From a young age, girls are given guidelines on having a voice and having a body, a firm set of “should’s” and “shouldn’t’s,” like there’s some published book of rules for girls & women.
Don’t sit like that.
Lower your voice. You’re making a scene.
Act like a lady.
Suck your stomach in.
Pictures? Skinny arm, pop a knee.
Boys don’t like a girl who swears.
Be active, but look presentable.
Be strong, but not too muscular.
Be thin, but not too thin.
Be curvy, but not too curvy.
Girls are constantly bombarded with these often conflicting rules. Some we’re told directly. Some we pick up by osmosis. We’re also assigned labels. Some we like. Some we don’t. Some we can change. Some we can’t. Some we can’t change but still want to.
Let me tell you about labels that have been applied to me.
I remember the first time I was called fat. I was in first grade. I was on the playground with my family. There was another boy there. I jumped off a railing and scraped my knees. This boy who saw me fall told me that the reason my knees were so scraped up was because of gravity — because there was so much of me pulling me toward Earth. Before that day, I hadn’t assigned any labels to my body. Nor had anyone else. This was totally foreign to me. Before that day, I had a body. It was just a body.
I also remember the first time I was called too skinny. I was 13 years old and being consumed by my eating disorder. My mom’s friend told me that I would make a good model. She praised how much weight I’d lost since the last time she saw me. Tip: Don’t say this to someone. Ever. You never know what’s happening in someone’s life. My mom shared with her friend the reason I’d been losing weight. And then the conversation changed. Suddenly my thinness was cause for concern.
I spent many years battling an eating disorder. I was controlled by labels, by numbers, controlled by a voice that would never let me win, controlled by a need to look to my weight, my body shape, what I ate, and my exercise routine to feel like I was enough.
I don’t remember a specific day or a specific period in my life, but gradually I started to realize that my body & any labels associated with it do not define me. I started to see the arbitrary nature of labels I’d assigned to myself or that had been assigned to me by others. I started to see that I was enough & that my “enoughness” was not contingent upon my weight or shape, rather it was innate. I realized that the size of my jeans won’t matter when I graduate college. It’s that accomplishment that matters. I realized that how much I weigh won’t matter when I get married. It’s that celebration & the memories that I take from this day that matter. I think we’d all agree with the logic in all of this — that these achievements & milestones matter more than how we look or what we weigh. But sometimes logic isn’t enough. Even if we agree that there are way more important things in life than our appearance, we still seem to get caught in this cycle of negative self-talk & this relentless urge to change our bodies. It’s hard. We live in a culture that keeps bringing us back to seeing our bodies as objects to be viewed, as problems to be solved. As far as I’ve come, I still find myself playing the “should” & “shouldn’t” game and riding the waves of my journey toward body acceptance. The key for me, and what I see as being important for others, has been developing a shield to help me fend off a culture that is out to bring me down. But what’s also been so impactful for me is seeing myself as more than a body.
I am more than a body. We are all more than our bodes. And we are capable of so much more than we realize. But we’re stifled, beat down, and utterly exhausted from the constant monitoring of our bodies & worry about how we are perceived by others. The guidelines we feel bound to hold us back from creativity, success & leadership roles, focus, and joy. Join me in tossing the rule book out the window. Join me in believing you are enough just as you are. Join me in being more than a body.
by Taylor Stout
Junior at University of Kansas – Major: Psychology, Minor: Sociology