My First words were spattered with influence- “mama”, “dada”- a direct command, a pointed finger at those that would mould me and the world in which I would be created, post-birth, pre-growth, a blank canvas.
By four I had already become what I was made to be. A fair skin girl child in a pink bedroom. My skyline one of Barbie hair that must be brushed to straight perfection and a wardrobe of clothes everyone thought were “darling”, “cute”, “perfect for a little girl”. I wore the dresses of idealised Disney princesses, dreams of thin waists and clear skin I would never have but, by four, I had learnt to long for.
By eight, I learnt “the boys are mean because they like you”. Nips and outstretched legs for me to trip on were memorised as signs of affection to admire. I learnt to regard hands that hurt and hugs that strangled as a gift; for I am a girl and I must wait for the boys. I am a girl and one day, I will reach the end of the Disney film and the boy with the tough hands and mocking laugh will save me.
By ten, I knew the importance of my appearance. I threw out my box of Barbie shoes and replaced them with pressed powders, lipsticks and glosses that maybe just maybe will make the princes look. I learnt the ‘routine of womanhood’; makeup done, hair brush, self-critique, start over, try again. I learnt to reject the compliments I was paid, and start each day with an affirmation of “I look awful”, possibly to prompt the assurance of others but still a daily act for by ten I knew a woman must NOT be aware of her own beauty, yet she must strive.
When I was eleven, I begged for a bra. For all my friends had one and I learnt all bodies need be the same. And god forbid I fell behind.
By thirteen, I learnt my body is a weapon and one too many drinks or a neckline two inches too low would cause destruction. I wore vests to cover up the body I had grown and my vocabulary was infested with words like “slut” and “shame”.
By sixteen it was a world of suspicion. I learnt a new routine, one of red crosses and alarms; never leave your drink alone, never walk home alone, always stay with friends for protection, don’t talk to strangers. Alcohol spells fear and woman spells prey. I learn to never relax. Never trust.
Biology doesn’t teach ideals, only facts. Yet I learnt female is seen a synonym; weak, vulnerable, damsel.
At Eighteen, I begin to unlearn.
By Lucy Harbron