Love, Life Stories

Society’s definition of “female empowerment” is broken. My life is proof.

At age 15, I was taught that while I might operate my body, I don’t own it. Not really.

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At age 9, I was taught that people primarily care about what you look like, and how they treat you depends on it. The same people who used to call me cute for having big cheeks when I was younger suddenly demanded that I lose weight. No one is attracted to fat people, they said. “Don’t you want your crush to notice you?” they asked. I didn’t even know what “crush” meant, but it sure sounded like dropping some pounds was a big deal.

At age 11, I was taught that beauty comes with a price. I started to read and collect teen magazines. Through them, I learned that flawless skin and branded clothes were the keys to survival. Hairy legs would make boys run the other way. I became acquainted with razors and shaving nicks. I had to start using beauty products that cost more than my hardbound books. When I realized that I couldn’t afford to be high maintenance, I tried to just live with the idea that I will never be a pretty girl.

At age 13, I was taught that beauty gets you free passes and guarantees an easier life. You can even earn false respect from boys, that is until they start to talk behind your back about how sexy you looked like wearing those tight pants; about how badly they wanted to take them off.

At age 15, I was taught that while I might operate my body, I don’t own it, not really. Whatever I do, for better or worse, people will have comments. Click To Tweet

At age 15, I was taught that while I might operate my body, I don’t own it, not really. Whatever I do, for better or worse, people will have comments, and more often than not, they will make me feel terrible. While at college, during my freshman year; depression began to consume me. After countless relapses and depressive episodes, I was left with a hideous masterpiece of badly-carved scars on my right arm. Every single time I wore short sleeves, I received judging looks from strangers or thoughtless remarks from friends.

At age 19, I was taught that “empowerment” meant sleeping around with different men each week, because I thought I was owning my sexuality, rebelling against the veil of conservative ideals that I had long lived blindly underneath. I kept lying to myself, telling myself that I was trying to earn their respect, their awe. My lips were raw, my body sore, my womanhood vandalized. All that was left was an empty vessel that smelled like sex and cigarette smoke, staring blankly ahead, trying not to break, just trying to ignore the shame I felt.

Today, I am still unlearning everything that I have been taught since I was a child.

From the start, women are trapped within the restrictions of the status quo, of idealistic, superficial standards that do not fit well with our current realities. Click To Tweet

From the start, women are trapped within the restrictions of the status quo, of idealistic, superficial standards that do not fit well with our current realities. We have been raised to believe that our purpose is to chase after these standards. We do not need to. It took me several years and dreadful experiences as I tried to change myself to fit in a mold. I have beaten myself up because of someone else’s opinion of me. The truth that I did not realize sooner was that my body is my own.

I am not anyone else’s property. Women are not men’s property, and we should not keep living as if we are.

I can’t blame myself for having mistaken my desperate cry for validation as empowerment. I can’t blame myself for craving that validation. The patriarchy has conditioned women to believe that their opinions matter more than our self-image, that they set the standard of beauty and we must spend our lives trying to reach that, no matter how superficial or unrealistic.

Today, I am still learning. I’m learning to forgive the versions of myself from years ago who thought they knew better and to remind myself that empowerment is feeling confident about my own body exactly for what it is. Click To Tweet

Today, I am still learning. I’m learning to forgive the versions of myself from years ago who thought they knew better and to remind myself that empowerment is feeling confident about my own body exactly for what it is. Empowerment is never apologizing for my flaws. Empowerment is self-respect. Empowerment is knowing my worth, and how I deserve to be treated. Empowerment comes from within.

Elizabeth Ruth Deyro

Elizabeth Ruth Deyro

Elizabeth Ruth Deyro is a Filipina writer and editor with a BA in Communication Arts from the University of the Philippines Los Baños. She is the Founding Editor-in-Chief and Creative Director of The Brown Orient. She writes about race, sexuality, mental health, and religion.

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