Am I an Instrument or an Ornament?
February 25, 2014 by Amy Leigh Mercree
Filed under Activism, Body Image, Empowerment, Exercise, Featured, Guys, Healthy Eating, Loving Your Body, Media Literacy, Moms & Sisters, Role Models, Self Esteem, Self-Acceptance, Wellness
I just read a wonderful article on The Huffington Post. In it, Jennifer Aniston interviewed Gloria Steinem about life and feminism in 2014. It’s full of tons of great information but one especially potent statement stuck with me. Steinem said that women are taught to think of our bodies as ornaments and men are taught to think of their bodies as instruments. Because of this she stressed the importance of sports for girls to show us how our bodies our capable of so much more than simply looking good.
It got me thinking back to being a young woman. I’ll tell you one thing; I hated sports. As a someone who felt round-faced, round-bellied, supremely uncoordinated, and whose face turned tomato-red at any exertion, the last thing I wanted to do was feel embarrassed in a sea of coordinated, confident young athletes.
How then could a preteen like me receive positive messaging about my body being useful and valuable? I’m sure my mother asked herself the same thing, as a Steinem fan, she may not have heard the exact wording, “instrument vs. ornament,” but I suspect she was aware of the general concepts.
I didn’t begin to feel like an ornament until sophomore year of high school. I miraculously became thin and curvy and felt like I was finally worthy. The messaging that I got was, “Phew, I finally look more like I am supposed to if I want guys to like me and I can finally fit in.” I was too shy to date for a year or so but I began to gain confidence; I had finally become an ornament.
An ornament is defined in the dictionary as, “a thing used to adorn something but having no practical purpose.” The messaging, as women, to be an ornament is all around us. And, to be fair, plenty of it is benignly intended. To be even more fair, I contribute to it in my own way in an upcoming magical romance novel where as part of the romantic courtship the hero tells the heroine how beautiful she is…sigh. Women and girls as ornaments is intrinsically woven into our culture. How much more likely are we all to tell a little girl we love her pretty dress than we are to tell a little boy we love his outfit?
Now in my thirties, I have learned my body is also an instrument. I lift weights and see how I get stronger and feel better. I exercise to improve my stamina and feel more vital and energized. I feed my instrument the best fuel I can and appreciate what my body can do.
I still feel like an ornament sometimes. At times it is not a favorable experience, like when I am out in the world and objectified by a guy staring at me. But when my husband tells me I look great or a friend complements my outfit, then the validation of being an ornamental women kicks in. For better or worse, many of us are conditioned in this direction. All I ask is that we remember we are people with hearts and minds, opinions and talents, amazing things to share and myriad things to learn way more importantly than if we are ornaments.
Our physical bodies are incredible, strong vehicles that we live in and we can appreciate them for what they can do and, in healthy balance, for their beauty. But let’s remember it’s what is on the inside that counts.