I was objectified like crazy growing up.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was. Guys would undress me with their eyes, call me thunder thighs, whistle when I walked by, and even whisper when I simply got up to sharpen my pencil in class. I can distinctly remember seeing the smirks on their faces every single time I made a move.
I didn’t believe there was any guy my age who would be interested in the non-physical parts of me.
And the sad reality is, I was okay with it. It’s disgusting to think about now, but it’s true. I have an amazing father figure in my life and I have always known my identity and never compromised my standards, and yet no guy my age had ever treated me differently so I embraced it. I knew my curves were poppin’ and I knew that’s how I’d get attention so I wore form-fitting clothes. And I didn’t even want to wear long shirts that would disguise my figure. Yep, I dressed for the male gaze.
When I got to college – a much bigger and freer environment – I realized that people weren’t looking at me the same way. Well …maybe they were my first year when I was a cheerleader, but after that, it wasn’t something I noticed as much. I was no longer in the confines of small classrooms with people I’d known forever. Everyone was a stranger and expected nothing of me and it was so freeing. I dressed for me. No one talked about my body (at least not blatantly). I could wear long free-flowing shirts, be comfortable and STILL get complimented.
But despite this feeling of liberation, my lens in which I viewed myself still had not completely shifted. The battle of the sexes, now became the battle within my mind. I started doubting my beauty because I wasn’t getting the attention I was accustomed to. And that uncomfortable feeling, at times, turned into low self-esteem. So I started to examine my body closer to see what was wrong. Sure, I gained a few pounds here and there, but the curves were still there. Maybe it was the stretch marks. I hated my stretch marks. Stretch marks for me were a sign that I was fat and forever single. I would do whatever I could to cover it up. But then, I was reminded by the poet Propaganda that stretch marks are a sign of growth, of hard work, of my womanhood. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
I think at that point, there was nothing else on the exterior that I could point fingers at other than me. The real me. Deep within myself, I had let the objectification that I had experienced in the past determine how I defined myself. I had let what others thought of me become an idol – something that elevated above the important things. Once I realized that, I vowed to love myself first.
I’m not going to lie, I’m still getting over those years of objectification. I still find it difficult to imagine anyone being attracted to me without seeing my body first. I still question myself when I wear clothes that reveal my shape – I wonder whether I’m dressing this way for me or for someone guy’s attention. But it’s a process.
I’m learning that embracing my curves doesn’t necessarily mean showing them off all of the time, but it also doesn’t mean hiding them. I’m learning that there’s more to me than my body. And it’s been a fun journey discovering who that is. If you can relate to my story in any way, I hope you can join me on this journey too.