This story contains descriptions of sexual harassment and the sexual objectification of a minor.
Here is how I learned to hate my body.
I am sixteen. I am in a store in a t-shirt and pajama pants, no bra because my dad has rushed me out the door. A man is following me. I don’t even notice; my dad points him out as we leave the store. The man disappears, fleeing from my father’s gaze. My dad turns to me: “Why aren’t you wearing a bra,” he says. “You should wear a bra.” When I get home, I cry about it. I realize for the first time that my body works against me. It puts me in danger.
There are people who will see my body before they see me. They will see my body and want it. They will see my breasts under my shirt and think it gives them some kind of right to me. That night, I order a binder online.
I am twenty. I wear short overalls and a bandana over my hair, and I feel confident, for once. When I stop to get gas, I dance aimlessly while I wait, enjoying the movement and the asphalt under my shoes. A man leers at me when he drives by. I stop and lean against my car, make myself small and quiet. This one only looked; the next one might do more.
I am seventeen. My body is in my way — it hurts, constantly, with growing pains and scars and bruises. I am not sleeping, because even my mind has turned against me. I wear my binder and I hunch over to hide the way my breasts show through anyway. My friendships are falling apart. Everyone wants more from me than I can give them. All I want is for someone to look at me and not want me to offer them my body instead.
I am fourteen. My mom tells me I shouldn’t wear shorts to the restaurant. People will see my thighs. “I know,” I tell her. I try not to care. I fail, and I feel like people are watching until we leave. I don’t understand why it unsettles me yet, but I will soon.
I am eighteen. I find a shirt that drapes over my curves in a way I like, and I text a photo of it to my partner. He tells me I look beautiful. He’s happy I found something that makes me happy. I wear it out the next day. Ten minutes from the door of my dorm, a man in a car whistles at me. I am reminded that when my body looks good, others want to consume it. I turn around and take the shirt off, and I never wear it again. I don’t ever want to feel like I am giving them my permission.
I am fifteen. There are heat waves rising in the summer air, and my tank top is sticky with sweat. When my mother sees me wearing it, she tells me I look like a slut. It’s not my fault, I think, looking at myself in the mirror. I didn’t ask for this. I just wanted to wear the shirt. My body doesn’t care; the tank top makes my breasts look even bigger than normal. I put on my binder and a sweater, and I ignore the way the heat makes me flush.
I am twelve. I sit on a barstool in my own house, hands braced on the edge of the seat between my legs. I don’t know it yet, but the position squeezes my breasts up and forward. Previously, I did not have enough breasts to be squeezed. My dad looks at me with scorn and tells me, “That won’t work on me. Stop it.” His voice is acid. I don’t even know what I did to upset him; I won’t understand until later. When I do, it makes me feel sick and hollow and wrong. I wasn’t trying to do anything; I was just sitting. I didn’t want my body to look that way. I didn’t want him to look at me like that. I do not know it, but this is the beginning of the end of my love for my body.
I am ten. I am in the shower, cupping my hands over my chest and wondering what it will look like when my body develops. I hope I will be beautiful. I am excited to find out. I look at the new curve of my hips shadowed on the wall and I feel the change coming, feel it already happening within me. I am not scared of it. I think it will be amazing.