Updated: Jan 18
I wanted to share with you a piece of writing that was read to me while attending a retreat earlier this year. The piece was called, “Be a Lady They Said,” and it resonated with me deeply. The words I heard reminded me of all the things that have echoed in my ears, both as a child and as an adult. Things like, “Don’t eat that piece of bread,” or, “You look heavier,” or, “You look too thin - eat something for God’s sake!”
I had heard that my eyebrows were too thin and made my face disappear. I heard that my eyebrows were too thick and also made my face disappear. I was told to make sure my legs were always crossed or flat on the ground when sitting on the sofa, especially when a man entered the room. I was told which clothing was acceptable, again, especially in front of a man. I was told that the way I dressed showed too much skin and, when I changed, that the way I dressed made me look like an old aunty.
I was told I wore too much makeup and not enough makeup. I was told to cook dinner for my husband (and it was brought to my attention when I didn’t). I was told that now was my chance to have children and not to let that chance pass. I was told to contribute by working but at the same time not to work.
All of these things were not only said to me, but I strived to listen, adjusting and re-adjusting to try to “do good,” “be good,” “look good” …
Looking back, I realize that I have constantly been told what to do, just like a puppet being pulled by strings, my identity being crafted for me. Oddly enough, I am not resentful for any of that. I simply can see now that I was molded and remolded and molded and remolded by other people having a version, a vision, of what I was or what I should be.
It is a blessing to be 36 years old and to make a version of myself that is molded by my hands only. I don’t choose to be a lady. I simply choose to be human.
BE A LADY THEY SAID
Written by Camille
Be a lady they said. Your skirt is too short. Your shirt is too low. Your pants are too tight. Don’t show so much skin. Don’t show your thighs. Don’t show your breasts. Don’t show your midriff. Don’t show your cleavage. Don’t show your underwear. Don’t show your shoulders. Cover up. Leave something to the imagination. Dress modestly. Don’t be a temptress. Men can’t control themselves. Men have needs. You look frumpy. Loosen up. Show some skin. Look sexy. Look hot. Don’t be so provocative. You’re asking for it. Wear black. Wear heels. You’re too dressed up. You’re too dressed down. Don’t wear those sweatpants; you look like you’ve let yourself go.
Be a lady they said. Don’t be too fat. Don’t be too thin. Don’t be too large. Don’t be too small. Eat up. Slim down. Stop eating so much. Don’t eat too fast. Order a salad. Don’t eat carbs. Skip dessert. You need to lose weight. Fit into that dress. Go on a diet. Watch what you eat. Eat celery. Chew gum. Drink lots of water. You have to fit into those jeans. God, you look like a skeleton. Why don’t you just eat? You look emaciated. You look sick. Eat a burger. Men like women with some meat on their bones. Be small. Be light. Be little. Be petite. Be feminine. Be a size zero. Be a double zero. Be nothing. Be less than nothing.
Be a lady they said. Remove your body hair. Shave your legs. Shave your armpits. Shave your bikini line. Wax your face. Wax your arms. Wax your eyebrows. Ged rid of your mustache. Bleach this. Bleach that. Lighten your skin. Tan your skin. Eradicate your scars. Cover your stretch marks. Tighten your abs. Plump your lips. Botox your wrinkles. Life your face. Tuck your tummy. Thin your thighs. Tone your calves. Perk your boobs. Look natural. Be yourself. Be genuine. Be confident. You’re trying too hard. You look overdone. Men don’t like girls who try too hard. Be a lady they said. Wear makeup. Prime your face. Conceal your blemishes. Contour your nose. Highlight your cheeckbones. Line your lids. Fill your brows. Lengthen your lashes. Color your lips. Powder, blush, bronze, highlight. Your hair is too short. Your hair is too longs. Your ends are split. Highlight your hair. Your roots are showing. Dye your hair. Not blue, that looks unnatural. You’re going grey. You look so old. Look young. Look youthful. Look ageless. Don’t get old. Women don’t get old. Old is ugly. Men don’t like ugly.
Be a lady they said. Save yourself. Be pure. Be Virginal. Don’t talk about sex. Don’t flirt. Don’t be a skank. Don’t be a whore. Don’t sleep around. Don’t lose your dignity. Don’t have sex with too many men. Don’t give yourself away. Men don’t like sluts. Don’t be a prude. Don’t be so up tight. Have a little fun. Smile more. Pleasure men. Be experienced. Be sexual. Be innocent. Be dirty. Be Virginal. Be Sexy. Be the cool girl. Don’t be like the other girls.
Be a lady they said. Don’t talk too loud. Don’t talk too much. Don’t take up space. Don’t sit like that. Don’t stand like that. Don’t be intimidating. Why are you so miserable? Don’t be a bitch. Don’t be so bossy. Don’t be assertive. Don’t overact. Don’t be so emotional. Don’t cry. Don’t yell. Don’t swear. Be passive. Be obedient. Endure the pain. Be pleasing. Don’t complain. Let him down easy. Boost his ego. Make him fall for you. Men want what they can’t have. Don’t give yourself away. Make him work for it. Men love the chase. Fold his clothes. Cook his dinner. Keep him happy. That’s a woman’s job. You’ll make a good wife someday. Take this last name. You hyphenated your name? Crazy feminist. Give him children. You will some day. You’ll change your mind.
Be a lady they said. Don’t get raped. Protect yourself. Don’t drink too much. Don’t walk alone. Don’t go out too late. Don’t dress like that. Don’t show too much. Don’t get drunk. Don’t leave your drink. Have a buddy. Walk where it is well lit. Stay in the safe neighborhoods. Tell someone where you are going. Bring pepper spray. Buy a rape whistle. Hold your keys like a weapon. Take a self defense course. Check your trunk. Lock your doors. Don’t go out alone. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t bat your eyelashes. Don’t look easy. Don’t attract attention. Don’t work late. Don’t crack dirty jokes. Don’t smile at strangers. Don’t go out at night. Don’t trust anyone. Don’t say yes. Don’t say no.