It starts in second grade. (Though I’m certain it started before then; I just wasn’t aware or I didn’t remember.) I make friends with a girl on the bus. She’s a year younger than me.
Sometimes I watch my dad’s movies, she tells me one day. They’re not for kids. They’re for grown-ups. But I watch them on the TV in my room.
She describes what she’s seen on these VHS tapes; men and women rubbing each other, a man ‘peeing’ into a woman’s mouth.
I know now that this was ejaculation, that she was watching her father’s collection of porn, but a child can only use the words they know to make sense of something they should not have seen.
She is six. I am seven.In fifth grade, a boy tells me he knows which girls in the class have grown breasts. They are the ones that wear bras, he explains, I can see their straps sticking out.
Like you - you’re wearing one right now. He stares at me during lessons sometimes. I hate that I am assigned a seat close to him; he doesn’t even have to try to get a good look at me.
He is designated as my square dancing partner in gym class, (of course).
I have enough courage to tell my teacher that dancing with him makes me feel weird, so she lets me dance with another girl. I am relieved.
At the time I don’t even know why his gaze makes me feel so uncomfortable, but I was being sexualized. I was a ten-year-old girl being sexualized by a ten-year-old boy.
Six grade physical education - shiny, smooth legs peaking out under gym shorts. I look down at my own legs covered in soft, dark baby hair, and I tuck them underneath me, hoping no one can see.
That night my mom helps me shave them, telling me to be careful. I bleed. I wear band-aids around my ankles most days. For fifteen years this continues.
I still have scars from the nicks and cuts the razors gave me.In that same year, I see a girl walking down the hallway wearing a corduroy skirt just above her knees.
She looks pretty and walks with grace that I have not yet acquired. She smiles at the boys sitting on the hard, tile floor; there are four or five of them. They smile back.
When I pass them, I hear them talk. She had more hair down there than she did on her head! They burst into manic laughter. I wear shorts underneath all of my skirts from then on.
In eighth grade I begin to wear makeup - just a little - some gloss on my lips, some concealer under my eyes to hide my dark circles,
some eyeliner and mascara applied with very little precision or skill. It’s tiring to wake up earlier than I normally do, but all of the cute girls wear makeup.
All of the cute girls get attention from the guys they like.One day my family takes a trip to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I get into a shouting match with my mom in the car.
We’re almost there! You need to put your makeup on. She’s insistent that I wear it, but I don’t want to. It’s a chore. I tell her just as much, but she won’t give in.
We only visit them once or twice a year. Why don’t you want to look good? Tears stream down my face as I reach for my cosmetics bag. I am not worthy of being seen without makeup.
High school comes.
Girls become more open with one another, sharing our beauty routines, sitting in bathtubs together and shaving our legs, painting our nails,
griping about our periods and our most recent crushes. And there is gossip, always gossip.
Andrea was at the pool the other day, and she had a really cute bathing suit on, but I swear her bush grew down half of her thigh!
I mean, you don’t have to shave your whole vagina, but at least pluck your stray pubes when you go out in public.
First I start with scissors, just trimming away at anything that can be seen while I am wearing underwear. I accidentally snip my labia. I bleed again. It’s not enough.
Some of my friends tell me they shave every other day, and they have boyfriends, so they must know what is normal. I take a razor to my skin.
Little, angry bumps form on my bikini line; they itch, and they’re painful and ugly. Perhaps Nair will work better. I slather the slimy, pungent-smelling lotion all over my crotch.
It burns, and the bumps only get worse. I’m in discomfort at school, at work, even as I lay in my bed at night.It takes me years to be comfortable in my own skin.
Even now I am afraid to go to work without some makeup on, bearing my hairy legs.
I hide them under thick tights and trousers, even in the summertime when I’m sweating and want nothing more than to throw on a loose, flowy skirt.
I don’t want to be considered 'unprofessional’.But I am getting there.
I am learning to unapologetically accept and embrace my womanhood - my bare face, my unshaven body,
my scars that remind me of how much it hurts to conform - even if the rest of the world does not.