“Mom, I need you to bring me some clothes. They said... I um, I need to change.”
Her frustration was unmasked. “You’re kidding? I’m just going to come get you. I’ll be there soon.”
It was her third time to bring me clothes that year. I was in 8th grade.
Humiliation branded the afternoon’s every detail into my memory. I remember it all--Mom’s face as she turned the corner into the hallway where I waited, her eyes as soft and full of pity as they were focused and defensive. The warmth of her long arms enveloping my shoulders, like a mama bear come to rescue her cub. The pooling up of a second round of tears and my silent pleading with God to restrain them until I passed the classrooms on our way out. And the silence- the heavy silence we walked in, breath seized tight in our chests, until the metal doors slammed behind us and we finally exhaled.
I remember lying to her about what happened.
“The teacher just said I needed to change, so he sent me to the office.”
“This is getting ridiculous.” She shot back. “What do they expect you to wear?”
I knew she wouldn’t be upset over my clothes; she bought them. Though never much fun in the end, school clothes shopping was our late summer ritual. As the days shortened, we squandered hours in front of dressing room mirrors, analyzing every angle and color, shape and size. Are you sure it’s not too lowcut? Are you sure it’s not too tight? I don’t want to get in trouble. I’d say. She’d lift her shoulders and slowly release them back down, half in defeat, half exhaustion. I think you look beautiful, Britt. People are always going to have their opinions. Just get what feels good to you.
Eventually, we’d settle on something plain, and I’d leave the store upset over all the trendy things still hanging neatly in their rows. They just look different on you, honey. I know it’s not fair. Mom would say, and she meant it, too.
No, fear didn’t stop me from telling the truth to her that day. Shame did. How do you articulate being humiliated in front 20 other students when you don’t even really understand the situation yourself?
So I left it all out, about the boys getting in trouble for paying more attention to notes passed than to algebra. I left out the part where Mr. *Hines asked them to knock it off, threatened detention if they kept it up. And most importantly, I left out the part where they blamed me for it all.
“Sorry, Mr. Hines. Eric* won’t stop drawing pictures of Brittany’s...you know.”
The unexpected confession jerked me out of the roll I was on, working ahead in the book to avoid homework. I looked to Mr. Hines for help, my stomach soured with embarrassment.
With the slow back and forth of his pointer finger, he summoned me to the front, declared my shirt a distraction, and sent me to the office to change.
Where were the boys?
Still settled in their desks, learning. Learning how to solve simple algebra.
Learning how to escape responsibility.
Learning that it’s okay to objectify a girl and then blame her for it.
Of course, I didn’t know it then, that they were at fault for the whole thing. I blamed my body, my never finding clothes that fit just right, never shedding enough weight to shrink my boobs, never wearing enough bras to make them appear smaller (Three sports bras, that particular day, were apparently insufficient).
I could tell you twenty more stories just like this. I could tell you about hunched shoulders and insecurities, about bets made over my bra size and drawings shoved into my locker. I could tell you about harassing phone calls and sexual innuendos whispered by adults I was supposed to trust and respect. I could tell you about glares from other women, from friends’ moms and church leaders, from anyone and everyone who felt it their moral obligation to make me aware just how much they disapproved of my body or the way it was clothed on any given day.
Through it all, I never thought to ask one simple question:
where were the boys?
Studying? Watching TV? In the classroom, at liberty to focus on, oh, I don’t know, school?
I have never known that freedom. I probably never will.
But I can labor in love, calling darkness to light, until our daughters tell a different story.
*names changed to protect privacy