TW: self-image, fears of Sexual Assault.
When I started to develop as a woman, I also developed the fear of being one in public. I would always wear a rashguard and shorts over my bathing suit, and I avoided tank tops and tight fit clothing. I didn't like wearing spandex, sports bras as an active top, or even strapless homecoming dresses in fear that something could happen. When I got my first training bra, to me, it felt less like the cage that most women see it as and more like a shield. I liked wearing it. I felt protected. And for a while, I was able to hide what I was becoming.
As I got older, I got rid of the rashguard and swim shorts so I'd look like the cool teenager my friends were turning into. Girls my age loved beach days and recreating cute bikini photos they found on Pinterest. I always felt weird posing– putting my hands on my hips, framing what I felt should be covered. I never felt pretty in those photos. Sometimes my friends would confess that they didn’t either, but we posted them anyway.
As middle school approached, everything was developing except for the boys. I was growing. I could no longer use a training bra and all bras lost their power of concealment. I was becoming a woman, but this time, everybody knew it. But things didn’t end there; on the day before swim practice, I learned I had bigger issues than having to swim breaststroke in front of a boy. When I saw what was happening, I remember being doubtful that the crimson tide came in. I called my mom to confirm my dreaded diagnosis, describing to her what had happened and explaining that “it hasn’t stopped.”
I was right. The traditional function of a woman was active in me. I knew what it was, what it meant, and what could happen. My mom had taught me how to prepare and my dad warned me of the power I’d gained. Through these different approaches to ‘the talk,’ my parents instilled in me a fear of what could leak and what others could do.
As more of my moons came and more women were crowned, I became comfortable with my changes– and so did the other girls at school. Periods became less of a shameful secret and more of a clandestine camaraderie. We share the powerful abilities that our bodies have and we had no control of.
But after a couple of years of secret freedom, the boys caught up and the men were awake. At their rouse, ‘no’s were shoved into and over our bodies. At school, male speakers instructed that we girls always say ‘no,’ as if we were the ones who would have the final say. Girls weren’t allowed to wear anything provocative in order to keep the boys at bay. Even on the hot field days, a one piece bathing suit and a pair of running shorts didn’t suffice but required a t-shirt thrown over in order for us to run around with the half naked boys.
While I hated the blame that our bodies earned us, I was happy with the clothing regulations of my school. This way, I wasn’t the only one who preferred that their world be covered.
College made me feel the opposite of how my high school made me feel. The male gaze felt ever more present, there, active. But also, it felt like it was meant to be there. With going out, sorority rushes, and the emergency light boxes lighting my path home, it all felt objective. It felt unfair that we had a freedom to dress how we wanted now, but how that same freedom had the possibility of getting us cornered.
In a second semester February, I wrote in my journal: “I don’t know when I learned what it was, but for some reason whenever I’m around full grown men, I always feel like there is a possibility of it happening. No matter who they are, I always have this feeling.”
Even now, feeling sexy is always overruled with fear– it feels like I am giving myself up for predation. It is a corrupt undertone that was planted out of safety. The gift that was manipulated into a curse.
I always loved being a girl, but I think I’ll always feel reluctant to be a woman.
Image credit: First Moon Original Art Piece by Aubrey Meiling
Editor: Cathay L.