Dear readers, I have a confession to make.
My name is Jay, and I’m an attractive woman.
Maybe “attractive” is an understatement. I’m beautiful. Hot. Sexy. Gorgeous. Stunning, even. Whichever term you want to use, when I look in the mirror, I see a person I find aesthetically pleasing, a body I’m happy to inhabit. I have begun what Oscar Wilde called a lifelong romance: I have fallen in love with myself.
I realise I’m committing a grave faux pas by admitting this. I realise I should be telling you all about my many, many flaws (as helpfully pointed out to me by uninvested bystanders). I should be saying that my nose is a little on the prominent side, or that I’m unhappy with my waistline, or that I hate my smile. Right now, I should be fervently denying that anyone could ever possibly find me attractive (despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, starting with myself), because this is not a society that allows women to decide their own self-worth.
I’m sorry, except that I’m not. I fail to see why the slurred opinions of a random stranger on the street should factor more heavily into the weighing of my worth than my own self-regard. I do not understand why I should be reliant on the assurances of others in order to find myself adequate. I know I’m adequate. I know I’m more than adequate. I have lived in this body every second of every minute of every hour of every day for almost twenty-four years, and I know it is beautiful. I do not need anyone else to tell me.
If you compliment me – and plenty of people do – I will not tell you you’re wrong. I will not be party to my own deprecation. I am a human being with worth, and that worth is self-determined, not decided by outsiders. You do not live in this body; I do. I know it better than anyone, from the few strands of silver in my hair to the tips of my toes. I do not need your permission to love it. I do not need your permission to celebrate it, to use it how I like, to care for it, to derive pleasure from it. As an autonomous human being, I can do all of those things on my own.
It is a bold thing – some would say unseemly – to be a woman who decides her own worth. We are constantly told that we must rely on the of others in the evaluation of everything from our appearance to our intelligence to our talents. We are not good writers or eloquent speakers or compelling performers or brilliant academics or caring mothers or beautiful sexual beings or any of the myriad things we as women might choose to be unless someone else tells us that we are. It is not our place, we are told, to judge for ourselves that we are worthy. We must place ourselves at the mercy of a society that weighs up each part of us and decides whether or not we are up to scratch. Are our breasts the right size, the right shape? Are our legs long enough, our waists trim enough, our lips full enough, our bottoms plump enough for the satisfaction of the jury? Are we sexy enough without being scandalous, clever enough without being threatening, motivated enough without being forward? Are we, autonomous beings regarded as objects designed for the pleasure of others, good enough for our existence in the society that thinks it owns us to be allowed to continue unopposed?
I tell you that I would rather be unseemly than submit myself to the judgement of strangers. They do not live in this body. They do not bear its scars. They do not wake up in it every morning and fall asleep in it each night. They are not me. They do not inhabit my mind. They do not have the unique combination of skills and talents that is mine and mine alone. They are not tormented by my demons. They have no idea – not even a fraction of an idea – of what it is to be me. Why should their opinions matter to me in the slightest?
The truth is that when the judging panel is done with me, when I am released to go about my business relatively unhindered, I will continue to exist independent of their judgement. I am not a work of art or a curio to be displayed upon a podium, analysed by strangers and then left to gather dust. I live. I inhabit this body and go about my daily existence independent of the cat-calls and the unsolicited remarks of people I do not know and do not care to know. The only person’s opinion that matters is ultimately mine. And in my opinion, I am remarkable. I am spectacular, stupendous, fantastic, brilliant, marvellous, wonderful, incredible. I am me. I am the only me there is. I am bright and beautiful and I have so much to offer and I do not need anyone’s permission to offer it. Let the judges scrawl down their scores; I am not performing on a stage for them. I am living this life of mine, in this body of mine, in this mind of mine, for myself. And I do not need them to tell me that I’m doing brilliantly.