What Big…Shoulders You Have?

What big eyes you have, grandma!

The better to see you with, my dear.

What big ears you have! 

The better to hear you with.

What big teeth you have…

And you should know that this is the part where things start to go downhill. The Grimm Brothers are not known for their sensitivity, and Little Red Riding Hood does not disappoint in this category. After the last line (above), the little girl is chased around the room by the wolf who has eaten her grandmother only moments before. That is, until the friendly axeman arrives to stop the fray by chopping the wolf up and saving the little old lady from imminent digestion.

You are probably familiar with some version of this tale, but I bet you didn’t realize that within this gruesome scene, there is a rather positive message.

Even though Red Riding Hood knows something is up because she keeps pointing out the unusual features that her “grandmother” has suddenly assumed, the wolf is still able to spin the negatives into positives (as surely as Rumpelstiltskin spins straw into gold) by telling Little Red Riding Hood what his charming characteristics are good for.

Forgive me if I am reading too much into this child’s story, (I’m an English major after all) but it seems that the wolf has rehearsed these lines when he delivers them to Little Red. In fact, I would daresay that the wolf has been defending his anatomy his entire life due to the ease with which he speaks to the girl.

You see, the wolf is personified in this fairy tale. That means he possesses qualities that humans have: speech, emotions, the ability to dress up like little old women, you know. So, if he’s only “human,” why wouldn’t he have insecurities about his big ears, eyes, and teeth?

After all, I’m sure you have insecurities. Actually, I can rest assured that you have something that you would like to change about yourself. (I am as sure about this as I am about the fact that Little Red Riding Hood should not actually be read to children.)

Of course, everyone wants a tummy tuck and a little fat sucked away here and there. But if there is one thing that I fixate upon every time I look at the mirror, mirror on the wall, it would be my shoulders.

My shoulders are one of the biggest things that stand between me and the feeling that I look like a sweet, slight, feminine princess. My shoulders are huge. I once measured them and found that they are exactly the size of a clothes hanger, which does not lend itself to the whole “dainty damsel” image favored by society.

But the funny thing is, my grandfather used to compliment me on my shoulders all of the time when he was alive. He would tell me that I have strong shoulders and that I should be a swimmer. And wouldn’t you know, I started to see my shoulders differently. I saw my them as an extension of my ability to bear weight without collapsing. (We’re talking about emotional weight, here. Not physical weight. My arms are puny, let’s so stick with the metaphor.) I suddenly saw myself as strong and present in the world, instead of cowering and afraid. My shoulders became a point of pride instead of contention because I began to see them as a symbol of my ability instead of my appearance. Suddenly, it was not, my! what big shoulders you have. It became my! what big shoulders you have! All the better to raise the glass ceiling on your expectations of my capabilities as a strong woman, my dear.

Now, I’m not saying that you should wait for someone to come along and write a love poem about your insecurities, suddenly casting them in a favorable spotlight, like my grandfather sort of did for me. I’m saying that you should be more like the wolf. Not in the way that he eats grandmothers or preys on little children, but in the way that he champions the parts of himself that he literally cannot hide. The way that he is unapologetic for who he is, even when he is pretending to be someone else entirely.

We all know that fairy tales have wonderful lessons for children. It is time we reconsidered them as adults. We need to see that we are not a wolf in our grandmother’s clothing, trying to be someone else, but ourselves, as we were meant to be seen.

Dear Warrior Women

Dear Warrior Women,

You know who you are. You are the women who have a quiet strength, a silent fortitude. You don’t show weakness, and when your reality is crumbling, you whisper to yourself, “I’ll try again tomorrow.” You are a tumbling sea inside that precariously reaches your toes and rushes back. You are the bluest sky on a halcyon day. You are one of a kind.

You may not be the smallest waist in the room, or the most stylish, or the most put-together. You are a warrior woman, and it’s been a long time since you’ve had time to care about what others thought of you. You’ve been fighting a war, after all. With society, some of the time. But mostly, with yourself. You are on the front lines in more than a metaphorical sense. You are attacked, hated, and fetishized. But now you are fighting back.

You are broad shoulders, you are thunder thighs, you are big-boned, you are full-bodied, you are curvaceous and proud of it. And yet, you are none of these things because they can’t fully define you. Your vessel, your body, is bigger than a size 0 because of all of the spirit and beauty it must contain.

And to all of the petite women, the size 4’s and down, who were not born with big child-bearing hips, or large breasts, or even great height, you are warrior women, too. You fight in the same war with a different weapon.  And when you fall, you represent an important casualty. Because in giving in to the opposition, you are conforming, as well. And that’s not a victory for anyone.

We have all struck ourselves with deafening blows. We all forget our warrior status once in awhile. But there is a way to remember: help others remember.

Remind them that you have filled your cup, and you have drank it all, and you have lived, not vicariously through someone else, but in your own precious skin. Remind them that you have a beer gut from drinking the dregs of life, and that it means you had fun along the way. Remind them that you have a thick, juicy body from letting the juice from so many experiences of your life run down your chin, and that you delight in that fact. Remind them that you have small breasts that allow you to go without the trappings that cage you, and that you live a life so much freer than anyone else because you are happy with them. Remind them that you have the body you have because so did your mother, or your grandmother, or your aunt and you should be honoring them, not being ashamed of them.

Dear warrior women of all shapes and sizes, never forget yourself or your worth.