Growing

Art by Sian Williams
CW: Sexual harassment

When I was 2, I could barely fathom that I had a body. I could climb and run and eat and be loved fully and easily, without pretence. I could be nestled within loving arms and put to sleep with a kiss. 

 

When I was 4, my grandmother told me, “Be careful when you play, people can see up your skirt.” I didn’t understand why it mattered, but I could hear it in the tone of her voice that she was angry. The next time I climbed up to the monkey bars, I went a bit slower and kept my legs closed. 

 

When I was 8, I loved to dance. I loved the way music moved through me. I felt like a conduit of something magical. I felt alive with it. I could feel it rush up through my feet and out the top of my head, and however I moved in response just made sense. 

 

When I was 11, red marks started appearing on my hips, my clothes were too tight, and I thought they were marking me permanently. I was horrified that I was gaining weight. My friends talked about how much they weighed, they were all lighter than me, I never said anything about my own. When I finally got my period, I tried to hide it from my mother.

 

When I was 14, I kissed a boy for the first time. I discovered that it was easy to be loved if I looked the right way. If I walked with the right swing of my hips, if I arched my back properly. If I laughed at all the right times and blushed when I was complimented. If I let it happen, I would experience love again. 

 

When I was 17, a man catcalled me while I was walking my dog. I ran home, and as I did, I smiled. It was a terrifying compliment to me. I felt like something dirty had happened. I felt shame. Shame that I had taken it so lightly, and shame that it had to happen for me to think I was beautiful.

 

When I was 19, I grew tired, sick, and bone-weary. My muscles wilted inside me. I could barely stand up in the shower. Barely walk more than 100 metres. I felt myself fall apart from the inside and out and I didn’t think I would ever recover, I felt warped beyond perception. 

 

Now I am 21, my bones ache where they never did before. I am out of breath when I climb a set of stairs. I hate catching a glimpse of myself in a reflection or mirror. But some days I am glad that I can hug my friends, glad that I can walk the long way home. Glad that my body is now my own. 

 

Originally published in Woroni Vol. 72 Issue 1 ‘Evolution’