Monday, May 25, 2009

Sorry fellas, you've got the wrong girl

When I was 15, I realized, to my surprise and delight that I had grown out of my awkward ugly ducking phase.

The braces were gone, and although I was still experimenting with my eyebrows, they at least no longer made me look like the sister of Bert (of Bert and Ernie fame).

Sure I still had excessive sweating to try and keep under control, but I had solved most of the more embarrassing issues surrounding my hyperhidrosis by wearing tops made of as little black fabric as I could get away with wearing to school.

Midriff baring v-necks with a push-up bra, red lipstick, high heeled platforms and skintight black velour lace-up fly pants ensured that by the time my sweet 16 rolled around, I usually looked anything but. My parents did their best to discourage all this, but I was a teenage girl on a mission. Sure, I didn't know where exactly I was headed, but I knew one thing, I was sure as hell NOT going to put a sweater over my tube top, and yes I am aware that it's winter, thank you very much.

For a while I was completely addicted to the little thrill I got every time some guy tried out his best pick-up line on me. I felt powerful. A smile would get me a free slurpee, or free candy. Older guys wanted to date me. Friends recognized me by my strut from blocks away.

Objectification, smectification, I was finally one of those all powerful "hot girls" we were all supposed to aspire to be, and loving it. I wanted to be 20, independent and grown up, and I guess, in my mind, that meant clothes that only fit the workplace dresscode of a pussycat doll.

Eventually, due in no small part, I'm sure, to my mom wishing on every star, rainbow, eyelash and turkey bone in the vicinity, the novelty of superficial attention wore off and I grew out of this phase. Now, i cringe at the memory of how much energy I spent looking for attention from people who just wanted to ogle a teenage girl. Of how I hid my insecurities by working hard at being over the top, in your face sexy. It was exhausting.

This weekend I went out to meet this girl for a delicious Indian feast in the city followed by a glamourous evening of staring at her ceiling fan and groaning about how much we ate.

I had gotten a little dressed up for our date, mascara, heels, an actual attempt to brush my hair, but nothing over the top. However, apparently I looked worthy of notice to some, because as I walked to the streetcar, a group of guys started catcalling, making kissing sounds, and barking -yes, I said barking- from the top floor of a townhouse I was passing.

As I walked by, pulling my sweater/wrap thing securely over my chest and doing my best to pretend I was deaf, I thought about how much my attitude has changed. There was no little thrill. Only irritation and indignance. I mean, that's so gross. "Ugh, really? barking? REALLY? Is that supposed to be a compliment? Who the hell taught you guys it was ok to harass women on the street? Don't you have mothers or sisters?" I felt suddenly naked and uncomfortable in the clothes I'd been perfectly pleased with a moment before.

While there's no way I'd go back to being 15 or 16 for anything, for a second there was a part of me that wished for that delusional superficial confidence that would have seen me swing my hips a little more, grin and toss my hair as I breezed on by.

But only for a second.


Kyla Roma said...

I'm so there with you - I think after you've had that kind of attention for a little while you can see it more for what it is- and that persuing it doesn't really make you happy.

I know that at 16 I also had no concept of where that attention can go. I have friends who have been followed home off the bus, I've been followed to work from my bus route, I have friends who have been drugged at the bar... When you're a little older you can see that that attention can be a whole other beast all together.

Elle Bee... said...

I love your posts so much.

It's crazy how backwards things are, hey? When we were young we oozed false confidence, covered up our feelings with low cut shirts and swagger. Now that we have so much to be proud of, it's that much easier to be in a situation that makes us pull our sweater tighter or grip our keys like a weapon.

Mari said...

You know, I was hypercritical at that age. I wish I'd known then that I was just fine! I completely covered up- like an eskimo- at 16! (except we all wore jeans that were too tight back then)

Anonymous said...

Barking? Wow.

"only fit the workplace dresscode of a pussycat doll" <-- Ha! Well done.

Andhari said...

Means you grow up. WHen I was in high school, this excites me too. Now most of the times it just feels plain gross.

Amy said...

I hate leaving the house for work in the morning feeling good or cute in heels and a skirt, only to generate unwanted attention from guys. Suddenly I'm feeling totally underdressed and uncomfortable. I do like to look nice but I'm not wanting to be harassed and yelled at when I'm running errands or walking to a meeting...I usually pretend to be deaf too.

Mr. Apron said...

So.... barking = not appropriate?


Then, what else in "Maxim" isn't true?

Sarah said...

That's a really good point. I'd like to think it was a certain amount of awareness that kept me from getting in too much trouble that way, but I'm sure sometimes it was just pure luck.

Elle Bee: Aw, thank you! You've summed up what I was trying to say nicely. It's definitely a strange shift in attitude.

Mari: Hindsight, eh? I wish I'd just been able to relac a bit more, but I guess feeling insecure and pressured in some way is what being in high school is all about!

Peter: Your posts make me laugh so often. I'm glad I was able to return the favour!

Andhari: It's amazing what a turnabout a couple of years can bring.

Amy: Exactly! Don't get me wrong, I've had really lovely compliments from strangers, but nothing makes me want to run back inside like that kind of harassment.

Mr. Apron: Ah Maxim. Why must you continue to exist in the same world as me?

floreta said...

i like this post especially knowing that you have come to be a feminist. :) interesting perspective. it is certainly exhausting.