Emily Ratajkowski wrote an essay for Lenny Letter in which she reflects on growing up as a young woman who experienced womanhood earlier than most people. This essay deeply resonated with me and touches upon the experiences of many women who have conflicting feelings towards their bodies and sexuality. It got me thinking about my own experience as a young girl who had to navigate emerging womanhood much earlier than those around me.
Much like Ratajkowski, I also was a “baby woman”; a 12-year-old who started wearing a DD bra, despite only just starting to put away the American dolls maybe a year or two prior. Experiencing womanhood at a young age puts you in a unique position where you’re expected to handle the contradicting views of sex and how your clothing choices are apparently a reflection of everything: what kind of woman you are and what type of attention you want. This is a lot to take in at a young age, especially when no one really wants to have those conversations and you become accustomed to people just dancing around the topic. Those who don’t dance around the topic are usually far too aggressive. I’m sure many women can relate to this if you’ve ever had a teacher tell you that your skirt is too short or your top is too low. As we entered into young adulthood, we were forced to navigate a world that expected women to know how to prevent sexual abuse, rather than a world that taught men why they should never abuse women in the first place. It was just something to be expected.
The thing is, women are going to be sexualized no matter how old they are and no matter what they wear. Women are not only told that they should want to look younger, but they are expected to look prepubescent. This means absolutely no body hair, baby soft-skin and perky breasts. “Teen” and “Barely legal” porn categories are constantly getting millions of views. Recently, Pornhub has come under fire for allowing videos made by sex traffickers that feature underage children being raped. The fetishization of young girls is all around us and it’s pretty obvious why this is far from okay. The reality is, young girls are told that they must hide and minimize their newly developed bodies, while also being told that it’s the most desirable thing about them.
I think back to my 12-year-old self and I wish I could tell her that she doesn’t need to carry the burden of other people’s issues with how her body develops, and how she chooses to present it to the world, especially when she is quite literally a fucking child. I would want her to know that her relationship with her body should be one that she comes to terms with on her own account. And lastly, I would want her to know that she was doing the best she could and any guilt and shame she felt, and still feels, isn’t warranted.
Ratajkowski, Emily. “Emily Ratajkowski: Baby Woman.” Lenny Letter, Lenny Letter, 6 Dec. 2017.