I was 12 when I first learned about being a distraction to the boys.
It was 26 degrees out in September, and my best friend and I were talking about how, “of course I’ll wear shorts out when it’s this hot.” A female teacher stopped my friend and me, and put us against the wall to measure our shorts. She told us we were distracting and needed to change. I was 12 and hadn’t even started shaving my legs yet. I didn’t understand why I would distract anyone with the hot weather outside; and I’d made the shorts myself from a pair of old jeans I didn’t like.
I never wore them again.
That same year in gym class, I wore a tank top, but I forgot my sports bra. I was sitting in a circle doing stretches with my co-ed gym class when my gym teacher told me my bra was showing; and that the entire year I’d been wearing revealing clothing and needed to cover up. The boys and girls all laughed at me, and I was given a shirt from the lost and found.
The rest of the year, I wore an old pair of men’s basketball shorts and one of my dad’s shirts; because I was so afraid of the embarrassment of my body being on display.
I was 13 when I was made fun of for wearing “granny” panties; the girls told me the boys wouldn’t like me if I didn’t wear a thong. I forced my mom to take me to get a pair because I was ashamed boys wouldn’t like me.
That same year, a boy from my class told the disabled boy, “grab her ass.” The her was me. He came up from behind and tried to pull my jeans down. I was humiliated, and the boy continued with his hands while I ran until I made it to the women’s washroom. I left school early that day and told my parents I didn’t feel well.
On PJ day at school that same year, I wore my dad’s shirt that I always wear to bed. It was labelled with a hockey brand, “jofa.” All-day, the boys and girls, told me I was a jofa; I was left confused and wondered what it meant. Finally, a boy from my class told me it meant, “hot body ugly face,” and that I was “sexualising myself to impress the boys.”
I went outside at recess and cried and didn’t go back to class. I hid in the gym locker room for the rest of the day until the final bell.
When I was almost 15, I got called a slut for wearing shorts and a tank top. That evening, I was asked to send explicit photos of my body because, “that’s what sluts do.” I was labelled as nothing but a slut for the next year, and a rumour was spread about me going down on a boy I didn’t even know. Nobody listened when I said it wasn’t true.
I was a slut; the boy, a legend.
When I was 16, I was groped at a party for the first time. He came up behind me and grabbed my bottom so hard that I had a bruise the next day. My boyfriend, at the time, blamed it on me. He said I shouldn’t wear leggings anymore, and asked why I didn’t push him off me.
He blamed me for the assault of my body.
When I was 17, my guy best friend kept forcing himself on to me at a party; even after I told him to stop, because I have a boyfriend. He followed me around until I was in the bathroom with the door locked, calling my designated driver to get me out of there. I was so terrified that my boyfriend would break up with me.
I didn’t tell anyone.
My entire teenage life has consisted of being told what to do with my body.
Too prude, too slutty, too try-hard, not trying hard enough, too revealing, not revealing enough.
I thought that I needed to cover up around the boys from such a young age because they couldn’t control themselves.
How is the sick sexualisation of my body going to teach a boy anything?
We are taught to protect ourselves from rape, while men are not taught that they should not rape. We fear rejecting a man because he could kill us, we fear getting catcalls in the street, we fear assault, we fear walking alone at night, we fear men, we fear not being able to defend ourselves because we’re weaker.
All too often, we are sent the message that we are the problem, but I think it’s time we start to address the real problem: the toxic culture known as the sexualisation of women and girls’ bodies.
It wasn’t until I was 19 that I learned to defend myself when I’m told to cover up.
I’ve been hiding in my own skin all of my life, and I finally decided that my body is not an object. I choose to wear revealing clothing because it makes me feel good, not because I want the satisfaction of the male gaze.
Stop telling girls and women to cover up.