I see you coming towards me. You are halfway down the block but your eyes have already found me, are on me, taking me in. Roaming up and down a body that is supposed to be solely mine, but that you feel you are entitled to.
You get closer and I realize there’s no way for me to avoid you, that there are too many cars for me to jaywalk to the opposite side of the street at the last minute.
“Hey, beautiful,” you call after I have succeeded in passing you.
I can still feel your gaze following me even as I walk away and I’m not certain if you’ve taken my stark silence as rejection or encouragement. Either way, your words hang unanswered in the air above me. They sting and humiliate me. They follow me as I turn the corner onto the next street, keeping my eyes trained to the ground, willing my legs to move faster than they are capable in order to keep furthering the distance between you and me.
Yes, you called me “beautiful,” but do you think that your jeering comment has raised my self-esteem rather than damaged it? Do you think that I enjoy being objectified and reduced to my physicality?
You probably do, because society is consistently teaching us, men and women alike, that the outside of every woman is what truly counts. Catcalling a woman, a stranger, is not harassment but a compliment.
We do it all the time, every single one of us, when we place sole emphasis on a woman’s outer beauty, acting as if her looks are what should constitute as her substance, as if it is all she has to offer up to the world. As if being attractive makes up the whole of a woman’s self, her personality and spirit and soul. We assume that a woman’s outer beauty is indicative of inner beauty as well. That if she is beautiful, only then is she worthy of good treatment and fairness.
But when you look at me, at any woman, respect her enough to see past her exterior.
The one that society has told her is the only thing that matters, ever since she was old enough to understand. That she must be flawless and desirable, waiting and ready for the consumption of men, even the ones she has never met.
Do not judge her based on the clothes she wears or how much makeup she put on that day, but rather on what is inside her mind. Compliment her intelligence, her passion. Ask her about her ideas and let her know that she can change the world. Comment on her strength, her courage to keep trying in a society that too often sees her as nothing more than the number that flashes before her as she steps onto a scale.
Girls, reinforce your truth, the fact that your outer self is trivial, worthless even, no more than a shell that contains the inner workings of a beautiful mind.
Realize that life is about how you treat others, the lives you touch and the ones that touch you. Remember that each time a man whistles at you as you walk past him on the street, that he does not have the power to control you; his objectification of your body is not the sum of your worth.
You are more than everything the world says will make you whole. More than the Mac foundation you felt you needed to buy on your last trip to the mall, more than the stilettos sitting, unworn, in your closet. Keep reminding those around you that you are intelligent and capable, that you are made of strength and grace.
Remind them that you are worth more than the meaningless statement of ‘you’re beautiful.’