Is That it?

Overnight, the stretch marks appeared with the presence of breasts, hips, and a deeply rooted sense of fear. I, like many women do, became the object of sexual fantasy and gratification from one day to the next. Overnight, my body was no longer my own. Everyone had a comment. Days of running and playing carefree were gone.

The first time I felt afraid and powerless was when I was fifteen. When boys- boy my age- felt it was okay to grab me or pin me down. In the dressing room. By my mother’s car. On a school field trip. Young boys. The ones who were taught that a woman’s body was theirs to explore and command. He touched me and said “juicy.” A state of shock and stillness overcame me, then I laughed. He pinned me down in a room full of friends, put my arms over my head and got on top. Both fully clothed. Both kids. I tried to move and couldn’t budge. My muscles weak. He leapt across the room when he heard the door handle turn. My mom was a chaperone. They all laughed. I laughed. Two of them grabbed my arms. Unable to move. My wrist hurt. My mom walked back from pumping gas. They stopped. They laughed. 

Is that it?

Since being ushered into womanhood, the fear hasn’t stopped. But it wasn’t a big deal. None of it was. School trip hotel rooms turned into parties. Parties turned into dance clubs and bars. Bars into sidewalks. Bruises come and go as a result of being handled like a toddler’s favorite toy. Dancing is not an invitation to be grabbed and groped. When Whitney Houston came on, it wasn’t an invitation to have you leave a black and blue imprint on my body for days to come. When the music ends, the dance is done. It’s over when I stop the music.

But did he actually hurt you though?

A deep sense of shame and self-loathing comes with being looked at for one thing. I desperately wanted a smaller chest and to change the way I move my hips as I walk because a Latina’s hips are like a welcome mat, calling to so many of you. Instead I gained weight and kept it on. My attire, though always quirky, became overcome with graphic tees. They’re looking at what’s on my shirt, not what’s under it. While it kept some boys away, it brought on a new set of problems- you’d be prettier if you lost some weight. Why don’t you have a boyfriend? My worth, still determined by my proximity to man.

Didn’t you like him?

Blame. It’s a funny thing, isn’t it? It’s funny because not once did I blame these boys (or the countless others) because they’re good guys. Some of them really are. Some of them I don’t know but maybe they are and they just made a mistake.

If only I hadn’t dressed like that.

If only I hadn’t joked like that.

If only I hadn’t challenged him like that.

If only I didn’t have that last drink.

If only I could remember.

If only I left 10 minutes earlier.
Not all guys are like that.

Social media is a beast because it makes it harder to separate them. A casual chat turned to unwanted advances turned to being called “aggressive” and “condescending” when all I wanted was to turn down sexual advances. His entitlement and misunderstanding of how to speak to a woman respectfully left him feeling cheated. I owed him something. Freshman year of college, a guy bought me coffee and a bagel. I owed him something. Fast forward five years, a guy bought me a drink. I owed him something.

Since then, this old friend has gone on to apologize profusely. I thanked him. He’s one of the good ones. To the guys that meet such acts as this (or the Weinstein scandal or Woody Allen or a seeing a friend being grabbed without consent or or or) with silence, I’m sorry we are not enough. Maybe you’ll get it when you have a daughter. I hear you get a handbook at the first clubhouse meeting.

And while I’ve always had a good group of guy friends- some of which I never knew if they wanted to fuck me or friend me- I looked to them a lot to “save” me. In order to keep from being harassed at a club, I tend to grab my nearest dude and pretend we’re together. Because a guy won’t fuck with another guy’s girl. That’s called respect.

If growing up in this highly misogynistic and patriarchal society has taught me anything, it’s that women are everything. And then some. I used to think more women equals more targets. I used to be teased by other women for being friends with some of the actual good guys. We are not in competition. We are not here for them. We are resilient and triumphant. We are intelligent and funny. We are beautiful and sexy (on our own terms). We are supportive and kind. We don’t need to share our stories to be warriors. We don’t need to keep quiet to be strong. We are in this together. We save ourselves. We will smack the shit out of guys in a club together and walk out hand in hand. We will fight day in and day out. We are better together. We are not asking for it. We are worthy of love. We are enough. 

Her. Him. Them. We. Me too.

 

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Unthinkable

Not for a single moment did my gaze shift from the Falcon blue linoleum floor.  I took care in counting the tiles, creating stories for the scuffs and imagining the black and white specks came from giant salt and pepper shakers.

You look like a gorilla.

This is how a fellow classmate so aptly pointed out the hair that lives on my arms and legs. Clever, I know. Fourth graders have some good zingers.

I laughed. Because what else is a kid with an ungodly amount of body hair supposed to do? Start singing songs from Disney’s Tarzan, that’s what. They chuckled and off we went to play. And yet, my gaze never met theirs.

While the memory is short, I will never forget that being the moment I started a war with my body. I carried a long sleeved garment with me wherever I went. Partially because my Floridian body would get cold in any temperature below 70, but mainly to cover my overachieving hair follicles. Shortly thereafter, I took to shears. Sometimes I would even take the scissors and inconspicuously cut arm hair off in class. Only I noticed. So I graduated to razors and quickly earned my waxing badge.

Letting strangers pull the hair off my body began one summer in Mexico when I was visiting my grandparents. What a high- I was in the seventh grade. Every year that I went to visit my family became an opportunity for me to wax, get tan and be beautiful, if even for a short time.  I grew to resent my ancestors and to love beauty rituals. The saying “beauty is pain” was met with excitement and fervor.

Just as I got comfortable with knowing I had the power to change what I didn’t like in the mirror, the stretch marks came. They crept up my skin overnight. Hugging my hips and kissing my thighs. I grew inches horizontally. Suddenly there was nothing I could do- nothing but stop wearing bikinis and tops that might reveal too much. Even then, I had no control.

Honey, put those away. Boys won’t take you seriously.

My vice principal gave me that valuable lesson when I was in the 9th grade. I wore a white and red polka dot dress. I thought myself akin to Minnie Mouse but a friend called me “the Mexican Dorothy.” We thought it was hilarious and appropriate. When I dressed up that formal Wednesday, I put on a sports bra and tight tank top underneath in hopes of suppressing my new figure because I loved the dress so. Aside from an adjustable bow at the waist, the dress was simple and fell just like Judy Garland’s. I put my hair in pigtails and actually felt confident- no cleavage, no body hair, no figure. Still, I was pulled aside and separated from my class to be told that boys will not take me seriously.

I threw that dress in a bag to take to the Goodwill a few weeks later. My aversion to dresses and all things quintessentially “girly” took its place in my closet.

Most girls wouldn’t be brave enough to cut their hair so short.

A sentiment shared by a cute guy I met while getting my undergraduate degree. A party where the theme was ABC- Anything But Clothes. Boys respect me now, right?

The unwanted kisses were only meant to commend my blunt cut bravery.

Te tienes que cuidar.

Translation: you’re getting fat. Though it actually translates to “you need to take care of yourself.” A damaging and thoughtful phrase. When I ran and ate well, the comments did not cease. When I became a vegetarian and ate less often, I still needed to take care. When I snuck snacks and candy bars into my room late at night, guilt ridden, and turned to food for comfort, the saying held firm.

The phrase taught me that being fat is unhealthy, shameful even, but more than that, it ingrained in me the idea that being fat is not beautiful. That I lacked pride and somehow should apologize for the way I looked. That until I stopped hearing those words strung together, I would never be beautiful.

You don’t need all that makeup.

A backhanded compliment insinuating the *only* reason to wear makeup is to mask an insecurity or to please someone else. Growing up with three over-achieving older siblings I never had my own thing. I received hand-me-downs in the form of clothes, music, movies, and taste. I strived so much to be like them in every way that I had trouble finding my own identity along the way. Enter: clothes and makeup.

Everything from graphic tees to purple lipstick became my own special thing. I loved getting weird and funky with my accessories and eyeliner. Neither my sister nor mother cared for makeup or fashion, so I was on my own. And it was amazing. Through these seemingly vain hobbies I found an outward form of expression and solace. I can let the world know who I am and what I’m about without actually starting a verbal conversation!

Though my own source of content came from taking an extra 15 minutes to plan my attire, those around me made sure I knew I didn’t love myself enough. Something so simple and pure like a pink pout became vilified. I would never be as *cool* and *confident* as the girls who wore no makeup and went out the door with the closest item of clothing. Or so I was often led to believe.

But today, I did the unthinkable. I stood in front of a mirror and looked at myself. Really looked at myself for the first time in years. And as I examined my reflection these bold phrases popped into my head- the catalysts of battles in a much bigger war. Instead of looking away, I held my own gaze as I did walking to the playground that day in the fourth grade. While I’m not going to lie to you and say that I love what I see or that I believe I’ll ever be conventionally beautiful, I will say I am grateful. I am so unbelievably grateful.

Grateful for the opportunity to show a little girl- a fifth grader I taught- that the hair on my arm was just like hers. Grateful that she smiled and handed me the blue coated scissors.

Grateful that I am in overall good health and that this body is able to move, work, play and exist in a space I so often take for granted.

Grateful that the scars on my belly are there as a reminder of the pain I no longer need to endure thanks to some wonderful doctors.

Grateful that I have all these pretty clothes and lipsticks to compliment my mood and make a statement all at the same time.

Grateful that my mind is being taken care of just as much, if not more so than my body.

Grateful for the love that encompasses me daily.

I did the unthinkable and thanked my body. Have you?