When and how do young girls start getting messages about sexuality?
Today, I bought a lacy, low-cut, satin nightgown. As I tried it on, I had flashbacks to a moment when I was about nine or ten years old. I, like many young girls, enjoyed playing dress-up in my mother’s closet. I would try on her high heels, wear her shirts as dresses, and sling a pocketbook over my shoulder as though it had always belonged there. On this particular occasion, I found a low-cut crushed velvet nightgown crunched in a corner of the closet. I tried it on, and it looked fabulous ! It hit me right at my knees, showed off the breasts I was just beginning to devlop, and, because I am practically a carbon copy of my mother, was the perfect color to bring out my skin tone. I stood in the mirror, stunned. I didn’t know my body could look this beautiful. Suddenly, I heard footsteps coming down the hall, and I scrambled to put my clothes back on. It wasn’t that I didn’t want my mom finding me playing dress-up in her closet, it was that I didn’t want her to know I had found that.
At that age (and frankly, even to this day), I was a jeans and t-shirt type of person. I didn’t wear low-cut things. Mini-skirts were too confusing to sit in. Anything with lace or frills was just too uncomfortable. And yet, when I tried on this nightgown, I was aware, for the first time, that my body was beautiful. It hugged me in the right places, hid that baby fat that I was self-conscious of, and put my chest in a place of honor.
I took a polaroid of myself in the nightgown, placed it back in the closet, and hid that polaroid in a box in a bag under my bed. No one could ever find out, I told myself. I had been so naughty for thinking of myself as sexy. It was just wrong to try to look like that.
Where did I get that idea from? What part of pop-culture was it that told me that looking sexy was a bad thing? What was it that told me to be ashamed of how good my body could look? Why did I feel like I had to hide that side of me?
Whatever it was, it stayed with me to this day. That nightgown I just bought? The first real piece of lingerie I’ve worn since that time when I was nine. And when will I wear it? At moments like this, when I am home alone, and want to feel pretty. As soon as I hear my roommates get home, off it will go, to the bottom of the closet, until I pull it out again, maybe years down the line.