I am going to tell you two personal stories that exemplify (for me) what it means to be a woman in the world. These stories aren't dramatic. Instead, they tell of mundane and everyday acts that slowly and cumulatively take away our power and value; cultural norms that have transformed me from a tree-tall and capable person into a petite and invisible girl.
I was an All-American College Basketball player. When my team from Muhlenberg played Alvernia in 2007, I scored my 1,000th point. The game stopped and the crowd cheered. There were flowers and balloons and pictures, however, this is not the memory that remains. I remember the man, 10 feet away, who yelled “BUT YOUR STILL UGLY!” ...I remember the instant deflation I felt and re-reading this now, it still demoralizes me. How did he do that? How, in one sentence, was this person able to take away all of my achievements and success? In that moment of stopped time, I knew that I would only ever be a Women’s Basketball Player and that any other achievements I made would always be framed by my gender.
The second story is about my hair. Which I stopped doing for a year. I was a new mom chasing a two year old with two jobs, no childcare and a tight, functional, unattractive mom-bun. No shits given. This story is about the way I was treated after I started to do my hair again, and why I hated it. When we finally got child care and I started a new job, I picked up my former hair routine. In the small act that involved a blow-dryer and brush, I gave up the self that I love. People stopped treating me like a capable person and started treating me like a girl.
While this might seem over-exaggerated, the difference in how I was treated was stark... and speaks to the routes of everyday sexisms. Let me explain further. For months people exclaimed how beautiful I looked. And, I loved it. At first. Those affirmations of my value felt like a drug I’ve craved my whole life and can’t get my fill of. But there it is: How has my intrinsic value come to be tied-up in a value-statement that is out of my control?!
This all-encompassing female beauty valuation that has been imposed and taught, and thus is malleable. I hope that when my daughter gets tattooed/pierced/haircut/smelly/hairy, will I applaud her anti-beauty rebellion because I know it’s more than a teenage fancy. There is value in disengaging from the beauty-regime-culture that politely keeps us in our place.
For myself the struggle is more internal; an act of freeing myself from everything I’ve been taught makes me a woman, stand naked and alone and feel love, value and power.
“In a society that profits from your self doubt, loving yourself is an act of rebellion.” ~ Caroline Caldwell
And so I tell my daughter. You are enough. You are valuable. You are worthy. Being beautiful is not important. You are healthy. You are Strong. You are Powerful.
I am taking her today to the women’s march and am thoughtful that maybe equality is not something we ask for but something we give to ourselves first, teach and then demand from others.
Naked, we can redefine womanhood for one’s-own-self and live in our strengths together.
The irony that I am a photographer in an industry that espouses unrealistic and subjective forms beauty, gender and race is not lost on me. In future, I will try to bear more responsibility for the images and rhetoric I personally exchange with the world.
I have also included a link below to this article which I think is brilliant titled: Everyday sexisms and what to do about them https://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/10-everyday-sexisms-and-what-to-do-about-them_b_5635019.html
Image by Jim Wilson for the NY TIMES