Updated: Oct 22, 2020
Yeah, what have I got Nobody can take away?
Got my hair, got my head Got my brains, got my ears Got my eyes, got my nose Got my mouth, I got my smile I got my tongue, got my chin Got my neck, got my boobies Got my heart, got my soul Got my back, I got my sex
I got my arms, got my hands Got my fingers, got my legs Got my feet, got my toes Got my liver, got my blood
–Nina Simone, “Ain’t Got No”
It wasn’t until this past summer, during the last few months of my 39th year, that I realized how deeply ingrained was a belief I had that my body was not my own, that it was made primarily for a man to enjoy.
I have always remembered a reading from college by W.E.B. DuBois, an African-American Harlem Renaissance author who wrote The Souls of Black Folk. In this sociological work, he explains that black people walk around with what he calls a “double-consciousness,” operating on two levels simultaneously. One one level, they move through the world like people. On another level, they move through the world with the consistent reminder, or consciousness, that they are black. Because wherever a black person goes, he is viewed through a double lens.
Until recently, as a woman, I have also felt the effects of that double lens. I don’t know when it started, but I felt as though my more prominent role in life was to be seen, rather than to see. That I was the object of someone else’s life rather than the subject and author of my own. And this particularly related to my relationships and interactions with men, because there was a sense that I was only good enough, or worthy, if a man I desired deemed me relevant. Attaining his love or attention and admiration would set everything in order, I seemed to believe. His love and adoration and cherishing would right every wrong, fix every flaw within me.
I am sad that I held onto such a damaging belief, not even wholly aware it was living in my flesh and bones. But it is not surprising. It is what we women, through centuries of domination and dishonor, have been told, both outright and implicitly.
Oh, how I hope and pray that my daughters will not fall victim to the same trajectory. How I hope and pray that we can teach young girls a new way forward. But in order to do that, we must acknowledge it, recognize it, heal the wound.
This false belief women have about our bodies, about the very essence of being female, is particularly aflame in those of us who didn’t grow up with a nurturing, warm, solid father figure. Who didn’t grow up with fathers who showed us what it looked like to be a good man, an emblem of gentleness, kindness, and compassion. A father who encouraged us to lead, to be true to ourselves and our instincts, to grow. A father who lifted us up, who demonstrated respect and honor for a woman’s wholeness, for her living into every part of herself.
We have all been sorely lacking in these models, both in family life, in politics, in corporations, and in churches.
So let me tell you the truth, as a way to heal the damage of the past.
Your body is solely, completely, unequivocally yours, to do with what you want. It is whole and perfect and beautiful, just as it was made, no ifs, ands, or buts. Your body may change and grow in all kinds of ways, and that is part of its power, its mastery, and its mystery. Regardless of what it looks like, it is still, and will always be, yours. It is the most special home you’ll ever live in, and it is the home you take with you wherever you go. You can invite people into this home, you can share it with others, but all of that is your choice. Your choice. Yours. Every single minute of every single day of every single breath, into the eternity of breaths you take. Your choice.
You and your body were not made for pleasing anybody else, though pleasing someone can be a cool side-effect. Catering to others’ needs and wants and lusts and desires was not the purpose of your being born. You do not have to alter your body to make someone happy, or “fix” it in some way to get someone to love or acknowledge you. You do not have to open your body to anyone to gain respect and acceptance, for that respect and acceptance already lies implicit within you. You do not have to let someone use your body for their own aims.
Your body is not an object for anyone else. It is the source of your power, and it is your church. It is your temple, your sacred altar.
And no matter what your body looks like, or what your body has been through, God thinks it is beautiful. Every single day. You are not a number to God. You are not a size, or a shell, or an image of brokenness.
And no matter what you decide to do with it, God will always love you and your body.
God’s deepest wish, in fact, is that you would feel the same.