Pretty Girl Problems

If you were to meet me on an average day, I’d be dressed casually; maybe too casually… no make-up, wrapped in sweat pants and a t-shirt or a hoodie if the weather is cool enough to justify hiding my form. I don’t want to be noticed, but my lack of effort hardly helps. Catcalls still happen, unwanted advances still happen. Not every day, but often enough that even when it’s not happening, I’m just anxiously warding off the next intrusion.

I wouldn’t say I’m gorgeous, I’ve definitely got my flaws, but altogether, I am fairly attractive. I’m coming to terms with this fact now — in my 30s, just before it begins to fade. “Coming to terms” — I know that doesn’t seem fitting, but it really is… I want to know what it is to be recognized purely for what I say or how I am, but instead, my appearance is always in play.

Adolescence was incredibly uncomfortable for me. I was growing into my body — tall with long legs, thick unmanageable hair and developing curves that called more adult attention than I ever wanted. Do you know what jailbait is? It’s a common term — one I know from childhood… Most have heard it as part of a joke, just before laughing or rolling their eyes dismissively. I was jailbait… I never dressed suggestively and I wasn’t a flirt — I was age appropriate. Grown-ass men were not appropriate. Being called jailbait was an insult; I knew it was a joke, but it felt like an accusation, as if I were doing something wrong. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do to change the way anyone saw me. I’ve been objectified since childhood.

Jail bait = Apparently, a tasty morsel to longingly stare at

and imagine all the things you wish you could do but can’t… quite yet

Before I had even realized all the male attention I was getting, the men in my family began to scheme against it. My dad tried to convince my mom to make us wear long skirts, all. the. time… we were a conservative family, but that was beyond unrealistic. Around the same time, my grandfather noticed a young boy who was bagging our groceries staring me down and proceeded to tell my mother that he couldn’t take me out anywhere anymore.

Their responses were ridiculous, and definitely not the best way to approach the subject with me. It’s like they knew what was about to happen, but I didn’t; or maybe I just refused to accept it. And then there were times when the attention was undeniable, like when friends at school or my sisters would point it out in amusement. I would laugh too, but the truth is that I was embarrassed. It felt awkward…

I actually believed, as a kid, that I had personally coined the term “eye rape”. We all laughed about it when we were 13, never having heard it before — but I’m guessing that plenty of women could take responsibility for the term. Maybe we all can. It’s developed from a feeling of having our bodies intruded upon, even without touch. It’s entirely possible to undress someone with only one’s eyes — and it has to be a violation at some level, to make a young and innocent kid feel so naked and objectified.

I abstained from that role for a long time, carefully preserving my “purity” until I was 19 — he was my first; but I had just graduated from jail-bait to conquest… He was also one of the first men to wreak my opinion of men — just like the men who would stare me down while holding hands with their lovers or even my ex’s friends who would say suggestive things when we were alone. There’s a certain social awkwardness that has accompanied my detections, fueled by discomfort and distrust. Relationships are hard, I always question a person’s motivation. My confidence is somehow coupled with insecurity.

Everyone reacts to life differently, another person could have lived a similar life to mine and their reactions and feelings might completely contradict mine — for me, certain parts of my existence have made me want to shrink away and disappear, but my body won’t allow it. It can be uncomfortable — I’ve felt unsafe, judged, violated, objectified, debased, and even hated. It’s ridiculous, but I feel uncomfortable looking another person in the eye, for fear that it might feel too intimate for one, or both, of us.

I’ve spent my entire adult life in dissimulation, trying to hide or rearrange parts of myself to avoid feeling the way I felt… I’m talented in lots of ways, but after years of extremes — from trying to blend in like the men in my family wished I would, to taking advantage of what I’ve been given — I haven’t gotten anywhere. I think, at some point, we’re all growing in discomfort over one thing or another. The important thing is to keep growing, regardless of setbacks or popular opinion. There’s no better way to rise above the the aspects of life that we struggle with.