The Consequences of Over-Sexualizing Women’s Bodies

I was ten years old when I started growing breasts, and from minute 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 very sexual things that had suddenly attached themselves to my body, and at ten 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, adult strangers who passed me in the street, would not sexualize a ten-year-old body.

As tends to happen to people, I eventually got older, and by the time I was sixteen, I didn’t like the way that baggy shirts looked on me. And so, I switched to tighter-fitting shirts with shorter sleeves and lower necks. There was only one potential 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. Not even voluntarily; 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 it; so long as I wasn’t wearing a frumpy sweater that was a size too big with a picture of a cat playing with a ball of string across the front, people were gonna see some cleavage.

And for a while, this embarrassed me. Granted, I don’t really remember being called out for what I wore (excluding on 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, if I was willing to dress 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 did). 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.

And why?

Because that is the world that we live in. It is downright common to see and hear women’s bodies sexualized and objectified, and this doesn’t come without consequences. And 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.

From the time that 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 very young age with such 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, then clearly, 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, boy’s bodies are not quite 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 pecks 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 sort of sets you up to be distrusted and ashamed.

But you know what? I’m very glad that I had large breasts as a teenager, and that I couldn’t help but to show a little cleavage. And I know that when I say that, the majority of you 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 fucking 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-fucking-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 while we’re on the subject of looking for attention, why would I deny what we all already know?

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 make-up 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.

And 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 end of 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 pecks. And no ten-year-old girl should ever feel dirty, gross, or sexualized simply because of the way that her body is naturally developing.

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Dear Ten Year Old Me

Dear Ten Year Old Me:

Hi! How are you doing? Stupid question, sorry; I know how you’re doing. You’re ten years old, still relatively new to your school, and you don’t really have much for friends. Most of the kids your age make fun of you because they think you’re weird, and so you spend your recesses playing with your little sister instead. I get it. I remember.

So I guess I’m writing to tell you that things are going to change. A lot is going to change, in fact.

Eventually, you are going to make friends. No, not a lot of them, but some, and the ones that you make are going to be good ones. They’re going to be kind and funny, and they’re going to introduce you to a lot of new and amazing things. Life is going to get better for you, I promise.

And those parts of you that everyone dismisses as ‘strange’ and ‘unlikeable’ now? They’re the things that are going to make you special someday: your imagination, your enthusiasm, your passion. Don’t give up on them. Don’t allow them to chip away at your uniqueness and shape you into something more acceptable, more palatable. Because someday, you’re going to need your strangeness so that you can stand out, so that you can say something new that might actually help someone. The world needs strange people, even if it isn’t always accepting of them.

Over the next few years, you’re going to be told a lot of things, ten year old me. You’re going to be told what the proper way to act is, what the proper way to live your life is, and you’re going to need the confidence to know when to take them seriously or not. There is no one proper way to live your life, and teachers don’t always understand that, but you’re going to learn it someday. You’re going to come to see that there are no simple steps to a fulfilling life; you just need to figure it out along the way, and the only surefire step that will keep you from a fulfilling life is giving up parts of yourself. Teachers will encourage you to do that. They’ll tell you that parts of you are wrong, that you need to learn to be more practical, more focused on making money than anything else, and although this is a lot of weight to put on your tiny shoulders, you are going to need the strength to stand up to them and say “no”.

Oh, ten year old me, there are so many things that I want to warn you about, and so many things that I can’t wait for you to experience. But if I could give you another piece of advice, it would be just this: talk.

When you’re sixteen years old, someone is going to break your heart, and you’re going to have a hard time getting over it because that someone is going to be of your own gender, making you feel like you have no one to talk to about it. But you do. It won’t always be obvious, but you have a fantastic support network around you that want to help you through things exactly like this. You’re going to learn that when you’re eighteen, and you lose a year of your life wallowing in depression, and the only way that you’re going to figure out how to pull yourself out of it is by reaching out to someone – is by talking.

The way you feel is not wrong, ten year old me. It’s just another part of you. And when you stop forcing yourself to feel ashamed of it, you’re going to realize that. You’re going to have a much easier time managing it.

You’re going to spend a lot of time stressed over the future for the next little while, but don’t bother. It will all work itself out. Things will fall into place the way that they are supposed to, just so long as you trust yourself and allow yourself to be who you truly are.

Much love,

An older version of you that still has so much left to learn herself.

 

Why We Need to Remember Native People This Canada Day

This year is Canada’s 150th anniversary. Sort of. It depends on what you define to be ‘Canada’. I mean, Canada was initially declared a country of its own 150 years ago, but even before that, it was a settlement for European people, and even further back than that, it was the native land of many indigenous tribes. Canada as a recognized country is only 150 years old, and already it has a long and bloody history of colonialism, cultural genocide, and systemic racism.

And that’s not to say that I’m not proud to be a Canadian. I am – especially lately. In a world where Donald Trump can be president of the United States and people continue to lose basic human rights every day, I’m so relieved to be living in a country that actually seems to be taking steps in the right direction. Our current prime minister has the most diverse cabinet that I have ever seen, including disabled people, native people, the first ever Muslim minister in Canadian history, and fifteen women, meaning that women represent exactly half of the cabinet. That’s something that really shouldn’t be a big deal, but it really is, considering in the United States, it’s a group of majority white men who are signing away women’s rights to reproductive health. In Canada, our prime minister has marched in the Toronto pride parade, and he has opened our doors to refugees in need of our country’s help. I’m very proud to be in a country where all of this is true, but at the same time, I am not going to deny that my country has its faults as well.

In Canada, 49% of Aboriginal peoples live on remote reservations (according to a 2015 report from Maclean’s), leaving them out of sight and out of mind for many Canadians. And on these reservations, many natives experience a quality of living comparable to third world countries, with limited access to health care and education – but we are not a third world country. That is completely unacceptable. Issues such as alcoholism and abuse are also common among natives in Canada – and not because it is inherent amongst native people, but because between the years of 1876 and 1996 (so within that period of 150 years that we are celebrating today), native children were taken away from their families and forced to attend residential schools in an attempt to teach them to forget the language and culture of their ancestors, to assimilate them into ‘Canadian society’, and while they were there, they faced mental, physical, and sexual abuse so severe that many of the survivors and their children are still dealing with the mental effects of it. And not to mention, as reported by Terry Glavin in 2014, native Canadians are incarcerated ten times more often than the national rate, despite making up 4.3% of Canada’s population, they face an unemployment rate of 14%, and if they go missing or are murdered, there is a chance that the police will not even bother to investigate. And what I have listed here is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the race problem that Canada has.

But why am I saying all of this now? What does all of this have to do with Canada’s 150th anniversary? Well, this year, Canada Day is a celebration of Canada’s history, but all of this is an important part of Canada’s history that needs to be remembered just as much as our strengths need to be celebrated. And not only is it important, it is a part of Canada’s history that frequently goes ignored. Although this is more a part of American history than Canadian history, I think it is important to state that I had only ever heard Christopher Columbus hailed as a hero until I was in my second year of university, when I discovered that he was actually guilty of enslaving natives, part of which involved torturing, raping, beating, and/or kidnapping men, women, and children. It wasn’t until university that my teachers assigned reading from the perspective of native authors either. And as I pointed out when I said that most native reservations are out of sight and out of mind, it is too easy for the majority of Canadians to just ignore what is actually going on in our country.

And we can’t.

If our country is going to have a stronger future than our past, we need to fix it.

And maybe I’m not the best person to say how exactly we fix this, because I lack the lived experience of being a native person in Canada. But I do know that one of the first big steps in moving forward is spreading awareness. It’s taking a moment away from our celebrations this year and remembering every aspect of Canada, the good and the bad.

Thoughts on Regret

Regret is a pervasive and terrifying thing.

The idea that you can look back on your life, on decisions that you made at the time, and come to the conclusion that you made the wrong decision. That the path you chose is thin and winding and leads nowhere, and there’s no way to get to the path that you wish you had taken now. Because now that you are on this path, now that you realize that it is impossible to turn around and walk back, now you know that that other path was a much better path to take.

I know many people who have felt this way. I know many people who have gotten lost to this feeling, have become bitter and depressed because of it. And for a brief time, even I found this feeling creeping up on me.

I regretted the fact that I allowed my depression to cripple me for a year.

I regretted the school that I had chosen upon going into post-secondary.

I regretted things that I couldn’t possibly have changed or even chosen, things that I was born into. Things that simply were. Things that I could only curse fate or the universe of God or whatever you believe in for, because only that could have been responsible for it.

And you know what I began to realize? There’s absolutely no good to be found in regret.

Once you start down a path, you can’t turn around and change your mind, that’s true. You can only move forward, not back, and it’s important for you to keep that in mind – and one of the reasons why it is so important is because you can still move forward. You don’t have to stay on the path you are on. Just because you have started on it, it doesn’t mean you have to continue. You can change your mind, you can start on a new path, you can cut across and cheat your way onto a new road. Your past is set in stone, but your future is free. Your future is something that you still can change.

And often times, we make the decisions that we do for a reason, and it’s too easy to forget that reason when we have grown and learned new things. At one time, I regretted allowing myself to be crippled by depression, but I forget that I was crippled by it because I was deeply, intensely depressed, and I didn’t understand that at the time. I understand that now. I know how to cope with that now. But I didn’t at the time, and that’s why I made the choice that I did. It’s important for us to remember that, because it makes it easier to forgive ourselves for the decisions that we made in the past.

More than that, we should never regret the bad times because, often times, the bad times need to happen. Nobody’s life is constantly perfect – we all need to experience pain because we learn from pain. From pain, we are given the opportunity to find our strength. The bad times teach us lessons which we can then take with us into the good times, which we can then use to teach others. Maybe I did lose a year of my life to depression, but when I hear someone else voicing the same thoughts that tormented me during those years, I know what they are going through and I can try to help them. So why would I regret any of it?

Regret can be a very harmful thing. It can become something that overwhelms us, that depresses us, but it can also be a good sign. We regret things when we realize that we now know more than we did then, and that if we were to make the same decision now, we would have chosen differently. Regret is a sign of growth. So do not linger in your regret. Be proud of the fact that you have grown, and take that growth into the future with you. After all, the future is the only place where you can take it now.

A Failure in The Education System

When I was in high school, I wouldn’t have defined myself as very good at school. I mean, I did alright. I passed all my classes, and I did so with mostly B’s and, depending on the course, C’s. But I wasn’t what you would call a perfect student, by any stretch of the imagination.

I dropped math the moment that I could, because it became abundantly clear to me that I was making absolutely no progress in it. My science teacher hated me, proven by the fact that she spoke to me as though I fit into the Dumb Blonde stereotype. And when I tried to continue studying French, my teacher gave me a look of surprise, as though she honestly didn’t understand why I even bothered anymore. And none of this would have bothered me quite so much as it did if it weren’t for the fact that I was friends with all of the smart kids in high school. The kids who were looking forward to careers in science. The kids who all the teachers both knew and loved. Once, one of my closest friends in high school told me that he loved math, and I was baffled as to how that was even possible.

“Because it’s structured,” he said. “It’s always the same. There’s always a right answer.”

“Then what’s the fun?” I wondered.

And as much as this might give the impression that I was terrible in school, I really wasn’t. I just haven’t focused on the right subjects yet. I got straight A’s all throughout four years of English, and high praises on all of my English projects because they were creative and ‘thought-provoking’. I loved photography, although everyone laughed when I told them and accused me of taking it because it was a ‘skip class’. And some of my absolutely favourite memories from high school took place in my drama class. These were my scenes; these were the places where I thrived. These were the places where I felt not only skilled, but intelligent.

From high school, I went on to university, taking on a major in English, and I don’t think that it’s dishonest to say that I thrived there. I did so well that one of my professors encouraged me to go on and pursue a graduate degree. But here’s the thing: I still can’t do even the most basic math. I can tell you all about the metaphors in the Great Gatsby, but I can’t tell you what 40% of anything is. I can list off the greatest and most influential science fiction writers, but the closest I ever came to failing a class was in astronomy. And that boy who told me that he loved math because there was always a right answer cannot write an essay about literature to save his life.

And there are some who will say that, between me and the boy, one of us has a set of skills that will come more in handy in life than the other. But personally, I think that both set of skills are necessary. That boy has the ability to do his taxes well, to calculate numbers quickly, and I have the ability to write stories and communicate ideas clearly. They are different skills, certainly, but they both have their place in the world. And they are both stem from very different types of intellect.

Everyone has a different sort of intellect – their own unique sort. You might be able to excel in gym, but you cannot write an essay. Maybe you are good with machinery, but you are terrible at music. It doesn’t matter – it is all amazing and it is all useful, in one way or another.

And the problem with our education system as it is set up right now is that students are expected to excel in very specific environments, when not everyone can. And this is especially difficult for students that are not particularly skilled in the areas that school encourages – math, science, gym, etc. Students who are more artistically inclined – the musicians, the painters, the artists, sort of fall to the side, neglected by a system that tells them that they are stupid because they cannot add or subtract or multiply. And sometimes, this message can get to kid’s heads, making them feel like they are stupid. It certainly did for me – I quickly grew to hate math and science because my teachers regularly made me feel like I couldn’t do anything, like I was limited somehow. It was the other subjects, the ones that I was good at, that proved them wrong. I wasn’t stupid because I couldn’t do what they asked – I was just skilled in other departments. And you are not stupid because you can’t do something specific. We all have our strengths and we all have our weaknesses, and the problem with the education system is that it expects all of us to be strong in the same departments. It does not provide opportunities for kids who are better in the arts to develop their abilities, and in that regard, it is the one that fails us, not the other way around.