I’ve got a big butt. I didn’t know this until I began walking home from the subway by myself. I had just turned 12 that summer, my boobs had recently grown to a 36B and I realized that aside from my young face, I could pass for a high schooler. When distant relatives saw me for the first time in years, they would say, “My, she’s even got boobies! And look at that booty! Your dad is going to have a field day!” My butt had become an issue.
I’d always felt slightly self-conscious of my body because I was naturally curvier than most of my friends for as long as I can remember. But I never thought twice about wearing a mini-skirt or shorts or how they would make me look. With puberty, the algebra of my body changed. I had new slopes and curves, new numbers and sizes. It happened without my awareness or consent and it seemed as though one day this new mass had appeared on my rear end.
It happened behind my back. Sneaky. Until my parents stopped letting me wear mini-skirts.
“Chey, you should change.”
“But I always wear this skirt, it’s my favorite!”
“Well I think it’s time to put it in the give-away pile. You’ve grown out of it.”
That was it precisely, that was my mother’s code for my curves “you grew out of it, you’re filling out.”
My father on the other hand grew excruciatingly uncomfortable when it came to talking about my body. He tended to avoid the topic as a whole and his feelings about it would build up until he’d just come out and say something which always sounded worse than if he would’ve just said how he was feeling from the beginning.
In seventh grade, I bought a skirt from American Apparel that everyone had with the two pockets in the front. I came downstairs and he looked me up and down, and spoke to me in a tone that lacked the gravity he usually possessed. All that stuck out was that he said I had “big thighs” implying that I should not and could not wear that skirt. I was shocked. His comment was more offensive than any comment I had ever gotten on my race or my butt or my boobs. And it was true. It was hard to deny that I had big thighs. All I could think of was how mean he was and that I couldn’t believe that he said that. I was so offended that I couldn’t even reply I just ran upstairs and cried.
I could hear my mother’s exasperated footsteps up the stairs as the wood creaked.
“It’s not fair! ” I cried. I clutched my pillow watching the skin of my thighs expand and contract through my watery eyes. There was nothing that my mother could say, except justify my father’s cruel words.
“Men don’t realize what a sensitive topic our bodies are and how much they mean to us. I’ve learned to love my curvy body as I’ve gotten older, but I had the same problems when I was your age, sitting in your very position,” she said. “My dad wouldn’t let me out of the house in something inappropriate. You know how you’re father is when it comes to boys.”
But all I could think was that, in this moment, it wasn’t about the boys. I just wanted to wear what I wanted to wear without getting comments on the way my butt and thighs stuck out and how I had to learn how to wear clothes that would make them less noticeable, or else my body would offend people. Because apparently, I was offending people whenever I wore a short skirt.
I matured a little earlier than many of my friends. I got my period in the spring of 6th grade, and my curves began to make an appearance even before that. Halfway through 5th grade, I found out that my best friend had a crush on me. He had recently been going out with a friend of mine but when I asked him why he had chosen me over her, he said that she had “nothing there.” He was an 11-year-old boy suggesting that he liked me because I was more “developed” and that I had something going for me. I took this as a compliment, thinking that I had something other girls didn’t.
Seventh grade presented the challenges of how to get the boys in my class to stop rubbing my leg under the table. Oblivious to the implications, again, I was flattered. But this changed when I realized that it was not on my terms and that I was not saying that it was o.k. to touch me and they were not respecting me. I moved my seat.
High school was a new experience altogether. I drank for the first time and a boy two years older than me said he wanted to “fuck a black girl.” It took me another two years to understand the gravity of his words. Intoxicated, I relentlessly slurred “No” but I did let him touch me. Another boy told me I had a “perfectly shaped ass” and that he “just wanted to fuck me.” A part of me wanted to lose my virginity just to get it over with. My better half warned that I would regret losing it to someone who threw sex around. I drove myself crazy deciding what I wanted to be and if I wanted to let my butt be the catalyst for attraction. Boys see my body before they see my face.
It’s not that I don’t like my body, or that I wish it were different. But I do wish that people could see past my curves. I used to try to hide my butt until my best friend told me that it didn’t make a difference, you could still tell. Then I decided to stop. Stop asking the world for approval and fearing the glare of others on my body because I realized that it didn’t matter what I was wearing.
I met my boyfriend at a barbecue at night. We could barely see each other. He smiled when we met the second time, and I knew he wasn’t smiling at my butt, my thighs and my boobs. It was nice winning someone over for being who I was. And it was also nice learning to let someone appreciate my body.
Cheyenne Tobias, 18, is a black womanist activist and artist from Bed-Stuy who blogs for FBomb and SPARK. She is a freshman at Vassar College with a potential double major in Africana studies and art.
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