Updated: Mar 4
TW: Eating Disorders, Body Dysmorphia, Numbers
woe betides patriarchy the day a woman feels comfortable in her own skin
I feel as if I’m only able to talk about my story when the experience is over, when I’ve detached from the moment, leaving it in the past. I’ve never spoken up in the presence of the event because I feel unsafe in my skin. It’s terrible—that feeling—insecurity, self-consciousness, and smallness. A lump in your throat grows while your confidence shrinks. I hate that. I am not supposed to feel that way. Nobody deserves to feel the pain of having to wear their skin when they wake up in the morning. Nobody deserves the cold sweats of panic in the middle of the night when they realize that your nightmare might just become a reality. Maybe it already has. Nobody deserves to be told how to act when the other person doesn't understand you or when they have never heard your story, your sentences, your words.
Fourth grade. My first crop top—big blue butterfly with green sparkles, sequins, and a polyester-cotton blend that stuck to my sweaty skin in the hot summer. Purple and teal tie-dye skirt. A colorful ensemble for a colorful girl. However, all it took was one comment about my body to drain the color from my heart and replace it with the reddest rouge of embarrassment on my cheeks. Red became my most dreaded color from then on, everywhere red. I got my period that same year; I was told to hush about it, though—God forbid a young boy would have his ears tainted by learning about the female reproductive system.
Fifth grade. That school field trip was my first time without my mother. I kept my period so much of a secret that neither the school nurse nor my friends knew because what ten-year-old has a period? As I type this now, six years later, my fingers are stiff. My brain does not want me to write this down because I still feel embarrassed; I really do. I am scared that the people I know will find my words and invalidate my story, and it will all be for nothing. The same nothingness floods my brain five seconds after I cringe at the word “period”, knowing I was nurtured to reject my own womanhood. All these secrets I keep to myself; all these secrets that burned me down, all fire, all red, everything is done and still more to be said.
I had never been insecure about my thighs before that Buzzfeed video came out, where "Men Say What They Secretly Think of Thigh Gaps.” The video was not particularly negative, and I suppose it was partly my fault for snooping around on Youtube in fifth grade. Still, the fact that the video now has over 12.5 million views shows how much we care about what men think of our bodies. Even I, a fifth grader who did not know what a thigh gap was, watched that Buzzfeed video and immediately googled how to get that desirable thigh gap. That’s where the sleepless nights started. I’d exercise in the night, in the morning, in the afternoon, and the evening. My family was overjoyed at the sudden increase in my physical activity; they mistook my insecurities for an effort to become healthy. They’d say I turned over a new leaf. In reality, I just burned all the leaves I owned for fuel. I starved myself and had nothing to run on, squat on, or do my ab crunches on. I counted my calories; at my lowest, I managed to average 600 kcals a day when my parents could not monitor everything I ate. I threw away food my mom worked hard to make. I threw away my happiness to have a tiny waist. In pictures, my posture was sickly as I bent my back forwards and pushed my knees backward to achieve any slight thigh gap. My parents wondered where all the cellophane wrap from the pantry went. Little did they know that underneath my jeans, my thighs were wrapped in the tight plastic, smeared with Vicks Vapor Rub, a cellulite reducing remedy I found on the internet (which didn’t work, by the way). I worked myself to the bone. I worked myself until I became nothing but bones.
When I was in seventh grade, and my mother called me “too skinny” for the first time, I felt euphoria. Three years it took, from fourth grade when a girl one foot shorter than me would tell me that I was too big to play with her and her friends on the swingset, to seventh grade where girls would stick their hands into my collarbones and say they would die for a bone structure like mine. Three years it took, and my stomach stayed sucked into my ribcage. Three years it took, and I lost my period, my one tie to womanhood.
I was called a self-diagnosed victim. I was gaslighted into thinking that I was wrong for feeling anger when boys would send pictures I did not ask for and test out phrases that I did not invite upon myself. I know boys and men who think women are objects and have said so themselves, yet they have mothers and sisters who fight this discrimination every day. They think it’s okay, and if they do end up reading these words, they’ll know who they are. Same to the people who say that 97% of all young women who are sexually harassed is an inaccurate percentage. It could be 97% or 79% or 17% or 99%; all we know is that it is not 0%. For those who say not all men, yeah, maybe. But it’s definitely almost all women. Such a high amount shouldn’t seem impossible anymore when it could include your family, friends, peers, and yourself.
Because I know that it includes myself.
I now sit criss-cross upon my bed; it’s three in the morning. Today is a Monday, and my alarm clock is set for 5:30 AM. I will wake up and exercise and eat a single egg for breakfast, but maybe today, I will add an extra teaspoon of olive oil to my egg when I cook it.
- Prerna Kulkarni
Cover Photo Source: The New York Times