Dear Girls, Don’t Use Your Body as the Path to Power

Growing up, I received many mixed messages about what it meant to be a woman.

My goal, as a young girl, was simple: I wanted to be loved.

But I didn’t really understand what I had to do to be loved, especially when my own father practically abandoned me a long time ago.

He instilled in me the insecurity that, no matter what I did to be loved, it probably wouldn’t work. When I was a bit older, as a result, I struggled to relate to men romantically. I didn’t know how to be good enough for a man’s love.

That helpless feeling followed me throughout my young years and became a driving force behind my (misguided) decisions in my early twenties. I was fixated on power, thinking that if I couldn’t be loved by a man, then I wanted to be powerful — more powerful than a man.

I didn’t realise that the world isn’t designed to make women powerful.

There are traps everywhere. Any privilege associated with being a woman seems to be a double-edged sword.

I was taught by society that to be loved and powerful as a woman, I need to be beautiful and sexy. I was shown all the time how women benefit from their beauty and sexual appeal: Instagram models, movie stars, even fairy tale stories, or just any girl on social media with an attractive body, really.

I was smart, capable, and emotionally rich, but society doesn’t seem to care about these qualities. At university age, I had no money, no careers, no race or class privileges. In my mind, I had nothing to leverage. And if I couldn’t use pretty privileges, I was brainwashed into worrying that I wasn’t good enough as a woman.

So, in the hope that I’d become enough and powerful, I started to pay more attention to my outer appearance; I learned to use make-up; I bought clothes that showed my figure; I tried to morphe myself into a man’s ideas of a desirable woman, whatever that means.

Sure, I received validation from men. I felt more powerful as I presented myself as a pretty girl. But, alas, I was punished for the very thing society encouraged me to be.

Leading with my look meant being shamed, disrespected, and attracting all the wrong people.

It meant being reduced to one thing while I knew I was so much more.

Movies promised pretty girls a happy ending; in reality, pretty girls have no control over their endings just for being pretty.

Meanwhile, I looked into other ways to gain power. Eventually, I learned that all the straightforward paths to money and status are already taken by men and essentially made for men. It’s not that women can’t follow those paths; they can, but not without sacrifices and struggles.

Luckily, I had loving people around me to keep me grounded. As I worked through my insecurity and fixation on power, I found my own path. I’m able to rely on my qualities that have nothing to do with my look or identity as a woman.

It took me a long time to rewire my brain, but the effort paid off: I no longer care about being “a pretty girl” or whether I’m enough for anyone. I also recognise my father’s absence as his failure, not my responsibility.

When I started leading with love and respect and stopped defining myself by sexist ideas of a woman, my reality shifted. Wonderful people come into my life and bring love and respect with them, just the way I’ve always wanted it.

Though, I know, not all women or young girls have such advantages and options. Many of them identify themselves with their beauty and sexiness, or even turn to sex work because that remains their only path to power.

Society needs to change. The things we collectively value need to change. The media need to change. Men need to hold each other accountable and advocate for women while women need to advocate for themselves and demand better.

No young girl should grow up thinking they’re only good for their looks, or their value will go down as they age. They should not feel the need to portray themselves sexually or have to use their body as the path to power because they see no other options.

There should be an equal number of men and women in powerful positions. And the conditions of those powerful positions need to be redefined to accommodate women today. Women should not be an outliner in high-paying careers.

If you’re a young woman reading this, I want to remind you that you’re powerful.

You’re worth so much more than your body and sexy images.

Invest in yourself. Set a goal to become financially independent. Empower the women around you. See them as human beings, and see yourself for everything you are.

You deserve every respectable path to power just as much as a man does, and you’ll find one that does not require you to lose yourself or justify your decisions.

You belong to the table; the table needs you.

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