Woman -- flash by Sayli Limaye
Inspired by “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid
Work out on Monday, it’ll burn some calories; go without a meal on Tuesday, it’ll help with the numbers on the scale; dress properly and appropriately, that is: don’t show too much (whore, skank, slut), and don’t show too little (prude, killjoy, wuss); you must diet; pinch the fat at your sides, the flab on your face; stare in the mirror; check your waistline; check your figure; you take up too much space in this world; why are your elbows so skinny; why are your thumbs so fat? You mustn’t look tired; cover the big forehead, the thin lips, the large nose, the shadowed eyes; how dare you wear your tired soul on your face; why don’t you smile? But I don’t want to smile! Ungrateful, selfish girl, smile for everyone my dear; don’t you sit like that, people will want to stare; don’t you dress like that, you’re asking to get murdered; don’t you talk like that, you sound shameful and indecent; why are you so bent upon making a scene? Concentrate on me; let my words surround you; mindlessly stare into pixels upon pixels of shadows on your screen that will tell you precisely by how many ways you do not hold up to the unforgivable standards pressed forcibly into your small palms.
Keep your pepper spray always on hand, steady your grip on the trigger; brandish your keys as a number of tiny weapons when you walk outside at night, you never know who may be haunting the stray pockets of darkness; never tell strange or familiar men that you are unaccompanied and unprotected, what if they follow you home? Check every lock twice before you allow your eyes to rest; use cautious fingers to check license plates, door handles, bags, clothes, shoes, and anything else you carry for lurking remnants of the nighttime activities of opportunistic men; don’t listen to music that may hinder your awareness of your surroundings; don’t wear your hair in a ponytail that may dangle enticingly before an assailant; don’t stray off the illuminated path for fear of those prowling about just beyond the dull warmth of the streetlamp; you are a woman in a horrifying world and I’m doing my best to help you; gaze into the screen with ardent eyes, scroll through countless views and suggestions of others like you with meticulous fingers; listen to me, and you will be safe.
This is how you show your breasts; this is how you cover your breasts; this is how you put your body on the internet; why do you wear so little and then act so surprised when we stare; why do you wear so much and expect us not to judge? Be beautiful, be passive, defer to others; don’t have chapped lips, don’t show me those unsightly pimples, don’t discuss your period; remember that these things that make you human are insufferable in every way; a human is what you are, a marionette is what you must become.
This is how to fight back when your views are challenged and how to hold your head up high; this is how to avoid getting into situations that form a prickle in the back of your neck and a lump in the back of your throat; this is how to repair your relationship with food; this is how to bully a man; this is how to respond if a man bullies you; this is how to detangle an uncompromising piece of gum from your hair; you must not converse with strange men; but if you have to, this is how you must respond; this is how to ignore unneeded opinions; don’t walk into your house unaware; don’t put your license in your phone case; don’t hitchhike alone or an overambitious man may forever imprint his cruel hands and words into your cold skin; remember, this is how you build up a name for yourself to make the jeering voices from your past regret all the insufferable names they ever called you.
This is how you must scrutinize yourself in the mirror; this is how to comb your hair; this is how to eat daintily and quietly; remember that you must be skinny but not scrawny, curvy but not fat, athletic but not masculine, smart but not cunning, confident but not arrogant, demure but not meek, and self-conscious but not insecure; you must follow through with all such paradoxical assertions that will make your lungs crumple and your head spin in confusion; you must allow me to continue to imprison your soul within my pixelated fist, my millions upon millions of eyes and opinions slowly crawling out of the cyberspace and at last leading your spirit into the very brink of disintegration.
Sayli Limaye is a high school senior from South Brunswick, New Jersey. She loves writing, and aims to leave a lasting impact on people with her words. In her free time, she enjoys singing, obsessing over unsolved true-crime cases, spending time with her friends, and curling up in bed with a good book.