An Empowered Sense of Self

I don’t remember when I started identifying as a feminist. I always knew I was supported by my family, but I always felt a little “too much” in the religious tradition I grew up in. I felt “too strong”, “too opinionated”, “too driven”. Women had their place and it wasn’t always directly next to men. I started identifying as a feminist as a way to separate myself from those who didn’t view me as equal, as enough.

My definition of feminism began as a proud statement that men and women are equal in all ways and should be treated as such. As I’ve gotten older and had conversations with people much smarter than me, I have learned that it’s much more than that. Feminism is complex and multi-faceted. The more I learn, the more overwhelming fighting for equality becomes. What can I as one person do? I alone can’t change policies on a state and federal level, I alone can’t change how the media portrays women, I alone can’t bring down the patriarchy. Those things can only happen when people come together.

Lately, I have found a more personal approach to feminism. I have been striving to be a “better woman” my entire life. I have abided by other people’s standards, worked hard to follow all of the rules, made myself invisible by blending in, opted out of experiences in fear of failure.  I have let my self-image get in the way of my potential. I have let how I think society perceives me hold me back. It is not entirely a system that holds me down; it is myself buying into false notions. And I know I’m not the only one who faces this issue.

So do you know what really feels radical? Loving myself. 100%. No matter what. How can I be an effective change agent when I still hide myself? It is a struggle to change years of inner dialogue and will take a long time (and a lot of encouraging self-talk). When I run, I thank my body for carrying me over long distances and for not quitting when my mind wants to. When I work, I fight the urge to bite my tongue and instead present an idea. When I am home with my husband, I leave any masks at the door and allow myself to be loved fully by someone else.

My question is this: What would happen if we all loved ourselves wholly and felt comfortable in our own skin? Wouldn’t that also change the world? Think of all the institutions and companies that run off of our insecurities. On a more inter-personal level, if we all felt secure, perhaps we wouldn’t have fat-shaming, slut-shaming, skinny-shaming, etc.

I will gladly join with others in the collective effort to fight for women’s rights. But for now, I am working to impact the one person I have influence over, myself.

JPS headshotJennifer Parks-Strack is a transplant Michigander living in Rochester, New York with her husband and two cats. She is a non-profit lifer, runner, vegetarian, and burgeoning cat lover.

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