These men don't really understand who I really am. They don't know me for me. We're strangers. As a teenager and in my early twenties, I almost let these intruders' definition of me define me. And that was a scary place to be.
I was an insecure preteen and even more uncertain teen years before I met A. My breasts were bouncing somewhere between a B and C cup when I was 10 years old and none of my bras fit correctly; distinct lumps would spill over the top and cause many pokes, grabs and laughs during recess. I also got my period that year with cramps, overflowing and 2 weeks duration from the start, speckles of brown and red often dotting my pants and chairs. More jeers. Outside of the playground hierarchy, grown men with gray hairs peppering their slicked down hair and un-groomed beards would lick their lips and leer catcalls at my pubescent self. I was a double D by 8th grade (about 13 years old) with hips and a belly pouch to match. I walked like a lumberjack, I was told, but that didn’t stop adults from yelling the detailed and very illegal things they would do to me as I walked to the store to spend my lunch money on grape Fanta and Lemonheads. Insistent after I mumbled I was only 13, the recounting of their fantasies didn’t stop. I hated my body.
These dumb boobs caused nothing but trouble, and it seemed to be the consensus of whomever I told that I was the culpable one for “leading them on,” “liking the attention,” and some weird correlation between acting grown and wearing too tight clothing. I was barely a teenager, insecurely walking around in boot cut jeans, a pressed ponytail, and a tall tee at least 3 sizes too big because Dem Franchize Boys chanted “yup in my white tee,” but the mounds of flesh poking out underneath were heavy and still prominent. I hated my body.
I thought A was teaching me how to see myself as something sexy to be worshiped. He was really molding my brain to see my breasts and vulva as an external extension of his needs. They weren’t really a part of me, but an omnipresent reminder that it was my duty, no my purpose, to put him before all. That is what a girlfriend is for.
16. That is what a girlfriend is for. Behind the bleachers, in the bushes, on top of the washing machine, as his family was in the next room (or as his hostility increased as my no became more insistent, as his younger siblings were sleep in the same room), I believed it was part of “girlfriend duties,” a relationship compromise to just do it anyway. A didn’t like my depressive episodes and crying, he whined, but comprised and was there for me. What type of biatch would I be if I wasn’t there for him when he needed it- he just happened to need it sexually?
I resented the routine, the clinical nature in which my jeans dropped and an instrument was thrust into a hole. As he turned me around and my mouth hung limp against his old, faded and wrinkled baby blue sheets, I willed my mind to go someplace else. A sticky odor syruped the air around him and I made up stories in my head about different folks people watching at the mall who came into contact with a man who smelled like he bathed in cologne.
By the time we broke up, A had called me a depressed bastard, selfish, a dirty slut until it became like a mantra.
- Tear up on the phone: depressed and hard to be around;
- say no to walking to his apartment because he wants you to cook for a BBQ: selfish and standoffish, no wonder you don’t have any friends;
- squirm as he lifts your shirt up to the point it pisses him off: he doesn’t want to fuck a slut like you anyways, someone willing to have their tits out behind the bleachers is just gross.
All those situations had happened, I had done those things, so he must be right. Right?
I was so focused on not being the person I thought I was with A, someone who didn’t speak up when uncomfortable, I didn’t recognize I was still a shell of myself. People I was with still violated my boundaries, whether it was sexual or emotional. I told one man, as we rapped along to viral YouTube videos in the middle of the night, that I didn’t really know if I was a bad person or not. Like, do I just do bad things sometimes or is that a core trait? The next day, he started loudly telling all of our mutual friends that I was crazy, made everything “too much,” and didn’t know how to “chillax.”
Unknowingly I was letting their perceptions of me shape my character. I was a little slutty for having a minuscule of agency, too focused on things like depression and not living in the moment or being a good friend. Selfish. Always wanting attention. I complained about it, but I secretly loved the male gaze. Crazycrazycrazy. I began to believe I knew this woman, that this was a natural progression.
To be clear, I am not perfect. I do have bad traits. I talk over people when I have a point to prove, listening to respond and not to understand. I have no work/life balance. I gossip and forget to check myself on it. My self-talk teeters between negative and positive. I have an attitude and a shorter fuse that creeps out when annoyed. Online shopping and eating out are still my coping mechanisms, sometimes balance be damned. I want fries and I want new clothes. I can own up to that and work on areas where I know I can grow.
But it’s about not letting a stranger’s false definition define who I am.