By Adele Stewart
When I was a little girl, maybe six years old, a boy my age looked at me in disgust and asked, “Are you a boy or girl?”
As a kid, I had very short hair. I was a chronic hair-twirler, and as punishment for having to get knots cut out of my curls every month, my mother had her hairdresser give me a pixie cut. I also had an odd shape when I was little. I had chicken legs and arms, but a bit of a belly and the same baby face that I’m sporting today.
A lot of boys made fun of me for the way I looked, but what can a six-year-old do about her image except continue to live in it?
When I was 13 years old, one of my classmates, a boy, looked at me and said, “You’d be really pretty if you were skinnier.”
This message resonated in me for longer than it should have. I had flashbacks and memories of his deep blue eyes looking into my large hazel ones, and it was as if they too were telling me I was fat and ugly.
When I was 15 years old, I was a size 10 in pants, medium in shirts and a 36B in bra size. I ran every day, did 50 crunches and 50 squats every night before bed, and drank green tea for breakfast to make room for a bagel with peanut butter at lunch.
During a make-out session in his car, an older boy from another high school, grabbed a feel of one of my bra-covered breasts, pulled away and said, “Your boobs are so small and palm-able right now. I can’t wait until you get older and really grow into them.”
When I was 20 years old, a size 12 in pants, a size medium in shirts, a size 36C in bras, and an hourglass frame, the boy I was dating picked me up by my small waist and said, “Everything is being marketed toward curvy girls now a days, you would make a killing in modeling.”
I remember telling him, “But I want to go into Public Relations.” He laughed and said, “Yeah but sweetie, in case that doesn’t work out for you, you could be the spokeswoman for a different kind of woman. Just think about it.”
While I’m all for a positive movement in body image, the idea that I contributed nothing to the world but a body shape was greatly disturbing.
I have always been treated like the man’s opinion of me was supposed to matter. I have spent nights sobbing over my image, not because someone else didn’t like it, but because that someone—who had no right, by the way—had made me feel like I wasn’t supposed to like it. My size and weight was never going to be good enough.
As I got older, people stopped treating me like I was insignificant because of my weight and my shape. Instead they started to bring me down for another reason—because I am a woman.
Let me quickly address the fact that I am not “today’s feminist.” I’m not here to bash how other women practice feminism, but I don’t think I’m fighting the same fight that other women are. I don’t look to celebrities to be my “feminist guidance counselor,” nor do I partake in Twitter arguments about Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump. I don’t jump at every opportunity to run around screaming, “YOU’RE TREATING ME UNFAIRLY. YOU’RE A WOMAN HATER” because someone has questioned my authority.
I call myself a feminist because I have been mistreated simply for the fact that I am an intelligent and hardworking woman who might even be attractive.
I call myself a feminist because I have been told to essentially emasculate myself since the beginning of time. I have been told how to become more of a woman and a less of a success story.
I call myself a feminist because I have been trained to believe that I am worthless to society and that my only mission is to be an object of sex, or to sit at home and blog while my pie for my husband’s office party bakes in the oven.
I call myself a feminist because I have been expected to aspire to a husband who is a doctor or a salesman. A man who kisses me on the forehead for making him breakfast, before he pulls away to work in his BMW from our four-car garage. I am expected to sit at home with the kids or take a hot yoga class, or go on coffee dates with other women of my caliber.
I call myself a feminist because I have been told how to wear my hair and makeup or what type of clothing I should wear to make myself more appealing.
I call myself a feminist because I have had young women at interviews and internships, look up to me with stars in their eyes, as if being a woman leader is some sort of feat.
In the office, I have had my opinions and my intellect questioned because I may be inaccurate.
Sometimes, I feel like I’m screaming the correct answers in someone’s face, as they are Googling their questions or accepting answers from my inexperienced coworker, who just so happens to lack breasts and an internal reproductive system.
I have been told that some male clients might not respect me because they don’t believe women should be in the work place.
I’ve been asked to create presentations for another person, a male, to give because he might have “a greater impact” or “louder voice” than me.
I have had my male peers and my superiors attempt to walk over me, because they think I’m a pushover. Because they think maybe I am too weak to fight back.
Let me be clear, I do not and will not be depreciated because history has manipulated women to be the “weaker sex.” My value is not determined by the way I wear my hair, or by my soft-spoken approach to introductions. Because I giggle and smile in business meetings, does not diminish the fact that I am there to achieve a goal and land a sale.
All my life I have been told how to be the storybook woman. And all my life, I have fought to be respected. I’m not accepting defeat. I will never succumb to defeat just because I look a certain way or express myself genuinely.
It is key that as a female, I determine and establish my self-worth. It is important I make it known that I am not less of a person because of my God-given gender. It’s necessary to disregard the opinion of someone else if they aren’t conducive to my personal growth and development. I know myself, and I know my worth.
I am not my hair. I am not my weight. I am not my body shape. I am not a door mat. I am not weak.
I am strong. I am intelligent. I am a leader. I am caring. I am friendly. I am extremely passionate and horribly loving. I am goal-oriented and motivated. I am hardworking. I am a threat. I am a woman.
Adele spent most of her preteen years getting yelled at for writing inappropriate romance shorts in 7th grade math class. At 25 she has finally settled into life in Pittsburgh, PA. A project manager by day and local theater actress by night, Adele spends most of her time creating. If she’s not writing tips to get over a bad breakup or using humor to recover from a crappy situation, she is just writing to see her thoughts on paper. She enjoys creating lists, but not list posts; drinking a bottle of wine or three; laughing at poorly executed jokes; yelling obscenities at the refs on TV during Pittsburgh Steelers games; and carbs.