This week during a discussion in my women's self-defense class, one of my students stated, "I feel like my body is something valuable now and worth protecting -- that I now have the confidence to see my self worth." Another student claimed, "I feel like my hips, butt and thighs are my friends; they are where my strength is. I feel it when I run, but this class has made them feel even stronger." Why does this bring tears to my eyes every time I hear this?
For many of us, growing up as girls in the United States means being inundated with messages to hate our bodies, and to see certain parts as the enemy. We are told that we are physically weaker and lesser than, and that we do not have control over our physical selves. Our symbolic representation in the media shows us as taking up less and less physical space. For example, our thighs are supposed to be so small that they do not even touch between our legs. Of course there are exceptions to this, we can always name a few celebrities who are challenging the norms, but overwhelmingly the negative messages prevail.
We also learn to fear that we are not able to protect our bodies, as we soak in safety tip after safety tip, telling us to avoid certain situations. We practice a variety of behaviors like carrying our keys a certain way, not going out alone at night, and locking our doors.
We're told to communicate clearly with guys so they won't assault us. Bystanders are trained to help keep us safe -- for instance, by distracting a guy who's on his way to a private room with a wasted woman.
But despite those risk-reduction measures and the involvement of the community, we still may end up in situations where we typically do not have training on how to respond to a sexual assault once it is happening.
Wouldn't it be nice to know how to use our bodies in precisely the way an assailant is assuming we can't? Wouldn't it be nice to use our strength, particularly in our hips, butts and thighs, where our gross muscles are? Wouldn't it be nice to believe in our bodies and that we have the right to protect them?
Self-defense is not the cure-all. Not all of us feel that fighting back is the best option, or we may not be able to fight back, and we make the best choices we can when we are in threatening situations. But self-defense can increase our chances of thwarting an assault, and I've seen first hand how self-defense improves body image, increases confidence, and decreases fear. For years I have seen my students begin to have a new enjoyment and perception of their hips, butts, and thighs as they discover new ways to make sense of their bodies.
My community is getting ready for Take Back the Night next week, and many of my students are busy organizing and advertising all of the special events. For many years I have been involved with Take Back the Night as a keynote speaker, self-defense workshop teacher, panel organizer or speak-out attendee. It is always so encouraging to see how Take Back the Night promotes creating a safe environment for survivors to break the silence and to raise awareness about sexual assault issues. I also appreciate how it promotes the reclaiming of the public space that so many women fear. Self-defense is an integral part of Take Back the Night because we must reclaim our bodies when we reclaim public space. Self-defense empowers us to love our bodies, and to see the power in our bodies -- especially in our hips, butts and thighs. Be kind to them. Feed them some chocolate every once in a while. They are your friends.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Take Back the Night in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about Take Back the Night and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.