By Heidi Heath – This is a picture of my body in a bikini. My body has been bigger and it has been smaller. I’m currently at a BMI of 24.6. This means my body fits into the “normal” range, although on the high end. My thighs touch, my boobs sag, and my stomach protrude. If this picture were to go viral there would be people calling me “brave.”
I feed my body a variety of foods, usually plant based, often organic. Sometimes I have beer and french fries. I purchase food at the grocery store or the farmers market, both of which I can easily walk to from the condo I’ve purchased with the income from my job as a store manager. Although not a requirement, my college education, paid for primarily by my middle class parents, has been a huge asset to me attaining that position. My comprehension of the English language, both written and verbal, is essential. As a native English speaker with access to computers most of my life I’ve easily been able to adapt to changing job requirements.
My body has access to running water nearly everywhere I go. I can drink, bathe, wash dishes and water plants easily and without fear of disease or parasites. I even get to turn a knob and choose what temperature I want that water to be.
As far as we have come in society and as privileged as I am as a middle class white woman in 21st century America, there is still a large portion of society that tries to control my body.
My body is loved by my husband, who I got to marry by my own free will at the age of 27. We do not have children, by our own choice and because of easy access to contraceptives. Were we to decide to have children I would have affordable access to both prenatal and pediatric care because of the health insurance provided by my employer. Since I’m not pregnant, my body goes through menstruation once a month. This does not affect my ability to go to work since I am easily able to purchase feminine sanitary products. If I were to have a daughter, she would have access to a quality public education, especially because we are fortunate to live in an area with highly ranked schools.
To qualify as brave there has to be risk involved. I am not in danger of losing my job, friends, or husband because I’ve posted a picture of my body on the internet. However, if I were a public figure; an actress, a politician, a business leader or even a blogger, I would likely get comments from people threatening to rape me, possibly even death threats. I would also receive comments from people saying I was promoting obesity (due to the fact that my thighs touch and my stomach protrudes.) Many of those comments would be from women. There would probably also be comments from women comparing their body to my own. Some would wish they looked more like me and some would rather “die” than have a body like mine.
This is why people would call me brave.
As far as we have come in society and as privileged as I am as a middle class white woman in 21st century America, there is still a large portion of society that tries to control my body. Every day I’m bombarded with advertisements promising happiness with weight loss or the perfect pair of shoes. If I choose to wear a dress or shorts in certain parts of the city (even liberal Seattle) I will get catcalled. If I decided to have a baby I’d face serious financial constraints and potentially lose my job and health insurance if I decide to take a longer maternity leave than the currently mandated unpaid 12 weeks.
This is why we still need feminism.
Women, all women, should have ownership of their own bodies. They should be able to go places they want, in clothes that make them comfortable, without fear. They should be able to return to work after childbirth when they’re ready, not out of fear of lost income or job status. When they go to work they should be valued based on their merits, not their appearance. They should be compensated based on their performance, not their gender.
Access to education, healthcare, and contraceptives should be for more than just a privileged few. We’ve come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. United, we can get there.
We can build each other up without tearing others down. We can call women “dynamic”, “innovative”, “empowering”, “intelligent”, “courageous”, “compassionate”, “driven”, “compelling”, and “magnetic”. There are so many more words than “beautiful.” We can also acknowledge beauty in all its many forms, it doesn’t need to be either/or.
We can use our privilege to give voices to the marginalized. We can use our votes and our pocketbooks to steer the direction of our country. We can teach our daughters to appreciate their bodies for the way they bend, lift, run, jump, and climb. We can teach our children to value a woman’s choice of words over her choice of clothing. We can keep speaking, keep fighting, keep loving and appreciating each other.