This past Saturday, I stood in the campus Diag and saw countless signs for the Women's March in Ann Arbor. Some of them were witty and creative, others were more direct and serious. But there was one sign in particular that stood out. Reading it made me re-evaluate how I see myself as a woman. The sign, simply put in black and white, read: Treat yourself the way you would treat your daughter. I had to go over this message in my mind because, no, I don't have a daughter, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around the meaning.
Most signs were direct messages or questions, many revolving around women’s empowerment, LGBTQ rights, racism and President Donald Trump’s misogyny. So, it was odd to see a sign that provoked so many questions and made me reflect on how I respect myself. I felt like it made an assumption that I do not treat myself with the respect I would and should give to my hypothetical daughter.
At first I was confused and somewhat insulted, but after much consideration, this message rightfully began to make sense.
Far too often, there are times when I verbally beat myself up. Whether it be my body, my actions, my regrets or my relationships, I am consistently blaming myself for not believing in my full potential. And, no, this is not how all women treat themselves, but unfortunately I’ve noticed that I and the women around me share this notion (the Women's March and movement is changing this norm — thank god).
So I actually asked myself: "How would I treat my daughter?"
Clearly, I would treat her with unconditional love: tell her she is beautiful the way she is, to never let anyone bully her, to fight for what she believes in, to wear what she wants, to say what she wants — the list would go on.
I immediately thought of my past, the regrets and painful moments scattered in my mind like a swarm of bees. Memories of being bullied, of all the apologies I should not have been sorry for, of all the times I gave up, of all the times I devoted so much to guys who treated me like shit, of all the times I cried because I didn't like the way I looked, and, most painfully, the time I was sexually assaulted.
My assault happened my first term freshman year. Looking back, it feels so fast, so odd and so fuzzy — I did everything to block it out of my head. Anyone who has been assaulted might still feel those hands unbuttoning their jeans, can still smell the breath of the attacker, can still feel the surface they were being pushed up against, can hear the sound of pushing the attacker, the monster, off of them. It breaks my heart to know that that is not always the case.
The most mentally grotesque part of my story could be that, for an hour after, I thought it might actually have been my fault. If that were my daughter, I wouldn't even let her finish that sentence.
I would hold her tight and tell her, “don't you ever think that way.” I would tell her this is not OK and it will never be OK. I would tell her to report this and to have her voice be heard in marches, like the one this weekend — standing in front of a sea of people who understand what she has been through.
I would teach her and all my children that being a woman, in any and all aspects, is not something to beat yourself up about. It is not something to apologize for. Being a woman does not mean being inferior.
After sharing my story with friends, they, too, shared stories similar to my own. The fact that I can find this much common ground within my community of friends surprises me. This is what boils my blood.
And then the sign comes back into focus. I don't want to just tell my friends "I'm so sorry" and "I understand." I want to tell them, "Treat yourself the way you would treat your daughter." I want them to take care of themselves the way they would take care of their daughters. And yes, maybe it’s not that simple in some cases, but maybe this is an opportunity to change our perspective on how we see ourselves as women.
If I could see that woman who held that sign again, I would thank her for opening my mind to a new kind of confidence and self-care. The next time I judge my body, apologize for something unnecessary or doubt my potential, I will remind myself of those nine simple, but groundbreaking words. Treat yourself the way you would treat your daughter.