chimamanda ngozi adichie gave an entire brilliant tedxtalk about the danger of the one story, so i’ll leave that for her, and i’ll end this ridiculously long post with this: the stories we tell ourselves about our bodies, our identities, are connected to the stories we tell ourselves about power because body shaming is about power — it’s just within the sphere of the private, not the hugely public.
there is systemic power that we’re trapped by, that requires mass movement to change, and then there is personal, individual power, the power we have over ourselves. i worry often that that’s a power girls are taught to give away too easily.
blair talks about this in her book, maybe not in the same terms, but in sharing her experience with her first boyfriend, a man older than she is who thinks he’s entitled to her body, shames her for not finding pleasure in sex with him, isolates her when she finally breaks up with him — and i love the way she writes it here:
for years afterward, dan would maintain that i had changed, gained some new or darker side that was, as he once explained in a letter, ‘without a doubt, not beneficial to who you are.’ i was young, starting college; of course i changed. i changed my clothes, my eating habits; i made new friends, tried yoga, worked as a telemarketer. but the change dan meant was less obvious: the fact that i no longer went limp and let him touch me; the fact that, when forced to choose between the bitter protection he offered and the exhaustive work of shielding myself alone, i knew that i could not be with him. and yet the decision burned. turning down dan — choosing jurisdiction over my own body — felt like choosing exile from the very things in which his approval had granted me legitimacy. what role did i have, really, on the icefield, or even in dogsledding? who had i been there? i didn’t remember. though i couldn’t explain it at the time, leaving dan felt like leaving everything i’d been working toward, all the ways i’d been trying to prove myself. and for a while, that’s exactly what it meant. i left him and i didn’t come back.
the change dan lamented was that i had started to trust myself. but the way i saw it, i had flunked out of the north. (175-6)
luckily, blair learns to trust herself and continues to do so, working through years of doubt and fear and faltering confidence, and the passage above goes to show what i mean about story, how the stories we tell ourselves matter. all it often takes is a small repositioning of ourselves to see a story from a different angle and shift our worldview entirely, and maybe that’s where the real power of story lies, in its ability to change and to change us along with it.
and maybe that’s the one thing that gives me a measure of hope in such a bleak, often terrifying world — that there is a shift in the wind, that women are reclaiming their narratives, that, even in the midst of the destruction the current administration is trying to wreak on marginalized, immigrant, queer communities, even in all that, we are still telling our stories — and, by doing so, slowly, we will shape and grow and change the world.