When I was six:
I was young, but not yet small.
We had picture day at school, and the photographer said something funny. I laughed and my nose crinkled just as he snapped the picture. My teacher scolded me, saying that it was not proper. The picture was retaken, subdued and “proper.”
I shrank a little.
When I was eight:
A little older, but still not small, I was told that I could not be Darth Vader during playground games. That was for boys. I was, however, allowed to be Princess Leia, so long as I didn’t get bossy.
And suddenly I was smaller still.
When I was 10:
I was asked why I played with boy toys, and why I wanted to play sports. Mother said it was embarrassing that I was such a “fussbudget” and demanded fairness from teammates and coaches. Suddenly, equality was something I could not have and still expect to be accepted.
I felt tiny and unheard.
When I was 12:
A boy I liked told me he’d rather date a “real girl.” I was cool and all, but I had too much mouth and not enough boobs. I hadn’t thought so much about my lack of breast tissue up to that point.
I certainly felt smaller after someone mentioned it, though.
When I was 14:
I was actively interested in sex, and boys were too—as long as it was their idea. I retreated so far from myself for a long time after one told me it wasn’t normal for me to be aggressive about my needs. That was for whores. He was happier a few weeks later, when I no longer wanted sex.
He took it anyway though, since I’d offered it before.
When I was 16:
I was a bossy, soccer-playing, sex-loving whore. I reveled in the title. I was brash and obnoxious and gloriously me. I was going to grow again. Then a boy hit me. I was afraid. Other women asked what I did to piss him off. I believed it was my doing. I was too pushy, smart, bossy, loud, free. I was too…me.
Then, I was truly small—so small I almost could not find myself.
When I was 18:
I became a mother. The boys who hit me were now the men who thought I needed to be put in my place. And rest assured, they knew my place, and it was safely beneath them, where a woman should be. My entire being was the size of an atom.
I tucked it away in the dark, waiting for…someday.
When I was 26:
My daughter told me she didn’t need a college fund. She could get married and have babies. She didn’t need a job because her husband would work. Just like that—as if it was a perfectly reasonable thing to believe.
And just like that, I grew.
I was so enraged at the thought of my own goddesses thinking they were worth nothing outside their ability to breed and make a fan-f*cking-tastic pot roast, that my atom exploded. I grew and grew, right out of all the pots I’d been planted in.
I left them right behind.
When I was 28:
I was still expanding. I learned to leave what no longer served me. I learned how to love “aloneness.” I closed my heart enough to let it heal, so that I could open it ever so much wider when the right time came.
I walked with purpose for the first time in years.
When I was 30:
I found my tribe. Reaching out to others who understood my ways and felt my pain became my catharsis. I began to share with others in my position. It filled me with joy to tell another woman that she did not have to live by someone else’s rules.
My inner eight-year-old cheered. My 14-year-old self found salve for those old wounds in the words of wiser women.
I am 42:
I will never be small again. I am a goddamn warrior. I am huge. I continue to grow.
My daughters will never be made small by societal programming. My little girls are now women, Amazonian and unafraid of the consequences of being improper.
I am grateful:
Grateful to the six-year-old who asked the photographer to send both sets of school pictures, because she liked the crinkly-nosed one.
I thank the eight-year-old who wore a Darth Vader mask anyway.
I thank the 10-year-old who refused to stop doing things she loved, despite her need for approval.
I give eternal praise to the 12-year-old who punched that boy in the balls.
I am sorry:
I apologise to the 14-year-old who thought that maybe he was right. Maybe she was a freak.
One thousand refrains of “I’m sorry” go out to the 16-year-old who had no one to tell her that it wasn’t her fault.
My sympathies to the 26-year-old who came to the horrible realization that she was everything she never wanted to be.
I am proud:
Bravo to the 26-year-old who found the strength to break a centuries old cycle of oppression and pain.
Congratulations to the 28-year-old who had the courage to learn that alone is not the worst thing you can be.
Love and light to the 30-year-old who knew it was time to rebuild a community around herself.
I am not alone. You are not alone.
You are not required to bind yourself to the unspoken laws our mothers lived by. You are not at fault for others’ inability to accept you.
Find your “self.” Build your soul up and feed it well.
Find your tribe. Create a chosen family that will nurture and support your journey, as you nurture and support theirs.
Let us leave our daughters with less self-doubt, less fear—less smallness.
Author: LuAnne Creighton
Image: Nadim Merrikh/Unsplash
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina