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My Body, My Decisions: Empowering Women through the Power of Choice

There has seldom been a day where I have read the news, scrolled through my various forms of social media, or talked to my peers and not felt as if someone or something was trying to tell me how I should feel about my own body. I’ve felt as if society has provided guidelines fot what I should wear, how I should look, and how I should feel in terms of the body that I inhabit. I’ve watched people try to condemn women for being too comfortable with their sexuality and for not taking chances, showing a little more skin, or wanting to experiment in their sex lives more.

However, I know for a fact that I’m not the only girl who has experienced this and honestly, I can’t say I’ve never wrongfully judged another girl for the personal decisions she’s made. In fact, society as a whole is beyond guilty for creating this overarching sense of judgement that women face daily. We shame women for how much they weigh. We shame women for liking other women. We shame women for using their own discretion when it comes to wearing makeup. We’re expected to be the perfect juxtaposition of natural, effortless beauty and glamor. Girls are expected to ‘put out’ for men, but it becomes unacceptable once the woman has control over the situation or wants to experiment with her own body and preferences.

I’m left asking myself, why does society feel the need to tell women what to do with their bodies? Why has womanhood developed into a communal grounds for public opinion? As a woman, why do I feel that the news is a city council meeting to determine how I am allowed to use my own body?

Frankly, I’m quite sick of having to ask these questions everyday. Not only that, but I’m sick of the patriarchal standards that are aimed at hindering women from feeling empowered about our personal choices we make daily about our bodies.

However, what could happen when we allow women to make our own decisions about our own bodies? Crazy concept, right? Imagine a world where we simply allowed women to make personal choices based on their completely valid opinions and experiences. It’s time that society allows women to express ourselves and make our own decisions when it comes to our fashion choices, our sexuality, and our bodies in general, whether they be conservative or liberated. Here are just a few examples of how women are judged for their personal decisions and what you can do as an individual to empower women to own their decisions and make the world a little less judgemental.

It starts in elementary school. At an incredibly young age, women are taught that they are expected to conceal certain parts of our bodies so we don’t threaten the learning process for our male counterparts. Across the nation, there are rules that require women to conceal their shoulders, wear shorts that are three inches above the knees or longer, cover any cleavage, and make sure that our jeans with holes stay inside of our closets.

However, as we get older, we learn that this doesn’t necessarily stop once we get our degrees. Once we venture out into the real world, we learn that business clothes aren’t necessarily designed to be the most flattering to any female body and we’re constantly told to be careful about how we present ourselves through our professional attire when our focus should really be directed at collecting checks and being bosses in our respected fields.

Where can we do better when it comes to empowering women through their fashion choices at a young age? First, why don’t we teach men to stop sexualizing every fashion choice a woman makes and allow women to learn and work in peace? Teach young girls and their body is theirs, what they wear is no one’s business, and that the only person who can sexualize any part of your body is you. Advocate against oppressive restrictions and dress codes in schools that prevent young women from expressing themselves and imply to young men that their education is more valuable than their female counterparts.

As we get older and start to experiment more with our looks, society continues to tell us what is and isn’t acceptable, especially in terms of beauty. We are expected to either have perfect skin or perfectly blended foundation, but it is looked down upon to wear too much or too little. You can experiment with your eye look, use those fun colors occasionally, but you can’t wear TOO much and only when it's appropriate to do so. Being pale isn’t the look right now, so it’s important to get that spray tan, but be careful because NO ONE wants to walk around looking like an orange. While you’re at it, make sure you keep your hair looking like you just walked out of a shampoo commercial. Do all of this and work out for an hour every day while maintaining a carb free, fat free diet, and you may possibly meet society's beauty standards for young women!

Are you starting to see how physically impossible it is to meet society's beauty standards? We, as women, walk such a fine line on what is considered beautiful and it’s as if there is a rule book that outlines the perfect balance of naturally beautiful and put together. Add that to pictures of flawless, fit women telling us their strict diet regimes, intense workouts, and complex skincare routines on social media, and you have a recipe for something terribly toxic within our society that makes girls feel as if their goals are never obtainable, they’re never allowed to reward yourself or let loose, and that they’ll never be as beautiful as the perfectly sculpted girls we see in the media.

This doesn’t just lead to nights on our couches eating ice cream and wallowing in our own self pity about not having the right palettes and not having abs. This leads to so many young women suffering from eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, increased rates of depression in young women, and a brutal sense of competition amongst young girls and we have to do better. Actually, here’s an exercise I have for you. Do you find yourself looking at a girl and judging her makeup or how she didn’t even try today? Sitting in class and notice that your lab partner hasn’t gotten her nails done in weeks? Getting your workout in and find yourself looking at a girl walking at a comfortable pace while her counterparts are running laps? Whenever you find yourself noticing these things, ask yourself these two questions.

  1. Do I know this girl and what she struggles with?

  2. Is it any of my business?

If the answer to the first question is yes, then it is your job to be a supportive friend for that person no matter what decisions they make. Oh, and here’s a hint. If the answer to number one is no, then the answer to number two is always no. End of story. Remember, your conception of beauty is drastically varies from your female counterparts and what you deem as beautiful should only motivate you towards your goals and inspire you to express yourself on a daily basis. End of story.

Finally, women are constantly facing infinite judgement about the choices they make pertaining to their sex lives. Whether a girl doesn’t have sex or has frequent different partners, someone always has something to say about how a woman’s sexuality. It’s evident in our government, it’s evident in our streets, and it’s evident in our society as a whole. I could go on and on with statistics and numbers. I could explain the risks of not teaching women and men about safe sex and how shaming women for their sexuality can make it so much harder for a woman to be proactive and selfish about what she wants with her partner(s). I could even explain to you you how exploring your body, trying new things,  and experimenting with different partners in a safe manner is completely healthy. However, at the end of the day, it is none ones business as to what any woman chooses to do with her body. Period. It’s that simple.

If you ever feel the need to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body, realize that you are doing nothing but dragging this individual and society down as a whole. Instead, rethink your day to day judgements and encourage women to take pleasure in choice. Empower women by letting it be known that choice isn’t a cooperative effort, rather it is an individual journey. Deciding what style choices make you feel best, learning what makes you feel beautiful, and exploring your own body is such a beautiful, empowering process. When we as women feel as if we are the ones making these decisions for ourselves and feel the weight of society being lifted off of our shoulders, we make progress towards a society that is accepting, tolerant, and knowledgeable about the issues that we as women face daily. How can you help? Recognize that these are our bodies and the decisions we make about our bodies are ours and no one else's.

Alexandra Pillion

Virginia Tech '21

Sophomore studying National Security and Foreign Affairs (NSFA) and Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) with a minor in Japanese. Just a short and sassy blonde trying to figure out this whole 'world domination' ordeal.
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