Recently I’ve been dealing with issues of authority. Not necessarily me questioning the authority of others but, rather, me questioning my own. A few nights ago I went to hear an amazing poet read some of her work. Her poetry was enrapturing, her voice silky smooth, her words laced together with such beauty I was, quite literally, on the edge of my seat. At the end of the night, I had no complaints, I thought she was amazing, stellar, superb. My friend, on the other hand, pushed back. She could not deny that the poetry itself was very well thought-out and well-written but she questioned the content itself. The poet spoke of events she never experienced, people she never met, laws that had never impacted her. “What right does she have to speak of things she’s never actually dealt with?” my friend argued. I had trouble responding. I did not fully agree with her, I think that the best artists are the ones capable of embodying any character, but I also saw her point. It would be like legitimizing the feelings of a black female based solely on what her white male counterpart said she should be feeling. It doesn’t feel right.
I realize that what I write above makes it seem as though I have no prior experience with eating disorders or body insecurity. That would be a lie. I have dealt with body issues my whole life and I have, more than once, lapsed into phases of my life characterized by an eating disorder. But that does not mean I have had it worse than anyone else. That does not excuse the fact that I have continually had a loving family, supportive friends and the resources I needed to help myself. I have been lucky. And that luckiness makes me feel like maybe I don’t have the right to be giving out advice left and right. Who am I to claim to know what it feels like to have an eating disorder if everyone experiences them so differently? Who am I to generalize the sentiments surrounding body insecurity? Who am I to be giving out advice that may or may not help people?
These types of thoughts and insecurities have always plagued me- I have never been fully secure in my experiences and thus have always been hesitant to share them with others, fearful I will offend someone or appear weak. But I also realized something the same night that my friend and I had this conversation about the poet. Her viewpoint surrounding the issues she discussed and wrote about are innately unique. No one else will know what it means to live in her body, encased by family who have suffered such trials and turmoils. It was her responsibility and her right to share how she felt with the world, because she could. Because so many people remain voiceless and the more we encourage others to speak out, the quicker dialogue and positive change will come.
I cannot speak for everyone when I write about the pain that is involved in having body insecurity or an eating disorder. I will never be able to fully capture everyone’s sentiments regarding their own issues, it is impossible. But I can, and I should, speak up about my own. Because even though my experience will differ from the next person and the person after that, if I don’t speak up, then who will? This goes not just for me but for everyone. Every single one of you has a powerful and beautiful and terrifying story to share and you should share it. Don’t be scared, be empowered. Speak up. Let your voice be heard.