Why We Need an Advocate
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, “by age 6 girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape, and 40-60% of elementary girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat” (Smolak, 2011). While all genders, ages, and cultures are at risk for body image issues, young women today are struggling quietly. Girls do not want to bother their friends or their parents with questions about their changing bodies (much like their mommas don’t want to bother their friends with their own body image concerns).
We need to empower each other to speak up. If we, as adult women who serve as aunts, mothers, sisters, friends, and daughters, continue to hide our body image concerns, how will our young women learn to speak up? How will anyone know that we need help if we remain silent?
If we empower the next generation to speak, then we will know better how to help them. We will know how to advocate for them. When questions of value and identity mount, one thing is true for all of us. Every girl, young or old, needs an advocate.
When reflecting on some of the most courageous and dynamic advocates in history, I can’t help but remember the first powerful female literary character I encountered in college. Paulina is one of Shakespeare’s finest women, and one of her most famous lines in The Winter’s Tale commands even the most Shakespeare-weary audience member to perk up and listen.
In a passionate moment, Paulina commands the stage and advocates for her spurned queen: “It is a heretic that makes the fire, not she which burns in it” (2.3. 115-116).
In one of his final plays, The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare introduces us to Leontes – a passionate, angsty, and jealous king who is convinced that his wife, the gorgeous, pure-hearted, and compassionate Queen Hermione, has been unfaithful in their marriage (Sound kind of like, Othello, right?). King Leontes spends the first half of the playmaking a full-hearted fool of himself and eventually banishes his wife for her alleged unfaithfulness. His madness overtakes his reason.
In this kingdom ruled by men, Queen Hermione has one advocate – Paulina. She is force and a storm. She speaks honestly and courageously for her queen, and she puts her life at risk to advocate for good. When Paulina calls Leontes to the mat and straight-faced calls him out for being “unworthy and unnatural,” all he can respond with is a childish threat. “I’ll ha’ thee burnt,” King Leontes bullies.
And this is where Paulina shines. She keeps her composure, raises herself even taller, and fearlessly looks him in the eye. She responds masterfully.
“I care not.
It is a heretic that makes the fire,
Not she which burns in it” (2.3. 115-116).