It started being the object of others’ attention, the thing that would betray my safety and peace.
When I was a little girl, I was in awe of women.
My mum’s swollen pregnant tummy was incredible. The lines and folds on my Nana’s face were like soft velvet. My neighbor’s colorful hair was magical. How unbelievable that my human body could one day grow and stretch, too.
When I was a little girl, I loved my body.
I may not have been able to grow another human. I didn’t have a beautiful, wrinkled face or magical rainbow hair. But what I did have were two hands that I could use to draw and write and create. I had a mouth that I could use to sing and talk and laugh. I had a pair of feet that I could use to dance and run and jump.
My body was incredible. How utterly absurd and wonderful that my soul had found a home in this skin. How amazing that I could heal myself or grow a new tooth without even thinking or willing it so.
I don’t know exactly when I stopped being in awe of my body — probably around sixth grade. I had always been a scrawny kid. In retrospect, I probably didn’t really become aware of it until towards the end of primary school.
A friend of my Pop told me that if I didn’t eat more, I would never fill out a bra. Boys at school teased me for having a flat chest. I hadn’t realized that my pre-pubescent chest was something to be ashamed of at 12.
I learned quickly — I stole padding from my mum’s bra and used it and folded tissues to stuff my top.
Meanwhile, my friend who had gotten her period two years earlier was desperately trying to flatten her breasts with crop tops and shirts that were too small. Of course, I didn’t know that.
I knew that my body had become an object of shame rather than wonder.
I just didn’t realize that the same thing had happened to all my friends, all those other little girls. I thought that my body was shameful because I was too skinny, too flat-chested, too short. I didn’t realize that others were ashamed because they were too busty, too curvy or too tall.
I didn’t start to grow until my mid-teens, years later. As I started to look like a woman, I became acutely aware of the dissonance between my body and mind. At 15, I was a child with a woman’s body. I was blessed in that sense. I don’t want to imagine how much worse it would’ve been if I were one of the early bloomers. Those girls who got their first period in fifth or sixth grade weren’t the lucky ones — I was.
I wanted to grow breasts because I thought it would make the teasing and petty jokes stop. And eventually, they did. Boys no longer teased me. Instead, they harassed and catcalled and assaulted and groped me.
Being ashamed of your body is one thing. Being scared of it is another. I had so desperately wanted this new body. But it had betrayed me.
As a little girl, I knew what it meant to be a woman. Being a woman meant being brave enough to carry a child. It was the stories of wisdom each wrinkle told, the excitement of creating and recreating yourself.
Being a woman meant being strong. It meant being powerful and beautiful.
But this womanly body was never mine. From the moment I grew into it, it belonged to the men who thought that they were entitled to take from me whatever they wanted. I existed solely for their pleasure, never for my own.
So when my little sister comes to me and says with excitement, “Look, I’m starting to grow!” I don’t feel joy. I mourn for her and what she must lose. I wonder whether my Mum mourned for me, too.
Read more about growing up as a woman in Australia here.
This article was also published on Odyssey Online.