Content Warning: This post contains descriptions of emotional abuse.
She asked me what I wanted to do with my hair and I told her to cut it off. With no announcement, she grabbed it all in her fist and sliced at the nape of my neck. My head fell forward, suddenly weightless.
She secured the ponytail with a rubber band and placed it gingerly on the counter, where it looked dull and lifeless. She paused, gestured to it, and said “Bad memories, but they’re memories.”
* * * *
Self-objectification is the tendency to view ourselves as objects instead of autonomous human beings. In western and westernized societies, women are the most likely to self-objectify because female bodies represented in media are sexualized to an extent that male bodies are not. Self-objectification most readily develops in environments where people—generally women—are judged for their sexual utility instead of their competence.
Environments like these also produce men who feel entitled to control women’s appearances:
- Men like Dallin H. Oaks, who refer to certain women as “pornography.”
- Men who honk car horns and say things like “nice ass” and “damn, girl” when I pass them on the street.
- Men like my male acquaintances who assure me that I am sexy and appealing to them, when I never asked.
- Men like my ex-husband, who once cursed at me through a dressing room door, threw our Broadway tickets on the ground, and left me in a Manhattan department store because he didn’t like the clothes I’d chosen.
During the year and a half we lived together, dressing each morning gave me extreme anxiety; I worried that my pants weren’t tight enough, my blouse not professional enough, and my shoes the wrong shape or color. On the many occasions I wore something he didn’t like, he compared me to “other women,” the ones who wore dress shirts to class and never cuffed their jeans. Clothing I’d once worn and loved now hung in my closet, untouched, because I was embarrassed to admit that I liked it when he didn’t.
The one time I asked him to get something from my apartment while we were dating, he took the opportunity to look through my closet and pick clothes for me to wear. He made it clear that he preferred long hair and there would be consequences if I cut it short. When I took my clothes off to shower or change, he made sexual comments about my naked body unless I explicitly told him not to.
When I finally asked why he insisted that I look a certain way, he said that he felt I should be taking advantage of my body and dressing to show it off. I told him I felt like a Barbie doll and he laughed. I was objectified more in my own home than I ever was on the street.
Three months after I left him, I finally feel ready to also leave behind the parts of my appearance that aren’t mine: the long hair, the too-tight skinny jeans he begged me to wear, the thongs he bought for Valentine’s Day despite my requests to the contrary, and the Ralph Lauren oxford dress shirts he demanded I buy and then scolded me for not wearing as frequently as he wanted.
* * * *
As hair fell in clumps on the floor, my stylist said what I hadn’t had the courage to say while I was married—“A person who tries to make you look a certain way is not a person you should be with.”
So I’m done dressing for other people—for men on the street, for men at the pulpit, and for men in my bed.