Social media exploded over the past two weeks with justified indignation over the sentencing of Brock Turner, a rapist who assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, to only six months in jail, which will in all likelihood only be three months. The case sparked a conversation in mainstream conversations that feminists have been begging to have for years, and suddenly you see men and women alike joining to voice one simple truth: Women’s bodies belong to themselves – truly and completely autonomously – and nobody else has a right to them. Period.
The woman who was victimized by Turner wrote and read a letter to him after his sentencing, and her words touched millions of people with their rawness and unflinching honesty. And while her letter focused on her very personal experience as the victim of a sexual assault, its sentiments also sparked broader conversations about our culture and how it perpetuates violence against women, not just in obvious examples such as rape, but in how we shame women about their bodies, impose strict dress codes on school girls, and often blame women when they become the target of unwanted attention.
I thought a lot about how – or even if – I should address this on my site. Curiously enough, I felt compelled to finally sit down and edit a poem I had scribbled a few weeks ago. I hate writing poetry. Really. Truly. Hate. It. But every once in awhile there’s a line or idea that I can’t get out of my head, so I exorcise the demon and put it down on paper so it will leave me alone. So, here it is.
I want arms as toned and defined
as hours spent holding babies
or time competing on the tennis court can make them.
I want legs that are strong and powerful
from hiking through shadowed forests
and swimming in the lake on steamy summer afternoons.
I want a stomach and core that are stable
so I can hold a plank pose for six whole breaths
and swing my preschooler upside down by his ankles ’til he giggles.
Is my body a temple?
I don’t know.
But I know it’s a vehicle,
the only vehicle I have for traveling through this life:
From the wondrous, energy-filled days of girlhood,
when I’d run so fast my heels would slap against my butt
just for the thrill of the wind in my face,
when I ate candy and sweets until my teeth protested with cavities,
but my ribs still jutted from my torso in excruciating detail.
To the languorous, wisdom-filled sunset of a life well lived,
when I can read books and poetry without stop
and know from experience both the ecstasy and agony they convey,
when I can have wine and chocolate truffles for breakfast
because my body’s only remaining duties are to savor and enjoy.
I know very well my body is not a commercial,
a TV ad offering false promises of true love
but only if your stomach is flat enough,
or a magazine cover with the alluring promise of acceptance
but only if your skin and make-up are perfect.
And I know damn well my body is not an object,
a hollow receptacle for someone else’s pleasure or power trip
or a magic elixir for a bruised and battered male ego.
My body is a vehicle
for my passions.
My tummy, its skin now soft and elastic
with the subtle folds hugging my belly button,
will never sell low-fat, high-protein shakes or two-piece swimming suits.
But it housed and protected two new lives that mean the world to me,
more than the admiring glance of a stranger I’ll never see again.
My thighs, with their terrain of dimples and stretch marks,
haven’t been smooth since before puberty,
and they’ll never convince you to buy expensive creams or lotions.
But they sprinted hard and fast through competitive seasons of tennis
far more exhilarating than the jealousy of other women.
My hips are expansive, wide and stable,
swathed in unfashionable layers of flesh,
and they’ll never inspire you to buy designer jeans.
But they birthed my sons with an awesome grace
worlds more empowering than fleeting popularity.
It’s my body, you see.
Mine. Not yours, or my husband’s, or the neighbor’s down the street, or my friend’s, or my parent’s, or my congressman’s or senator’s, or my midwife’s or doctor’s, or my teacher’s, or a Supreme Court Justice’s.
My body is mine, a blessing bestowed on me by the goddess herself,
not for your approval,
but so I can live – passionately, joyfully, exuberantly –
eating, strolling, making love, exploring, creating, stretching,
and filling my cup until it runs over with the chaos
of this too-short, gone-in-the-blink-of-an-eye life.
It’s my body, you see,
nothing to you, but everything to me.
And with it I’ll live the story of my life:
Playing hard and fierce, leaving the boys in my dust.
Waiting impatiently for transformation, delighting in long-awaited curves.
Discovering newfound pleasures, shattering in their intensity.
Creating life, art, and memories that will one day be my legacy.
It’s my body, not a mirror.
There’s no self-knowledge for you at my shrine.
Worship and indulge your body as you see fit,
and I promise to delight in your mastery and confidence
in how you rule your own kingdom, as I rule mine.
They are our bodies, with expiration dates unknown.
In the end, our skin will be too big to contain us,
wrinkled like used tissue paper after the gift has been opened.
Our hair will be snow white and so thin that the sun shines through it,
as invisible and iridescent as spider webs.
Maybe we’ll mourn, but I like to think we’ll celebrate:
The meals we enjoyed, the adventures we survived, the people we held close.
And then, when our bodies are at their frailest and most vulnerable,
we’ll simply feel gratitude for their years of service,
no longer worrying about if our breasts are sagging or
if our butts look good in skinny jeans.
Just thankful for all the life we got to live
because of our bodies.
A special thank-you to a friend who gave me a copy of milk and honey by rupi kaur for my birthday. I happened – very serendipitously – to pick it up this morning and read it cover to cover, and the sheer courageousness of it gave me the final push to share my own words, as feeble as they are by comparison. Rupi kaur’s poetry directly speaks to recent conversations about women’s bodies. I encourage you to check out kaur’s work and think about the story that your own body has to share.