EDITORIAL: No one tells me what to do with my body

Photo courtesy of Feminism and Religion

For almost a year now I have worked as a cocktail waitress. Half of my job is to smile and be a little flirtatious with customers, while the other half is to dress up. It’s what’s expected, and I don’t hate that about my job. I love being able to let my personality shine. I love being able to experiment with what some would consider risqué outfits and express myself freely through my appearance.

I wear revealing outfits. I shamelessly flirt with customers in hopes of receiving higher tips. I laugh, I smile; I make unbreakable eye contact when listening to a story a customer tells so they feel like they are the only thing that matters to me in that moment. Throughout the past year I have almost perfected the mix of being airy, mysterious and just flirty enough a customer won’t feel uncomfortable but they’ll still feel desired.

I have also unfortunately perfected allowing misogynistic comments to roll off my back like they’re nothing and how to respectfully turn down unwanted advances to avoid pissing off a customer. “You’re so much prettier when you smile, it makes me feel more comfortable when you do,” is a paraphrased version of collective statements I’ve been told during the past year.

A month or so ago I went to a local high school to speak with girls aged 14-18 about body image issues. I sat in a room with 20 or so students who gathered around and listened to my story. I told them about my struggles with how I looked. I shared stories of how a high school relationship was so toxic I stopped eating to make sure I didn’t gain too much weight and subsequently dumped. Every one of those girls sympathized with me and could relate to my situation, when I was in their shoes six years ago.

Six years have passed, and so much good has happened within our society. Even so, young girls shouldn’t be able to relate to stories about starting crazy fad diets to lose weight, creating excessive workout plans to lose weight or obsessively tracking the digital number on the scale that somehow equates to their self-worth.

Society has placed expectations on appearance that are impossible to obtain. These expectations don’t factor in genetics or ethnicity. It is impossible for some people to obtain the sought-after “thigh gap.” Some people are unable to perfectly tone/define their muscles. All women have a little pouch at the bottom of their tummy; it is the natural form of the human body. Whether man or woman when you sit down or when you bend over you will have “fat rolls” form in your mid-section.

Throughout the past year I have had six drastically different hairstyles. One of the main ways I express myself through my appearance is with my hair. My most recent style is a closely cut fade. My hair is currently about a fourth of an inch in length. Since cutting my hair people have commented how well I am able to pull off short hair.

Then, we end up in a conversation about the various styles I’ve had, and I decide to show pictures of the five other styles from the past year. Upon seeing the photo of my hair hanging just to the top of my shoulders, without fail I am told, “I love the short hair, really, but there’s something about your long hair that makes you more (insert adjective that enhances my feminine nature).”

The “but” is demeaning. Hearing that I can pull off short hair is immediately invalidated with the tag along that I look better with long hair. Long hair is considered to be inherently feminine. My femininity does not vanish all of a sudden because I decided to cut almost all of my hair off. And you telling me you’d be more attracted to me if I grew out my hair again is a low attempt to control my appearance for your own pleasure.

I can wear my hair however I please. I can dress however I please. I can pierce whatever I want. I can get dumb tattoos sprinkled all over my body. Stop telling me what I can and cannot do with my body. It’s taken me 21 years to be OK with how I look. It has taken 21 years for me to realize I don’t need to care about the critiques others have about my body. My body is my body — not a significant other’s, not my parents’, not my friends’ and surely not a stranger’s I run into on a daily basis. No one has the right to control anything about my body, and I won’t let them anymore.

Abrena Rowe is a senior psychology major and the Opinions and Editorial Page Editor for the Newswire from Cincinnati.