My Own Declaration Of Independence
A few years ago, back in college, I took a class, in which one of the assignments was to write your own “Declaration of Independence.” When I first saw the assignment, which had no other instructions or guidelines, I was perplexed as to what I should write about or what would even constitute an appropriate topic. I decided to look inward and I asked myself if there was anything that made me feel the opposite of independent? Was there anything in my life that had me feeling trapped, controlled, or at the disposal of anything other than my highest self? The answer was yes, and particularly one topic came to mind. And because of this assignment, for the first time, I decided to put words and structure around all of the different thoughts, feelings, messages, and experiences I personally encountered as well those that I had heard through others.
The original U.S. Declaration of Independence that we celebrate today, on the Fourth of July, is the statement that the thirteen American colonies put out and signed to dissolve their control under British rule and to establish a free United States of America. And so, in approaching my own declaration, I sought to pursue a topic where not only was I becoming free of something but also moving towards a better state of being. There is power in saying no, in choosing to live a life that is different from what you’ve been told is the way to live, and in finding your personal voice and the strength to use it.
How I treat my body is a political statement.
The patriarchy’s policing of my body–of its size, shape, color, form–is a political tool used to silence me and my right to take up space, and with that space, claim my position in this world.
I used to spend so much time thinking about food, or rather how to not want food, how to kill my own hunger, which proved difficult because I was always hungry. My appetite has always been large. I wanted to eat and eat; I was never full. I did not know that my physical appetite was symbolic of a much more complex appetite, that of a young woman placed in a world filled with conflicting messages and expectations about who and what to be.
Study, work hard, and get good grades, but don’t show boys just how smart you are; they want to feel smarter than you. We were told to go to good colleges so that we could get good jobs, but then were told that all that mattered was that we ended up getting married. Dress attractively, but don’t show too much skin—too much skin and you’re a slut, but too little and you’re a prude. Boys don’t like prudes and they might fuck sluts, but they will never marry them. Wear makeup, but not too much; or wear as much as you need to look unnaturally natural. Boys like fun, carefree girls; they want you to order a burger when they take you out to dinner, but don’t forget they only like skinny girls.
Be smart, be attractive, be skinny, be fun…be this, be that…be everything. And all at once.
And while trying to be intelligent, but not too obviously smart; attractive, but neither a slut nor a prude; figure out how to achieve the desired unnaturally natural look; and eat nothing but salads so that we could order burgers when boys took us out to dinner, we, girls, forgot to think about other things. We grew up in a generation where our parents told us, “you can do anything you want,” but they never expected us to grow up to become the president of the United States. Feminism no longer seemed necessary because we could vote, and even though we had the right to vote for who would become president, we did not have a say over our bodies and how much space they could take up.
I did not know how to answer the questions of who or what I wanted to be, what I wanted out of life, or how I could get those things. I could not bear the feeling of uncertainty and not knowing what my fate would be or if I even had any control over that fate. And so I ate. And when I ate, it was always too much, and when I couldn’t tolerate the feeling of existing within myself, I purged. Over and over again. I spent a good part of two years of college with my head down a toilet bowl. Two fingers down the throat was all it took to make it all go away. I was a hamster on my little hamster wheel, counting calories day in and day out, dreaming about all the food I didn’t but wished I could eat, spending hours in the gym to punish myself when hunger took over, and crying on the bathroom floor when I gave in to my weaknesses. I popped eye vessels, skipped periods, lost and gained weight and stretch marks for months and I was deeply lost and unhappy.
I no longer starve my body. I cannot not count calories, because I have done so for so long, and my brain cannot help but see numbers when it sees food. But, I eat. And it doesn’t mean I need to spend extra hours punishing myself on the treadmill or standing over a toilet bowl. I eat to nourish my body, to fuel the engine that carries me through life. I eat so that I have the energy to ask myself all of the hard questions I could not ask when I was too busy counting calories and purging. What am I good at? What kind of person do I want to be? How will I contribute to my community and to society? What do I want out of life? What makes me feel alive?
There is a relation between all of the girls counting calories who are too scared to take up space and the distinct underrepresentation of female presidents, parliaments seat holders globally, Fortune 500 CEOs, and board members. Though more than fifty percent of college graduates are women, those college diplomas are not translating into dollars earned in the workplace or career achievement. A culture that demands women to be physically small pressures us to remain small in many other ways.
My body is that which I have true autonomy over. I have engraved with ink the things most precious to me permanently into my flesh because my body is the most beautiful vessel through which I travel through life. This body has carried me through thick and thin. It has endured years replete with neglect, abuse, and hatred; and yet it was strong enough to survive. This body is a testament to the force of resilience. In her essay, “The Body Politic,” Abra Fortune Chernik likens her body to the ocean: “My body possesses solidness and curve…I accepted my right and my obligation to take up room with my figure, voice, and spirit. I remembered how to tumble forward and touch the world that holds me. I chose the ocean as my guide. Who disputes the ocean’s fullness?” Abra chose the ocean, and I the sky: I chose the sky as my guide. No one questions the sky or how it is. It is home to the sparkling stars and carries the moon and the sun. Sometimes it is the deepest blue and other times it is the brightest pink. Every time I look at the sky, I feel infinite. And so, I chose the sky as my guide.
I declare myself free from the standards imposed upon me by the media, the beauty industry, my family, friends, peers, strangers, and myself. My generation grew up in a world hostile towards the natural existence of female bodies as they are. We were told that if we did not fit a particular mold that we were not beautiful. But the world lied and lies cannot create beauty. It is time to liberate one another and especially ourselves–be kind to others and to yourself. Your body is the most spectacular gift you were given. Honor the body with which your mother blessed you. May it no longer be a burden. My body exists as it does in this moment and that is enough.
If you wrote your own declaration of independence, what would yours say?