I was ten. I was running through the sprinkler in my underwear. Blades of grass stuck to my skin. My body was long and lean, void of any curvature. It was whole and mine. It allowed me to do backbends and cartwheels. That is all I noticed about my body.

I was twelve. I was sitting at the kitchen table in my pajamas. My dad looked at me sympathetically and told me that I had reached an age where boys would start to see me differently. He spoke of the differences between boys and girls and hormones. “Boys are visual. Girls are emotional.” So, child, you must be careful. The world will make sure you learn not desire for the other, but the desire to be desired.

I was fourteen. I took off my jacket at lunchtime, scandalously revealing my strapless shoulders.[1] The Vice Principal swore at me. I was sent to the office a for a second outfit violation that year. Blindsided and face burning with humiliation, I hid in the bathroom stall and changed into clothes my mom had to bring me. My parents read me something out of Dr. Phil’s ‘How to Talk to Your Teen’ book. I was learning that people had opinions about my body. Now there were rules regarding my skin.

I was sixteen. I was wearing a high-collard turquoise t-shirt and a long skirt. I was teaching vacation Bible school for children in the villages of Panama. We were singing Abre mis ojos oh Cristo and throwing a giant colorful tent up in the air. Tiny ones squealed with delight and ran under. I felt a tap on my shoulder and the leader asked me to talk to her for a minute. We walked to the church entrance, where she told me that since my chest was big and my shirt was too tight, boys were staring at me. She lent me a big t-shirt to put on, lest the outline of my body cause those brothers of mine to sin.[2] You don’t want to do that, do you? I walked back to the giant colorful tent, now resembling what I was wearing. I looked over at the boys leaning out the church windows. My heart beat faster. Lying on the church’s cement floor that night, from my sleeping bag I watched my cursed chest rise and fall. I was drenched in a humid sweat, soaked with shame. On this day, a tiny bit of my innocence was sacrificed. The impact of your naturally developing curves is a dangerous thing, apparently. Hide.

I was eighteen. I was wearing jeans and a hoodie. It is important to note that my face and hands were the only parts of me exposed because I was on a service trip in Morocco[3], a place that forced me to constantly be aware of my femaleness. It was a place where I was chased out of a market. Where I sat in an Internet café writing e-mails while the man at the computer next to me watched porn. Where a man on the street asked if he could bring me home to his mother and fuck me. Where I listened to people have sex against the door to my hostel room. Where I was constantly “complimented” in the streets and strangers were not afraid to touch you. One day, I was sitting on a park bench reading my Bible. Two men walked up and sat on either side of me. They began speaking to me in Arabic. I did not look up or respond. I just stared at Isaiah’s verses, resting on my knees. Then I heard in broken English whispers that felt wet and hot in my ears, “Why you no talk to us? We be nice.” They played nice with their hands, which found their way to my neck, gliding down my breasts, and landing in my crotch. My legs, despite their Jell-O consistency, found the strength to stand. I apologized to the men for not wanting to talk to them as I walked away. When I came back home, the prayer ladies told me that maybe I was supposed to go back to Morocco because it was obvious the devil didn’t want me there.

I was nineteen. I was wearing a white dress. It had little cap sleeves with sequins. The air was crisp. My stomach was in knots. I was his. We made lots of promises. We lit a candle and put rings on our fingers. We danced. It was sweet and sparkling and blissful. He carried me away and unlaced the white dress. I laced up my lingerie. Nothing went the way I thought it would. Rejection. Lies. Confusion. I had a lot of exposure to a world of fantasy and I grappled to understand how they became more desirable than reality.[4] You’re supposed to be both. But you’re not supposed to be both. The messages say things like: Be a virgin when you get married, but also know exactly what you’re doing in bed and be really good at it. Be outraged by the objectification of the female body, but also see your own as the sexual object it is. Just be you, but also look and act like these women. He’ll love you for it. You are valued for your purity, but desired for your promiscuity.

I was twenty-one. I was in the bathtub wearing a layer of bubbles. I knew something was wrong and I was trying to wash it off. He came in and sat on the bathroom floor. I asked him how he was doing. He admitted to this one thing that made my nose crinkle. This was different than the other things. Every cell in my body felt wide-awake and dead at the same time. This feeling wasn’t going to wash off. Something had to change. I can try to be or look as beautiful and perfect as possible, but I am it is not enough. I can leave for one, three, or five months, but I am it is not enough. I can read all the books, do all the research, plan all the things, say all the prayers and attend all the counseling sessions, but I am it is not enough. I can want, wish and love with all of my being but I am it is not enough. Something had to change.[5] It was me. The feeling never washed off.

I am twenty-four. It is pouring rain. The humid summer kind of rain. I’m wearing a striped dress, cotton clinching to my grass-covered skin. I’m dancing. My body, which has felt burdened and hallow for months, finds in this moment a sweet release. There is pure, unadulterated joy beaming from my twirling limbs and bouncing wet waves. My body is soft and strong, no longer void of curvature. It is whole and mine. It is more than enough. It still allows me to do backbends and cartwheels, among a million other amazing things. That is all I notice about my body.


[1] There is nothing scandalous about my shoulders.

[2] Boys are not helpless victims when it comes to their eyes. The evidence of my breast size does not cause them to sin.

[3] I was fully clothed when I was assaulted. Sexual assault happens because the perpetrator wants it to happen, not because any woman “asks for it” with her appearance.

[4] Love it or hate it; porn is a lie. It is a performance. It is not an instruction manual. Never before in our world have we had such immediate access and extreme exposure to this kind of media and at such young ages. Science is starting to show the negative effects it is having on our brains, relationships, and society.

[5] There is nothing I can do to create or initiate change in someone else.