Guest Post: I Will Not Be Ashamed

by Injete Chesoni

By DefyGravity

(DefyGravity just graduated from BYU in theatre education and history teaching, and just had a huge success with her show “To Thine Own Self Be True: Being Female at BYU.” She’s an avid reader, anglophile and she’s been a raging feminist since she was in junior high, which fortunately hasn’t scared away her husband of two years.)

My beautiful, talented, brilliant 23 year old sister who faints at the sight of needles just told me she almost had a breast reduction.  She had the money, the appointment, the day off, a ride from a friend, the medication, everything. She backed out at the last minute, but I feel like somone just punched me in the stomach. Why? Why would she feel like that is necessary?

I want to cry when I see women who feel they need to change who they are to be beautiful, to be loved and accepted. Like my roommates who were unable to leave the house without makeup, or my mom when she says she doesn’t want to go to my wedding because she looks terrible in every dress she tries on.  I yell at the TV when I see commercials that tell women that they are fat, their skin is wrinkled, their hair is gray, their teeth aren’t white, their lashes are short, etc. etc. But don’t worry, they have a product to fix that! Once you fix your weight, skin, teeth, hair, whatever, you’ll be happy and people will accept you.

On some level, we all know that we are worth a great deal. We hear and quote “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” One of the Young Women values is Indivudial Worth. We know we are daughters of Heavenly Parents that made us the way we are and love us for who and what we are. We have family and friends who love us even when we’re cranky or haven’t shaved our legs. But do we actually believe that? Do we walk out our front doors without feeling ashamed? Are we proud of who we are,  how we look? Our bodies, as well as our minds and souls were divinely created. Do we treat and appreciate them as such?

There is a fine line between doing something because it makes us happy and doing something because we believe we have to in order to be worthwhile. There is a difference between wearing makeup, cutting/dying your hair, etc. because it makes you happy and doing it because you feel worthless without it.

I am tired of being ashamed. I will walk out of my house in the morning and enjoy who I am. Over the past year I’ve been trying to do that by sheer force of will.  So my question is how do we reclaim the right to decide the changes we want to make as opposed to letting someone else decide the changes we need to make.

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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33 Responses

  1. Macha says:

    AWESOME. There’s a difference though between changing your appearance because you don’t like yourself, and self-expression, using your body as a blank canvas to make something unique and beautiful of. I hate the idea that people think they need to change something about their bodies, as if there’s something wrong with being a little different.

    • Pamela Lee says:

      I have been fighting my battle with my lips. It is so embarrasing to say anything to anyone right now. Exspecially to a world full of people who may read this comment I am making. But since i was a little girl I have been told that my lips are big, wrinkled, and ugly. I don’t have to tell you what that did to my self esteem. I was told this by my own mother, relatives, friends, and etc. Even if a person never said anything about my lips i would see how they felt the way they wiped they’re mouths, put on chapstick real fast. They would look at my lips as though it look horrible. People would get away from me. I am sometimes ashamed to talk to people, go outside, even sitting on my porch can be a problem.. I would love to have surgery on my lips, but i am too too poor to ever get that done… I live a sad and depressed life not because i struggle with everyday issues anyway but because worring about my lips in public is another added problem that i have to deal with everytime i go out the door its very frustrating a hurtful what should i do.. I am extremely ashamed of this..

  2. jan smith says:

    I’m assuming from your post that you’re sister was planning this breast reduction solely because of her appearance. Alternatively, my poor sister would like a breast reduction because her sizeable breasts cause her physical discomfort and require more support than anyone should have to provide.

  3. Caroline says:

    DefyGravity, thanks for this post. So much of what you write reflects how I felt about myself, particularly when I was in my teens and early 20s.

    One of the nice things about getting older (I’m approaching my mid 30’s now), is that I don’t care nearly as much about my appearance as I used to. When I was younger I was convinced people were looking at me all the time, and I wouldn’t leave the house without makeup. It all seemed like such a big deal, and there’s a freedom now in not worrying so much. Not that I don’t have some angst about the 15 extra pounds I carry — but I don’t beat myself up about it like I would have 15 years ago.

  4. Chyla says:

    I get what you’re saying, and I think it’s an important point. But, like the comment above me notes, a breast reduction isn’t necessarily to look a certain way. In my case, I had a breast reduction because it was hard for me to move and I had a significant amount of back pain that never went away … because the weight of my breasts never went away. I hated laying down in bed because my breast tissue would push up toward my throat and make me feel like I was suffocating. There was no comfortable space for me. Getting a reduction gave me a new quality of life. Anyway, if your post had focused on breast augmentation at the beginning, I would have been with you the whole way. I just needed to point out that putting breast reduction in the same category as things we do because we’re ashamed … well, it doesn’t work.

  5. DefyGravity says:

    Jan Smith and Chyla: I’m in total agreement. I know women who’ve chosen to have breast reductions for similar reasons, and I understand that decision and respect. My sister was doing it solely because she thought it would give her self confidence, because she felt her worth depended on how she looks. I might also point out she has an eating disorder and has spent years convinced that her worth was based on how she looks. That is what worried up; that she couldn’t love who she was and was making decisions to alter her body based on a belief that she had to look a certain way to be loved and to be worth while. Clearly that is not the case with all plastic surgery decisions. My concern is with the reasons decisions are being made, not the actual decision. I’m sorry if that was unclear.

    Caroline: I agree that much of this is an age thing. I see my high school students convinced that the world is looking at them and I applaud anyone who can move beyond that. But not all women, at least those I encounter, outgrow the belief that they need to look a certain way and place a great deal of their worth on how they look. My mom is in her 50s and still feels bad about herself because of her appearance. She knows no one cares, or says she does, but still feels like she is less worthwhile then other women who she thinks look better. She knows she is smart, she knows she is talented, but for some reason her confidence and appreciation of herself doesn’t carry over into her physical appearance. It is interesting and sad to me the disconnect between confidence in so many areas of our lives and lack of confidence in physical appearance, and how many people believe that no matter who else they are, if they don’t look a certain way they aren’t worth anything. That was probably a run on sentence. Sorry!

  6. Jessawhy says:

    This is a great post. Since I’ve started teaching group fitness classes last year I think about my body more than I used to. This actually surprises me, but it’s probably because people comment on it more often. Last week a new student in class found out I have three children and walked right up to me and put her hands on my waist (it was a little weird, I admit). I’m realizing that some people compare themselves to me. This shouldn’t be weird because I did that comparing for years when I attended the classes, but it is strange because I’m still just ME. It’s also weird because my family of origin is not very healthy (they struggle with serious obesity) so I still feel that connection to my body image.

    I have a healthy body (not magazine worthy), and I feel good in my body most of the time. Despite this, I still have self-esteem issues about certain features (ahem 32 AA?) but I try to tell myself what I tell my students. “Your body is a result of genetics, hormones, diet, and exercise. Some of those things you can control, some you can’t. Be happy with your body!”

  7. Amelia says:

    The glorifying pre-pubescent and teenage female bodies as the ideal of beauty is what drives me bonkers. I find the idea of a Brazilian wax, for instance, completely disgusting because it holds up a pre-pubescent body as sexually attractive and I just can’t wrap my head around the notion that a hairless little girl body is what men find attractive. It just seems perverted. And it annoys the hell out of me that our society’s beauty myths idealize body types that are much more typical of teenagers and women in their early 20s than the curvy bodies more common to mature adult women.

    And anti-aging rhetoric makes me insane. I think it’s terrible that we have this notion that a woman is only beautiful if she looks young. No gray hair. No wrinkles (a botox frozen face is somehow better than an expressive one that shows age). Unnaturally perky boobs as a result of implants. Clothes and/or make-up that are more appropriate for girls and young women. Makes me positively batty. In the post I did on modesty last month, I referenced Jennifer Moses and the piece on modesty she wrote for the Wall Street Journal, in which she said that she lives vicariously through her daughters because she’s at an age where she’s no longer attractive to men. And then I watched her video interview and she’s a striking, attractive woman. Somehow the fact that she has gray hair and is pushing 50 makes her no longer attractive. That just made me nuts.

    I will never dye my hair. Never. For no reason. Because I refuse to believe that the gray that started showing up in my hair when I was 16 is unattractive. I could wake up totally gray tomorrow at 35 and I’d have no problem with it. I rarely wear make-up because I usually can’t be bothered. It’s too much work. But when I do, I range from minimalist to all decked out, depending on my mood. I dress my body according to my own tastes and not according to trends or to what I think will make me look “right.” I simply do not believe that being beautiful has much of anything to do with conforming to externally imposed standards. I’m frankly not really sure how I got here, but that’s where I am. Most days I think I’m a fairly plain woman. Occasionally I am pretty or cute and once in a while beautiful, but mostly just plain. And that’s okay with me.

    • Stella says:

      Amelia–this is only ONE of the reasons I love you. And I feel like I’m learning so much about the woman I am hoping to be from you! Thank you!

    • kmillecam says:

      I think about this a lot, about how I fit into the construct. I value and love my body, even as I am in the midst of healing from weight gain and hormonal fluctuations from pregnancy and poor diet growing up. I love Health at Every Size, wearing makeup, not wearing makeup, bright red hair, natural hair, wearing the same three outfits for two years, watching The Devil Wears Prada for all the designer clothes. I am contradictory about this all the time. But the underlying paradigm is “what is okay for me is okay for ME”. It’s my body, so I get to ultimately decide what to do.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Amelia,
      I wonder about the societal attraction to teen bodies/hairless women and think it might just be another fad. Doesn’t the ideal of beauty come and go?

      My sister recently started to diet and when she started losing weight (after having a baby and breastfeeding), she said, “I don’t like how bony my shoulders feel. I feel like I’m losing the curvy voluptuous goddess body that men have painted for centuries and instead taking on a little girl body.” Her comments were very insightful for me. (she is still very curvy and beautiful, tho)

  8. bookofarmaments says:

    Awesome. I love this post – I am at the same place. I cannot believe that the cosmetic industry makes billions of dollars every year by telling women they’re not good enough.

    I will walk out the door like this, too. It has been a work in progress for several years, but I can finally walk out my door without makeup and in my pajamas and feel beautiful, because I am beautiful as a person, not based on what’s on my person.

  9. jen says:

    Thank you for this post. A friend of mine just wrote something similar on her blog. http://rochelle-believe.blogspot.com/2011/05/on-my-way-to-work-today-i-heard-subway.html

    This past year has been a big one for me. I rarely wear makeup anymore. When I do, its because I want to. Sometimes its fun to get dressed up. But I don’t need it to be beautiful. I love ME! Who I am is nothing to be ashamed of!!

    I also love being around others who have that same love and respect for themselves. It just feels GOOD.

  10. Ann says:

    This is something, at age 29, I am totally trying to figure out how I really feel about my appearance and how it relates to my self-worth. I started life as a girl who loved dresses, tea parties, and purses. By second grade I did a complete 180, and wore only boy clothes and was constantly playing basketball. In my teen years I became heavily involved in ballet and modern dance…trying to fuse my tomboy years with something more “girly” was, well, awkward to say the least. Now I find I can get pretty confused as to why I have a bit of a spending problem when it comes to clothes…I doubt my motives. I wonder if I would feel good about myself if I didn’t have certain clothes. I wonder if I do indeed feel like I’m only “worth it” if I look a certain way…OR do I really like things that are beautiful and well-made and feel a little artistic with my plain-“natural”-well-tailored clothes? I wonder how much I am subconsciously a victim to advertising (of course I am a victim! Who isn’t?). I think that since women are the most targeted consumer group (and it starts at birth), and we are the largest consumer group, that it seems almost impossible to escape body-image/self-worth issues.
    I have often so desired to meet a woman who has totally accepted who she is and who would teach me her wise ways. It seems so impossible to separate myself from such terrible advertising…I don’t have TV, don’t buy magazines, etc…but somehow I still feel the effects.

  11. Stella says:

    I like wearing make-up. I don’t do it everyday, but I like it. I don’t feel I need it and I feel my worth is not tied up in it. I like wearing dresses a lot and sometimes even high heels. I like dyeing my hair lately. I just like it. But I am also checking in to make sure I’m doing this because I want to and not because I feel it is needed to be accepted my a sea of invisible men.

    My breasts are not perky anymore. I have gone back and forth about getting a breast lift, but I worry that it won’t end there and then I’ll want to get that tummy tuck to go with my perky breasts and then I’ll want to get those wrinkles taken care of and etc. etc.

    My sister who had breast implants is now focused on getting lipo on her thighs (even though they are stunning). I just feel like these surgeries can often be more of a cover up than any make up ever is of a poor sense of self. But really, what does a good sense of self look like? I sought to find one in the church, but LDS men were MUCH more judgmental about my looks than any non mormon I have ever dated. I always felt that maybe it was because they had so many eager choices?

    • DefyGravity says:

      What does a good sense of self look like? That’s the $10 million question. How do we analyze and understand our motivations? Thanks for your description of the dilemma; it’s very accurate in my mind. And as for Mormon men being judgmental, I’m with you. Most of the men I dated before my husband deserve to be hit with a rock. (Ok, that’s mean, but you get the idea.) Love the comment!

  12. Amy says:

    Great post. We as women spend way too much time comparing ourselves to others. I don’t see anything wrong with trying to look your best- within reason…I try to leave the house well-groomed, you know, dressed neatly and with some makeup, and hair curled or neatly pulled back. However, if time is an issue, and I need to get somewhere and I haven’t had the time to groom myself properly, I have found it’s not the end of the world to show up at Target in my workout clothes with no makeup. As with most things, it’s about moderation. It’s important to take care of ourselves, but not to be obsessed. But, as pointed out earlier, our culture is so obssessed with looks. Many industries have found that if they cater to our insecurities, they can make lots of money! For me, sometime when I am tempted to be critical of my physical body, I start thinking about some of the women who I like and admire the most and think about what they look like. Most of them wouldn’t be on the cover of a magazine. However, they are very attractive and likeable. But, what brings that attractiveness is definitely more than skin-deep, although you can see that when you just look at them. I guess some of that comes from how they carry themselves and smile. Those things come from WHO we are and not just what we look like. When I think of that, I am more likely to think about how I am treating and interacting with others than what I look like or what they think I look like.

  13. Emily U says:

    Last month I gave up having negative thoughts about my body. It was my fast for the month. I’m currently nursing so I can’t fast in the traditional way, so I borrowed an idea from a friend and decided to give something up for the month in lieu of fasting. Every time a negative thought popped up, I just pushed it out. I was surprised at how successfully I could do this, if I set my mind to it. I had a happier month, and actually had an easier time eating right because I didn’t engage in the vicious circle of eat crap, feel bad, eat more crap. I wouldn’t have guessed I could break that cycle by choosing not to feel bad about my body, but it worked!

    • DefyGravity says:

      That is fantastic! Thanks for sharing! I love that just choosing to change thought patterns worked for you (as it generally does for me) and the idea of giving up things other then food as a fast is awesome. I love that idea!

    • Jessawhy says:

      This is brilliant. I’m going to post it on Facebook!

      “Last month I gave up having negative thoughts about my body. It was my fast for the month.”

  14. Amber says:

    This is something all women should consider. Thank you for bravely sharing this.

  15. proud daughter of eve says:

    A couple thoughts.

    1) I’m reminded of an anti-fur ad I saw awhile ago. It said “love the skin you’re in” and had a bare super-model who was only a few steps away from being the skeleton in an anatomy class. I was struck by how UNlikely it was to help the average woman love her own skin.

    2) I never bother wearing make-up to church any more. I had a couple of wake-up calls. One where I missed church because I wasn’t “ready” in time – then I thought “wait, are you really refusing the Sacrament because you don’t have your MAKE-UP on?” and was so mad at myself. Then later at a church function one of the older women made a comment about how she never leaves the house without make-up and she wouldn’t even come to church with out it. It makes you think. I can think of a few scriptures where women are taken to task for wearing fancy hair and clothes and wearing make-up – when did it become mandatory to wear those things instead? If God looks on our souls and not our appearances, why do we think He needs us to wear make-up?

  16. Corktree says:

    I’ve lost 30 pounds recently, and even though I have 40 left to go to pre-pregnancy, I feel great in my body again. I’m sure part of it is the *extra* weight in a certain area 😉 but for the most part, I love my body and what it can do, for me and for others. Naturally I’ll be happy when the rest of the weight comes off, but I’m surprised at how at ease I am with where I’m at. It’s a wonderful feeling, not hating how you look, but it has also made me acutely aware of the negative views that others have of themselves around me and how obsessed they are with appearances. As comfortable as I am with myself, it makes me uncomfortable to hear women at church talk constantly about their weight, or other’s weight (if they notice someone lost), or even just clothes and jewelry and make-up. From some people, that’s seriously all I ever hear them talk about, and I know it would be very difficult for them to understand accepting less than *perfect*, but I really wish they could. I want to believe that no one else cares about my body, but it makes me sad to realize that may not be true and that there are people judging me based on external factors. ( Especially when someone judges my health based on my pant size – that bothers me to no end; skinny does not equal healthy)

    • DefyGravity says:

      I’ve had a similar experience. Many of the performers I work with are obsessed with how they, and everyone in their program, looks. It was frustrating to try to carry on a conversation, and just felt depressing to hear people diminished to the candy bar they ate that day or the make-up they chose to wear. As though all that matters was the perceived negative physical aspects of a person rather then their numerous positive physical aspects and good qualities.

      It’s interesting to hear you say that other people are judging you based on how you look. And I agree that is irritating as all get out. But one question that I have, and haven’t really been able to answer is, why do we care? If someone says something rude, why can’t we simply tell them they’re wrong or dismiss them? Why do other people’s opinions, or perceived opinions, of us hold more weight then our opinions of ourselves? Why do others get to define who we are instead of us defining ourselves? It’s so second-nature that I’ve only just become aware of this, but it’s interesting when you start to examine it. If anyone has an idea, I’d love to hear it.

      • Corktree says:

        Honestly, I think it bothers me more that this type of superficiality is perpetuated, rather than knowing someone thinks bad of me because I’m overweight. I’ve often wondered what is at the heart of appearing good looking to members of the same sex – at least outside of same sex relationships. It seems like the biological need to be seen as attractive that is behind our drive to lose weight and wear make-up shouldn’t apply to our friends and family, but it does. Why is that? Shouldn’t we (biologically speaking) only care what our mates, potential and otherwise think? It baffles me a bit, especially since I find that I put a lot of stock into whether my mom notices my weight loss, or what her reaction is to me saying I might not try so hard to get all the way down to my ideal weight, that I could be happy with a little extra. I don’t know where that comes from, but as happy as I am with myself, and as happy as my husband is with my current body, it’s still there. Maybe it will eventually disappear altogether, but for now, I’m working against it by trying to *act* more confident in my skin and outwardly show that I’m happy, so that other women around me that are self conscious for no reason will feel like they can be truly happy with what they have as well.

        In fact, I went to dinner at a neighbor’s on Sunday, and she invited another family with a woman that she said was self conscious about her weight. But when I saw her, she was not very overweight, and I thought she was beautiful, but it was clear that she didn’t think so and was hiding her body. Now, I don’t love my arms just yet. I’m working on toning them, but I’ll admit the flabbiness bothers me. But in this case, I decided not to wear the cardigan I had with me, and made an effort not to care about how my arms looked. I wanted this woman to see that it’s okay to show yourself and expect to be accepted, that you don’t have to hide your flaws. I think it’s more women being brave and open about the parts they may not accept in themselves that might allow us all to accept ourselves and others more fully.

  17. Mercedes says:

    i love what kmillecam says:

    what is ok for me is ok for me.

    to me being a feminist means supporting women in the choices that they make for themselves. questioning womens decisions to have plastic surgery, spend enormous amounts of money on clothing, or try to loose weight so they feel more comfortable in their skin, all seem kind of paternalistic…..like we know better what will help them to be fully actualized happy women.

    we don’t. they probably don’t either–but having the freedom and support to try different things out seems more fundamental to developing confidence than that women come to a certain conclusions about their bodies and appearances.

    and just a note about breast reduction. if you’ve got a big chest…..you probably think about it a lot (or at least i did). nothing fit quite right. i was constantly worried about being immodest. working out (and not feeling self conscious because my chest was bouncing around) was only possible if i wore two or three sports bras (which hurts!). sometimes my back hurt….but for the most part i was just so painfully self conscious about the way i looked. i felt like my chest was taking over and there was no room for me!

    at 21 i had a breast reduction. not obessing about my chest all the time means i have the time and space to think and work on things that are helping me become the woman i’d like to be (including one who is not totally consumed by her appearance). surgery isn’t always the best solution to these kinds of problems—but it can powerfully and positively change the way we think about ourselves. just my experience though.

    • DefyGravity says:

      I agree that we don’t have the right to tell other women what will make them happy. Of course what works specifically for one person won’t work for another. But generally, examining why we are doing something can be helpful in determining if it will actually make us happier. My sister knew that this surgery wouldn’t make her happier. (Incidentally, she’s probably a 32 A, so her motivations were likely not the same as yours.) She knew it wasn’t something she really wanted to and that it probably wouldn’t improve her self image. But on another level, she believed that she needs to fix herself and turn herself into what she thinks other people expect her to be.

      So again, making decisions that you know won’t make you happy because you think you’re supposed to or because you believe others want you to is the problem in my mind. We often can’t know why other people are doing what they are. (Occasionally though, with those close to us, we can tell that they are ashamed and it is heartbreaking.) But we can analyze our own decisions, we can decide to feel good about ourselves and do things because we feel good about them, not because other people do. And we can try to show other women that they can be proud of themselves without changing anything, like Corktree tried to do. For me, being proud without any changes give us the freedom to make any changes to ourselves we want. We can be confident that we’re doing it for ourselves, for fun or to try something new, not because we believe that we must or because we are trying to feel less ashamed. And helping others be proud of who they are doesn’t have to infringe on their right to make their own decisions, nor does it mean we believe we get to tell them what to do.

    • kmillecam says:

      Thanks Mercedes. This is also the way I feel about feminism, to support women in the choices they make. It’s as simple as that sometimes. For me it boils down to something that I have heard in feminist circles regarding bodily autonomy and choice: “my rights end where your begin” and vice versa.

  18. Jesse says:

    My mother taught me a powerful lesson about my body when I was 12.

    I was starting a new school and needed a new haircut, so she got out the scissors and started cutting…and cutting…and cutting. “It’s a little uneven,” she would say as she moved from one side of my body to the next. By the time she was finished, I had a crew cut.

    The second day of school, I heard the whisper. All of the 6th graders were standing on the blacktop for P.E. when someone pointed at me and asked, “Who is the cute new boy?”

    My mom took me to buy some really BIG earrings that night.

    I can’t remember if I was horrified or thought it was really funny at the time. But, I did learn that people “read” my body to learn about me…and sometimes they do a pretty bad job: I had dreams of breast reduction surgery even then–the cha-chongas slowed me down when I swam.

    While I haven’t gotten my mastectomy, I do get my hair whacked off every two years or so. It’s kind of fun to have a radical change, and if someone mistakes me for a man…well, that’s nothing new.

  19. EmilyCC says:

    DefyGravity, thanks so much for this reminder.

    I hope you’ll write again soon about your show 🙂

  20. Ove Kristian says:

    I can easily understand why women and young girls reducing their large chest. Not only backproblem, but alså teasing, stares from the public and cruel comments from jealousy girls who dont have a large breasts. People can be evil.

  21. Raoman Smita says:

    I hope women would appreciate the way they are. Awesome writing, very inspiring 😀

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