To Young Women Everywhere,
Several months ago, I wrote these words in a letter to my daughter: “The world wants you to take your clothes off. Please keep them on. But take your gloves off. Pull no punches. Say what is in your heart. Be vulnerable. Embrace risk. Love a world that barely knows what it means to love itself. Do so nakedly. Openly. With abandon.”
They were the most controversial words in a letter that eventually went viral.
Many of you objected to the idea of keeping your clothes on. You lamented purity myths and said being naked is a valid expression of who you are. Young Women, you should express yourselves. You should be unsilenced. You should find your voice.
But your skin is not the final expression of who you are; your skin is the fickle container for who you are.
Millions of people have skin like yours—theirs will wrinkle and fade just like your own—but no one has a heart like yours. Each and every one of you is the home to an entirely unique soul. Your rare wonder and beauty are not expressed in your bare skin; they’re expressed in your bared soul.
Last year, I saw P!nk in concert. The show was a dazzling display of bodies and skin. It was easy to think of it as daring self-expression. Until a few days later, when someone sent me a video of P!nk stopping a concert mid-song to comfort a crying child in the audience. She made thousands of people wait, while she talked to the toddler and sent a stuffed animal and some food into the crowd for the distraught little one.
Now, that is daring self-expression.
It was the true self embodied and expressed in the world.
It doesn’t beg to be seen; it sees everyone else.
It doesn’t attract the attention of the masses; it gives attention to a few.
It isn’t always concerned about how it looks; it’s eternally concerned with how it loves.
It doesn’t titillate a gawking world; it agitates an apathetic world—one compassionate act at a time.
Young Women, I imagine this sounds like just one more power play by a privileged, middle-aged white man trying to tell you what to do. And I don’t blame you: for millennia, men have told you what to do with your body. Oftentimes, they have even forced you to do it.
I’m glad you’re taking back control.
I’m happy you told me off.
And I know it’s presumptuous to think I have anything of value to share with you about the power you wield. Yet, I think I might, specifically because I’m a middle-aged, white man. Specifically because I’ve gotten out of the game and can share a few secrets about how men work:
Men want you to feel powerful with your body—and only your body.
Men want you to control them with how much you show.
Men want you to dominate them in the bar and the club and the bedroom.
Men want you to be in charge in the game they created ages ago.
Men want you to feel powerful with your body, because as long as you’re playing their game—the game of skin and bodies—they can get the thing they want most without giving the things they value most: their commitment and their ego. When you take your clothes off, you don’t become powerful—you give your power away, because you’re playing the game men want you to play.
Real power lies in changing the game altogether.
And the only way to change the game is to identify with the center of you, instead of the surface of you. The game will be changed by your minds and your hearts and your wisdom and your grace. Not your bodies.
Young Women, perhaps I just sound like a worried father to you, afraid of the choices his little girl will someday make. To be honest, I am. But I know what I’m going to tell her, and I hope someone is saying this to you, too:
If you disregard me completely, I will still accept you and love you and cherish you. Even when you make decisions about your body that grieve me, I will see past your skin and into your heart, and I will see the awesome, powerful, forever beauty that makes its home there. On the inside.
Question: Of course, we all like to hear when we’re right, but we all need to hear when we’re wrong. What do you agree with or disagree with in this letter? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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