Ashely Judd = My New Hero

April 10, 2012

Wow.  Ashley Judd just knocked my socks off with her response to all the haters who have been speculating about her recently “puffy” face.  Do yourself a favor and read this article, then share with others.  Here are the first few sentences of her kick-butt essay:

The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.

What?  Ashley Judd, you need anything?  Can I get you a cup of coffee?  Help with your errands?  What can I do to give you more time to write more things like this.

She raises several important and interrelated issues in this essay and I won’t bother repeating them in a less well-written form here.  But I would like to expand upon one part of what she writes and put a challenge to you.

Ms. Judd says, “Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate…. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.

I would add that the good and kind people among us, present company included, are in large part to blame for this climate of judgment and abuse.  Let me explain.  Part of what makes humans so unique is our ability to adapt to the culture around us without having to think about it.  It just happens.  If someone grew up in a time where there were no cars, they would be mystified if they were transported here and suddenly hurling down the road at 45 (or….  ahem, 55) miles per hour.  But we don’t give cars a second thought.  The same goes for the more invisible parts of our culture.  We hear judgmental comments about other people’s appearances almost from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed.  The unspoken subtext of these comments is “You are not good enough as you are.  You must change yourself to be acceptable to others.”  Such a toxic environment actually hijacks the part of us that makes us able to adapt and not freak out each time we go outside and see a car zoom by. This toxic environment shapes our brains.  We too are suddenly judging, staying constantly aware of the “imperfections” in ourselves and others.  (Don’t even get me started on how we decide what is imperfect!)  Through no fault of our own, we too are suddenly thinking judgmental thoughts about others.   Sometimes we say the thought out loud.  Perhaps more often we just think it and don’t share the thought with others.

Most harmfully, perhaps we don’t even admit to ourselves that we have these thoughts.  When you aspire to be a nice person, it’s hard to admit that you just had a not-nice, judgmental thought.  And so we ignore those thoughts because it seems like the only other option is to acknowledge that we aren’t a nice person. But there is another way!

You ARE a nice person.  And your brain is doing what it is supposed to do – absorb the culture and learn how to survive.  These two things are true at the same time.  But it is not enough to just keep our mouth shut if we think a judgmental thought about others.   Our thoughts can and do hurt us.  We must also learn to protect ourselves from the distorted thoughts that can come from our own minds. Change starts between our ears.

And so here is your challenge.  Create awareness within yourself.  When you are aware of your surrounds, you can change them.  Spend today looking for unwanted, judgmental thoughts.  Expect these thoughts.  They may come up when you are looking at a magazine in the check out lane, talking to a friend, or perhaps looking at yourself in the mirror.  When you find one, label it for what it is – an artifact of our culture – and let it go.  The more you practice, the more you will create distance between you and those harmful thoughts.   It is in this distance that we can more clearly see who we really are – not what others want us to be.  Watch out, patriarchy.  As we learn to see how you have confined us we can also begin to see how to set ourselves free.

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