton — or lazy, slovenly, gluttonous, devoid of self-esteem, or a burden on taxpayer dollars. No one can determine your health simply from looking at the size and shape of your body. And even if they could, it’s not inherently their business.
Your body is not up for public commentary.
Along with your physical gut, learn to listen to trust your metaphoric one. That visceral voice inside of you… Well, I won’t say it’s always spot on in its accuracy, but there is always something there — something meaningful, something relevant, something worth listening to. Learn to listen.
In the same way, learn to honor the expanses and protections of your heart. Absolutely, act on kindness, love, and compassion when it sits right with your heart. But don’t feel like you must give in to pressure — and there will be pressure — to value compassion toward someone else over preservation for yourself. Forgiveness does not mean going back. Learning to love yourself does often manifest in being more able to love others — but love is not a synonym for servitude.
There is nothing wrong with your eyes — I mean, that a good pair of stylish glasses in your late twenties won’t fix. (And the change, it will be miraculous! Street signs will be made of actual letters! THIS IS THE FUTURE.) What I mean is that the way you view the world is a valid, legitimate perspective. It’s not the same as what everyone else sees — how could it be? — but neither is it warped or fabricated. Many people have shared, share, or will share experiences very similar to yours — though no one will share exact set of experiences, and some people who have shared experiences may be too scared to voice them. (You will be, for a while, too.) That does not make them any less real.
Nor is there anything wrong with your brain. This means a couple of things. First, just like the way you see events, the way you process events is not wrong though it may deviate from the standard cultural narrative. (Here is a big fucking hint: The cultural narrative leaves a lot of people out. Sometimes, you are one of them; sometimes, not.) Second, when you work any “gut feeling” through to its logical conclusion, you are probably right, at least as it applies to you. You’re smart, and you’ve already proven this in settings of academics. It holds true in non-academic, everyday life as well: your brain works just fine.
Maybe most importantly, however, there is nothing wrong with your voice. Your voice is just right. Use it. When you discover something you’d like to say, find a way to say it.
Not everyone will listen — their ears belong to them, after all — but some people will be waiting for this. Their ears belong to them, after all.