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All Under the Same Moon: Pride in Womanhood

As I sit in bed for the third day in a row, I am surprised I have yet to develop bed sores on my side. I feel a noticeable layer of grease built on my face and taste how long it's been since I’ve brushed my teeth. Scrolling through TikTok for the third hour that day. The days seem almost routine in their dullness. Wake up, turn over, grab my phone, and start consuming. Before I know it, my interest has been piqued by a text I see come through on my phone. My cousin Mary, who recently has been gifted an iPhone, texts “How do I nair my arms?? The dance is tonight”.

Why this was so jarring to me, I don’t know, but regardless it forced me up from the perfect me-shaped indent I had left in my bed. Mary is soon to be an 8th grader, but when she comes to mind, I can only see her as the six-year-old who would throw temper tantrums at every restaurant we stepped foot in. I responded the way I would have liked to be responded to when I was 12, I asked why she was getting rid of her arm hair. She said she didn’t want thick body hair on the day of the dance, as if it would clash with her dress. A few hours later she had done it. This short exchange stuck in the back of my mind for the days following.

The first time I shaved my arms was during my freshman year of high school the day before homecoming. I remember the girl in front of me in English class turning around in her seat and showing me her arm hair, complaining and upset at how thick it was. Suddenly, I felt ashamed in my short sleeve shirt, the dark hair on my arm now an untamed forest. That night, I took my pink razor and ran it across the hair on my arm, watching the hair slide off onto the head of the razor. After I was done, I felt beautiful.

My mother always told me not to shave my arms, she taught me hair was there to protect my body. Still, at a time I can’t quite place, she lost me. Her advice stopped being valuable and started to be a hindrance. Why doesn’t she want me to be beautiful? Now, I can tentatively understand the toxic nature of these thought processes. Even as aware as I think I am, I still catch myself in the mirror wondering what I could change to be more like the models that I see in high fashion on Instagram.

From the first moment I held my baby cousin in my arms, I wanted her to be free. I wanted to save her from the anguish I knew men were to place on her. To save her from hours of poking and prodding herself in the mirror, the relentless cycle of self-hatred. Save her the hours spent bent over a bathroom scale, sucking on ice cubes, or diet fads promoted by the girl we think we want to be. I want to free her from all of it. From the pain, I know she's going to face. When I pass other women on the street I want to save her just as much. I want to offer this stranger my shoulder. I want to spend hours apologizing for the things I couldn’t stop from hurting her. Then, I want to collect the tears she spills onto the pavement. I would pocket these tears and place them on a tiny velvet pillow in my pocket. I would give one tear to my father when he asks me how I was victimized. I would give one to the woman behind the counter who sold me my first pregnancy test. I would give one to each of my younger sisters, to my roommate, to my mother. I would hold the last one for myself, as I watch it disappear into the cracks on my hand I would fight to forgive myself for all those I cannot save.

If I can track down in my memory, the first moment in my life when I felt I needed to change my physical body to be beautiful, maybe I can write the memory away. I would capture that moment like a lightning bug in my hand and the minute I committed it to paper the ground I stand on would crack. Then, the world would be irrevocably different. Every woman who read the story would leave these moments of pain behind, the systems built to cause us suffering would vanish. All the online videos of hidden lipstick tasers and anti-rape underwear would disappear, we wouldn’t need it anymore. Instead of receiving a stun gun for my 16th birthday I would look back at old photos and see a stuffed bunny. I would remember the softness of its fur, I would not be afraid of softness.

I know I cannot write this elogy. I cannot save myself or others from anything at all, but the wanting to is where I find comfort. The pride I find in womanhood is our commitment to saving each other. I cannot name an exact number of the many nights I’ve spent in bar bathrooms being told or telling another woman that she deserves better, usually while I am holding her friend's hair back over the toilet. Even though we are unknown to each other and have had too much tequila, it feels cosmic that we want so badly to tell the other that we love them. Women are never truly strangers to one another. Whenever I meet a woman, I can see in her eyes where our pain is shared.

Through all of its bloody sacrifice, I am proud to be a woman. The world is trying to kill us, all of us, and yet we keep going. I could easily let the world make me hard, and yet we earn our softness and continue to love despite the sacrifice it takes to do so. I want nothing more than to continue to fight, not just for me, but for us. Womanhood will always be us. Whenever I speak of myself, I also speak of my mother and my grandmother. I speak of all the women who fought to put me here, who fought to give me just a little bit more power than they had. The women I recognize in my face when I smile. The woman who gave me my nose and hips. The women who hold me and collect my tears.

For us: I will keep going.

Written by Liadin Stewart

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