How street harassment affected my body image and how I overcame it

CLUTCH - I think I might have gotten over it – maybe – if having a big butt hadn’t gone from goofy playground taunts to men three times my age licking their lips and shouting vulgarities at me when I was only 12 years old...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

From ClutchI have a big butt and I cannot lie. But goodness knows, for most of my life, I tried to deny it.

While some women dream of having kicking curves, for me there was a special horror having a big, round butt. Kids, thanks to other children, often loathe standing out, and my large posterior made me different. I was a stick skinny little kid and before starting school I simply thought my round booty was funny. I can remember looking at myself in the mirror around age 6, thinking I was shaped like a backward lower case “p.” But that bemusement gave way to embarrassment by the time I was in the fourth grade. I suddenly took to pulling all my sweatshirts, T-shirts, and sweaters down as much as I could to cover my rear.

But I think I might have gotten over it – maybe – if having a big butt hadn’t gone from goofy playground taunts to men three times my age licking their lips and shouting vulgarities at me when I was only 12 years old.

At 12, sex (or being sexy) was the furthest thing from my mind. I still played with stuffed animals. I didn’t like boys. And even though my mother sat me down and explained sex and puberty to me three years prior, none of it really clicked. Learning about human sexuality wasn’t all that different from learning frog anatomy as far as I was concerned. It was just information. I hadn’t processed it in any real way other than I understood that I now had to wear a training bra and suddenly deodorant was necessary.

So the first time someone started screaming about what they wanted to do with me sexually while I was in the food court of the old Northwest Plaza Mall in St. Louis County, I was frightened and confused. I looked to my mother – who was standing next to me – perplexed as to why this man and his friends were lewdly gesturing toward me and knowing it was terrifying, but she quickly told me to turn around and ignore it.

“They’re ignorant,” she said.

But she offered little explanation for what seemed dangerous and threatening. And it was around that age I started having nightmares about being physically assaulted by strangers or raped.

In junior high, boys and the grown men they idolized (and who should have known better) were prone to shout just about anything at me. I think for them it was amusing, as I can only imagine what the success rate is for shouting at women and girls on the street, but when you’re 12 or a teenager (or even now, to be honest) it’s scary to have someone just announce that “you’re so fine, if you were my daughter I’d have to rape you.” The first boy to ever say this to me (we were both about 14) thought this was a “compliment.” Even though I did my best to make it clear how messed up that sounded, he insisted it was a funny joke he’d heard his uncle say to a girl and that I was way too uptight.

But it never seemed to stop. The vulgarities. The “friendly” stalking that ended with them cursing me out when I didn’t want to give someone my number. This is pretty much why approaching a woman on the street if you’re a halfway normal guy is almost pointless. By the time a woman is an adult, she’s endured this kind of garbage for more than a decade and she just assumes you’re a creep/potential rapist until you don’t rape her. You honestly can’t be mad at the woman for being traumatized. Be mad at the 40-year-old pervert who hit on her when she was 13.

As a woman you’re told to just ignore or “deal” with street harassment (and all sexual harassment, honestly), so it is pretty easy to internalize it and think it’s all your fault. For years I rued the day I hit puberty, seeing it as some horrible thing that made people suddenly go crazy on me. I wanted to stop whatever was causing this unwanted attention, meaning I often wore clothes two sizes too big for me.

This meant for years I didn’t wear or even own a pair of shorts out of fear of showing my “big legs,” which were obviously too provocative, even in Bermuda shorts or pedal pushers. My dream for the longest was to be thin, really, really thin, size 0, smaller than small, thin. If I was just skinny enough that I had the body of a 10-year-old boy, I’d look more child-like and I wouldn’t get so much unwanted sexual attention from men. The only problem was even if I got down to a size 4 or smaller in a shirt, I still wore pants that were a size 9/10 or larger.

So wearing my coat all day in the winter and blue jeans in the summer with long, loose fitting shirts was pretty much my look as I hated the body I was stuck with for a very long time.

Read the rest of this story on Clutch Magazine.