On Being Strong (or, How to Recover from a Persistent and Undefined Illness)

All good feminists and Ivy League women are taught that they are, or should be, powerful.

We don’t need men.

We don’t compare ourselves to other women.

We won’t worry about our weight, our armpit hair, our nails; we won’t ascribe to

conventional standards of feminine beauty!

We will shatter the glass ceiling with the force of our wills and our brains.

We will find meaning in ourselves and each other, be happier than any dependent

relationship could ever make us.

And when we feel suddenly and surprisingly alone?

In dire, desperate need of comfort and affirmation?

When we have never felt less powerful, less willful, more lost?

I think I’m a good woman. I want to be a good feminist.

I want to be strong – independent – beautiful – rooted;

So I have tried:

to squat,

back straight and weighted by a bag of corn, or years of calorie counting;

to lift,

a harvest bucket of squash whose edges dig into my fingertips;

to eat,

pies and cakes baked by my friends in the broken heat of the evening, celebrated straight out

of the pan, forks diving and mouths laughing –

so that I might affirm my bulky biceps and tightened thighs,

might have the strength to lift myself from emotional mire.

And I have learned:

that my bones can support all of my muscle and fat without bending;

that my friends can hold up my heart when it feels like it might crumble;

that I can have a toned back and pretty hair;

that I can have a beautiful soul and strong shoulders —

But when I am still ashamed of my flimsiness?

Still feel bereft, jealous, vulnerable?

This piece is about being strong.

It’s not so easy.

-Leah Douglas, Contributor

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