Commanding One’s Vessel

It’s time women reclaimed their bodies

By Melissa Stefanec

I am about to write some contentious things. If you are the sort of person who likes a spirited opinion piece, read on. If you are the sort who is easily ruffled, tired of hearing about women’s issues or fed up with all the women’s movements occurring in our society, please also read on.

Feel free to get annoyed with me. If you must be irked, wait until the end of this article to get fired up.

I can handle that, because you heard me out, and that counts for a lot these days.

For women, there are some universal truths. One is that our bodies are not merely for ourselves. Most men (and I say most not to marginalize, because there are exceptions to every generalization) have the distinct privilege of their body being their property. They get dressed each day only for themselves. They get to make impressions with their personalities, not their looks. People generally treat men based on how they treat others. As a woman, I am often judged by my aesthetics, and the rest of my being is diminutive.

Most men don’t worry about stretch marks, makeup trends, the hottest wardrobes, counting calories, a little bit of belly fat, whether or not they appear too conservative or too easy, whether or not they will be taken seriously based on their physical appearance, whether or not an associate’s touch was creepy or a thousand other matters that are related to aesthetics and being a woman. Most men wake up, go about their lives and use their bodies as vessels. They command their bodies and use them to get things done. That’s it, and that’s exactly how it should be.

As a woman, it’s very hard to not worry about those thousands of things.

It’s difficult to command my own vessel. From the time I was a little girl, people (women and men) have dwelled on my appearance. I’ve been taught that my appearance is a very important part of me because, for many people I meet, it nearly defines me.

Having a body define a person is petty, but it’s a daily occurrence. Looks matter in a way they shouldn’t, and that is especially true for women.

And, the saddest part is, to some degree, I was OK with all this. I had accepted it as a women’s lot in life. I am loud, sassy and a fighter, but even I fell victim to the status quo.

Now, I have two beautiful children and I think about things differently. More than ever, I want to improve myself. A better me means a better world for them. I am no longer OK with the status quo; it’s time for a shakeup. It’s time women reclaimed their bodies.

Here is where you need to hear me out. They need to reclaim them from men. They need to reclaim them from women. They need to reclaim them from themselves. The world needs to turn the conversation away from how women look and start talking and thinking about them like they do men. I am not just talking to the guys out there; I am talking to all of us. We can do better. It’s called progress, and it’s gotten us this far.

If we can’t reprogram ourselves, because old habits die hard, we need to raise our kids better.

We can start small.

We need to stop talking to girls about their appearance. Challenge yourself to ask a little girl what her favorite sport or subject is. Challenge a little boy to take no as his answer the first time he hears it. Ask a little boy what makes him smile. Take whatever you usually say to one gender and say it to the other. If it sounds reasonable, keep saying it.

Challenge yourself to not ask about appearance when it comes to prospects in a kid’s burgeoning love life. Instead, ask if a prospective partner makes them feel happy and safe. Challenge yourself to be a role model. Don’t comment on people’s appearances, whether they are your family or perfect strangers. No matter the relation, focus on a person’s deeds or misdeeds.

Talk to your kids about how people make them feel, not what people look like. Because, let’s face it, it’s not what someone looks like that keeps you up at night.

I have this crazy idea we should all feel safe in our skin. We should be judged by who we are and what we do. I owe it to my kids to teach them they own their bodies. Their bodies are here to transport their souls around this beautiful earth. Their bodies aren’t here for anyone else’s pleasure or displeasure. Their being cannot be boiled down to aesthetics. If we can impart this on our kids and get it through our own thick skulls, this world will be lighter for our efforts.

No one owes another human being anything when it comes to the way we look. We need to get over appearance, because, at its best, it’s fleeting and a really unsafe bet. It’s nearly useless, unlike character. We need to remind ourselves that after we are gone, we will be defined not by what our bodies looked like, but what they accomplished while they we here. How will you judge the women in your life? How will you judge yourself? Will you command only your vessel?

Thanks for reading.