The summer after 3rd grade, I got my period. Long before the awkward group girl talk in 4th grade about hygiene and bodily changes, I had come into my “womanhood.”
I don’t specifically remember the terror of the event, but I do remember my mom crying a lot and my dad treating me weird for a while. I was their first daughter, and obviously, no parent wants their child to reach puberty ever, so the fact that mine had come so early really flipped them on their ear.
I was a chubby thing – tall and full figured before I hit the age of 12. Yet, even though my body was going through these “changes” – I remember how immensely unaware I was of things like body image. I was comfortable in my skin, I wasn’t even remotely concerned with the impression I gave off to the world around me. Sloppy, tomboy-esque, bookish but noisy… This was far before I quit high school, and later got my GED diploma, that was not that easy.
Something I do specifically remember, though, is the day I became self-aware, and that to me was more traumatizing than getting my period.
Two major events in one day, and suddenly everything changed.
As I recall, I was eleven years old. My little sister had a softball game, and I had walked down to the fields to see her play. I was dressed very innocuously – knee-length khaki shorts and this denim sleeveless JC Penney striped shirt that I remember was my very favorite at the time.
One of my friends from school, Polly, was also at the ball fields. For some reason, she had a babysitter with her. I don’t really remember ever having a babysitter growing up, except when my parents went out on the occasional date.
When Polly introduced me to her babysitter, the babysitter said, “How do you know this girl? She looks like she’s 17 and pregnant!” and then whisked her off.
I remember being really hurt by that statement. Especially the pregnant part, because when you are 11 years old, S-E-X was just gross. As it turns out I would cling to those words for a long time to come – being a young impressionable mind, it’s a lot easier to hang on to painful, careless statements made by older people who you are supposed to entrust and look up to.
I was so upset, I didn’t stay to watch my sister play. Instead, I headed home, tears in my eyes, wondering what was wrong with me.
About a block away from my house, a car slowed up next to me. I remember it was some maroon shit bucket, and there were two older guys smoking cigarettes in it.
First, they catcalled.
I just kept walking with my head down.
“Hey slut! Want to go for a ride?”
I felt this anger and terror well up inside of me, and I started walking faster.
“Whatever, you fat ugly slut!” they hollered, and then peeled off.
One workaday day. Two completely game-changing connected events that completely morphed my childhood.
I went home and locked myself in my room. I cried until I was purple. I stared at myself in the mirror. Surely, my outfit wasn’t enough for one to deduce that I was a teenage mother or a slut. Did I warrant this attention simply because I was fat? Or is this what growing up really feels like? Is this what every woman goes through on a daily basis and I, unfortunately, came into it too early?
It was from that point on that I dedicated my pre-teen years to becoming invisible. Homely as possible. Anorexic as possible. Quiet as possible. Where there was once confidence and joy and a sense of “I can be whatever I want to be!” instead there was “Please pay no attention to me as I disappear before your very eyes.”
Later I just got my GED diploma, but looking back at this moment as an adult, I am amazed at how fast things can go downhill. And although a lot has happened in the years between now and then, the fact that I remember this day so crystal clear says worlds about how impressionable our youthful minds can be. As they call puberty the “change,” it definitely changed me. I know girls experience horrors worse than these on a daily basis. I know youth is robbed from everyone in a different way. And I know that when it happens, there’s no turning back to 11.