My Body Is Art; You Cannot Ruin Me

My Body Is Art; You Cannot Ruin Me

A love letter.
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I do not tolerate catcalling, discrimination, or oppression. That is to say, I have no problem retaliating against those who oppress me. However, I am no ice-woman, with the ability to freeze bigots before harsh words can escape their mouths. The words still come, they still sting, I just choose to fight back.

I was leaving work several days ago when an older gentlemen approached me. My guard instantly goes up whenever I'm approached by an older white man, but I was still at work, so I painted my face with feigned optimism and agreed to speak with him. He told me he is fascinated by American culture. I wasn't quite sure what he meant. This is when he asked the question.

"Do your parents care that you look like that?"

I felt my voice rupture in my throat. My knuckles turning white; ash.

"What do you mean?"

I instantly became aware of my pink hair wrapped into a printed head scarf, my visible tattoos, heavily powdered face, and large septum piercing.The aspects of my appearance that reflect my cosmic insides, that decorate my body and reflect my spirit.

"The nose ring, the hair, all the tattoos. Do your parents care?"

I felt myself becoming uneasy. Aware that I was still in my workplace, speaking to a stranger. Knowing that if I were on the street, I would not tolerate this blatant disrespect towards my body and appearance by a man who I'd never met. My stomach churned with all the lives I wish I'd lived, all the people I wanted to shrink myself into who were not as big of a target for ridicule.

"No, I don't think they care."

I withered under the weight of what I wanted to say. To bellow at his right to question my appearance. His white misogyny that was never considered radical or different.

"To be honest, I'm very intelligent and driven, and I don't think my appearance changes that."

I wondered why I cringed complimenting myself in the face of someone who had just degraded me. I was not brought up to boast my talents, skills, or accomplishments, but I felt like I had to prove my worth to this man who'd only based me on my outward appearance.

"How old are your parents? What do they think about this?"

I gulped, recalling all of the arguments I'd had with my mother over my nose piercings, my affinity to inking visible places on my skin, and how my hair looked much better as a natural dark brown.

I gulped the powder residue on my lips, the purple lipstick, the bold, overdrawn eyebrows. My face beneath the makeup splotched with constellations of scars and discoloration. My harsh contour a sharp reminder of the tongue beneath my cheek.

"My parents are in their fifties."

I don't know why I continued to answer his questions, satisfy his curiosity. I felt like I could not get up, could not escape his bigger, whiter, older grasp around my tongue. His assumption that only young people, young parents would support a child who wanted to look so "obscene".

"Interesting. I'm fascinated by how parents raise their kids these days."

My fists crumbled. My inner cheek bleeding from a hard bite.

I remembered the early high school girl who barely ate to keep her body bony. Who bleached her hair and clipped in weave, shrinking into dresses that exposed her inner thighs. Her legs the fragile limbs of trees. Her tongue a leaf, afraid to hold weight. The swallowing of air instead of food, the loss of appetite, the hollow.

I am heavier now. Fifty pounds, scarred, stretched, ridged with mountains of cellulite. My skin has saved me from every time I tried to destroy it. My skin has held together the avalanche, the sandstorm, the grief. I decorate myself with jewelry and color and makeup and tattoos and I look lived in. I have never been more content with this beautiful, broken body.

I thanked the old white man, and walked away.

I did not retaliate, did not claim my body as a holy space, did not cast away his hyper-masculinity with my earth shattering body positivity. I said nothing. I answered his questions. I stayed silent while his words stung my insides.

It is impossible for women to always remain strong in the face of what society has taught us to succumb to. The male gaze. The opinions of others. The standard of beauty of being numb, of being holy, of being untouched and unpierced and unaltered. The "natural". The silenced. The good-behavior-cut-tongue-short-breath-weakness.

My parents taught me to listen and respect elders. I taught myself not to sacrifice my worth to endure toxic masculinity and disrespect that threatens my spirit. I am unapologetically unique, I will not change. I am not afraid to question anyone who threatens the security of my palace heart. Sometimes, my tongue will be too heavy and I will not find the words to say. In those times, I forgive myself.

If you dislike my body, I understand. Everyone has a different opinion of art. I will continue to live in my it, decorated like a Pharaoh's tomb. I am magic, I am dawned in grace. I am nineteen years of rebirth, of growth, of shatter. I am more than the colors I paint myself with. I am more than the words that have haunted me. I am more than the dirt, than the grief, than the hurt.

To My Body: I am sorry for holding my tongue when I should have spoken. I promise I love you. I promise I'm still here.

Cover Image Credit: Selma Wo

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17 Empowering Bible Verses For Women

You go, girl.
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We all have those days where we let the negative thoughts that we're "not good enough," "not pretty enough" or "not smart enough" invade our minds. It's easy to lose hope in these situations and to feel like it would be easier to just give up. However, the Bible reminds us that these things that we tell ourselves are not true and it gives us the affirmations that we need. Let these verses give you the power and motivation that you're lacking.

1. Proverbs 31:25

"She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future."

2. Psalm 46:5

"God is within her, she will not fall."

3. Luke 1:45

"Blessed is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her."

4. Proverbs 31:17

"She is energetic and strong, a hard worker."

5. Psalm 28:7

"The Lord is my strength and my shield."

6. Proverbs 11:16

"A gracious woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth."

7. Joshua 1:9

"Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

8. Proverbs 31:30

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised."

9. 1 Corinthians 15:10

"By the grace of God, I am what I am."

10. Proverbs 31:26

"When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness."

11. Psalm 139:14

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

12. 1 Peter 3:3-4

"Don't be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God."

13. Colossians 2:10

"And in Christ you have been brought to fullness."

14. 2 Timothy 1:7

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline."

15. Jeremiah 29:11

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. 'They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'"

16. Exodus 14:14

"The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm."

17. Song of Songs 4:7

"You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way."

Next time you're feeling discouraged or weak, come back to these verses and use them to give you the strength and power that you need to conquer your battles.

Cover Image Credit: Julia Waterbury

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A Florida House Committee Is Undermining Your Vote On Amendment 4

Before felons can regain their right to vote, they must pay court fines, fees, and take care of any other "financial obligations." Essentially, this is a poll tax.

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Amendment 4, also known as the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative, was added to the Constitution of Florida after being passed this last midterm election on November 6, 2018.

Amendment 4 restored the voting rights of Floridians with prior felony convictions after all terms of their sentence have been met, including parole and probation. This amendment only applies to felons who have not been convicted of murder or sexual offenses.

On January 8, 2019, an estimated 1.4 million ex-felons regained their right to vote. This is monumental. Prior to this amendment, Florida was one of four states that used felony disenfranchisement. Amendment 4 gives voice, and rightfully so, to felons who have served their time. Amendment 4 is also putting to rest, finally, years and years of disenfranchisement and suppression.

Now, only two months after its passage, the House Criminal Justice Committee is trying to water down this piece of legislation. This is a direct violation of the will of the 64% of Floridians who voted for the legislation as is. This amendment was not to be "clarified," as Governor DeSantis put it, but rather to be self-implementing.

However, the House Criminal Justice Committee proposed a bill that would tack on some extra qualifiers in order for felons to be enfranchised. The bill will require court fines, fees, and other "financial obligations" (in addition to fees administered in a judge's sentence) to be paid in full before a felon's voting rights are restored. This seems awfully similar to a poll tax to me. Obviously, this is going to affect people without a lot of resources rather than white-collar criminals who can afford a $500,000 bond.

This new qualifier will prevent felons from voting based on the money that can be coughed up as if they don't have to worry about their finances long after they leave prison.

Some may argue that these felons shouldn't have committed a crime in the first place. However, I would argue that holding a felon's vote hostage on the basis of money is unconstitutional.

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