I was 10 years old when I started growing breasts, and from day one, I was ashamed.
I hear stories of girls who wanted to grow breasts, who thought that it made them look grown-up and womanly and all that, but that wasn’t my experience.
When I started to grow breasts, I saw them as sexual things that had suddenly attached themselves to my body, and at 10 years old, I didn’t want people to look at me as sexual.
My solution was to start dressing in baggy shirts—lots and lots of baggy shirts—in the hope that my family, my friends, and strangers who passed me in the street would not sexualize my 10-year-old body.
By the time I was 16, I didn’t like the way that baggy shirts looked on me. So, I switched to tighter fitting shirts with shorter sleeves and lower necks. There was only one problem with this: I had large breasts. And so, naturally, my breasts had this annoying tendency to reveal themselves in the form of cleavage quite often. I could be wearing the most unsuspecting of shirts and bam—cleavage.
It didn’t matter what I did, it didn’t matter how I wore them; unless I was wearing a frumpy sweater that was a size too big with a picture of a cat batting a ball of string across the front, people were gonna see some cleavage.
For a while, this embarrassed me. Granted, I don’t really remember being called out for what I wore (excluding one occasion, where a teacher paraded me in front of the class and asked me to prove that my outfit was appropriate for school). But I often found myself noticing when other people’s eyes went to my breasts instead of my face, and I felt guilty for it. I wondered what they thought about me for dressing like this—they must think I’m a slut, that I’m looking for attention, that I’m trying too hard to impress them.
Nobody ever called me a slut (so far as I know, anyway). Nobody ever accused me of looking for attention (unless I forgot it over time, because I realized that it wouldn’t matter if I was). And yet, I still felt that my body, including the ways in which it naturally developed and the ways that I decorated it, made me a lesser person.
Because that is the world that we live in. It is so common to see and hear women’s bodies sexualized and objectified that we hardly even notice all the ways it happens, and this doesn’t come without consequences. I’m not just talking about the age-old, some-men-see-women-only-as-objects consequences; I’m talking consequences regarding the ways that women, and (especially) young girls, see themselves.
Since I was young, I have heard men go on about how a woman’s breasts are sexually appealing, how her eyes are sexual, how her ass is sexual, how the curve of her hip or her neck are sexual—and all of this amounts to girls who grow up feeling like they can’t really have any of these body parts without it being inherently sexual. And, worse, if they reveal to the world that they have these body parts and someone ogles her or touches her inappropriately, then it is her fault, she shouldn’t have worn what she was wearing.
This latter belief is enforced from a young age with things like school dress codes.
If a boy in her class cannot focus on his work because the girl in question has shoulders, then that is deemed to be her problem, she is the one who needs to change. I mean, it’s not as though the boy needs to be told to stop being immature and focus on his work, right?
If a male teacher is uncomfortable with the fact that a student in his class isn’t wearing a bra, she needs to start wearing a bra for him. It isn’t like he needs to be told that he should act like a professional and stop sexualizing a child’s body when he’s a grown-ass man, right?
And, really, boys’ bodies are not sexualized to the same degree. You never hear about girls getting distracted from their work because the boy sitting next to them was wearing a V-neck. You do not hear people going on and on about how pecs are dirty and sexual, and they need to be covered up as much as possible. You never hear about a boy who was assaulted, and the first question he was asked when he tried to come forward was, “Well, what were you wearing?”
Simply by having a female body, society sets you up to be distrusted and ashamed.
But you know what? I’m glad that I had large breasts as a teenager, and that I couldn’t help but to show a little cleavage. And I know some people are probably thinking that I’m saying that because it got me some good attention—but no. That’s not it at all.
Because, you see, when I first started wearing more tight-fitting shirts, when I first saw my peers’ eyes dart to my chest rather than my face during conversations, I felt ashamed and like I was doing something wrong. But, eventually, I came up with an answer to those wonderings I presented before:
They must think I’m a slut, that I’m looking for attention, that I’m trying too hard to impress them.
And who f*cking cares?
If they think I’m a slut, then that’s their problem, not mine. And besides, if they really are the sort of person to look down on someone for how many sexual partners they’ve had or appear to have had, then I’m not sure they’re the sort of influence I want in my life.
If they think I’m looking for attention, then oh-f*cking-well. I am looking for attention. We’re all looking for attention.
Isn’t that the point of life? To be noticed? To stand out? To make a difference in this world, to leave it changed from the way that you entered it? I don’t want to blend into the crowd; I want to lead the crowd, and no, my cleavage won’t necessarily get me that leader position that I’m craving, but it’s not going to stop me either.
And if they think that I’m trying too hard to impress them—I’m not. I’m not trying to impress them. I don’t care about them. I don’t do my makeup for them. I don’t stand in front of my wardrobe and pick out clothes specifically with the intent of making heterosexual men en masse like me. I wear and I do what makes me feel pretty, what makes me comfortable. And sometimes that does mean frumpy, too-big sweaters with cats on the front, but usually that means tight-fitting shirts that show a little bit of skin, because it makes me feel less constrained and more beautiful.
And when I feel free and beautiful, I feel more confident, more capable of leading that crowd I mentioned earlier.
Maybe I am risking people sexualizing my body when I don’t want them to, or blaming me for their own wrong-doings and sexist thinking, but at the end of the day, I just don’t care anymore. I’m too old to worry about what people think now, and I’m too comfortable in my skin to change anything for their sake. And if someone ever accuses a woman of being the reason why they acted inappropriately (or, in some cases, even criminally) because she was dressed in a revealing manner, then that person is dangerously, horrendously wrong. They are sexualizing said woman’s body to a gross extent, ignoring her personhood completely, and reducing her to little more than an irresistible object.
And that is not okay.
A woman’s body is not responsible for the actions of another. A woman’s body is not inherently sexual, simply by existing. Breasts are just breasts, like a man’s pecks are just pecs.
And no 10-year-old girl should ever feel dirty, gross, or sexualized simply because of the way that her body is naturally developing.
Author: Ciara Hall
Editor: Emily Bartran
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell