My breasts and bottom were fair game for open discussion; I learned this early in life. I was small for my age and the youngest in my class so I was teased for being a “shrimp” and called “2×4” when other girls had already started to develop but I had not. “Just give Nicole two band-aids to cover up those mosquito bites on her chest,” a male family member joked. Everyone laughed while I died inside.
As I grew, so did the jokes. If I was too thin, I was mocked for not being enough. When my curves started to fill out and I worked hard in private lessons for a year to gain the position of drum major of my large marching band, it was still my body (and not my talent) that was often on display. I was then seen as too much. Comments about my large bottom in my white uniform pants made me blush, but by then I knew this was just normal behavior. Anyone had the right to comment on my curves and their proportion to what others expected me to be.
Before I’d barely begun to realize the difference between boys and girls, my admittance into the dance world sent conflicting messages about my sexuality. Dress it up in sequins and put it on display with high kicks and gyrating hips. It was normal for drunken men to gawk at my teenage body dancing at the Superbowl halftime show.
Hide it under a waif-like ballerina body, the carefully placed neckline, and perfect posture. It was normal for my friends to starve themselves for a role, to be the perfect combination of desirable but just out of reach. But always the message was clear – your body is ours to look at, to scrutinize, and to judge. It’s your weapon to wield. It’s our prize to view.
The church added to the messages my mixed-up teenage self kept hidden like the A-cup bra straps I needed to keep tucked away under modest clothing. I was told not cause my brothers to stumble but my brothers kept coming at me anyway. Somehow it was my responsibility to keep them at bay with longer hemlines.
The night I fell asleep next to a friend on the bus and woke up with his hand under my shirt, I pretended I was still asleep. I just let it happen because I was too ashamed to call my body my own, too naïve to know to call it abuse. It was just another normal step in a culture that gave others ownership of my sexuality but asked me to be its guardian.
As people all over the world woke up to abuse and scandal in the wake of the #metoo movements, I woke up to pain I didn’t even know I carried. I had hidden it deep, called it normal for so long. I thought of the women I know who have endured true abuse and kept it hidden for years, carried those burdens deep down. My hurts felt minor in comparison.
But then I noticed how I didn’t like my husband to see me naked anymore, ashamed of my belly that sags after carrying two children in my womb. If his hand casually brushed my bottom, I felt dirty. If he reached for me in the night with no warning, I felt violated. After years of a body on display, I wanted to hide it.
I hid it under distance I placed between us. I hide it under flowing shirts that didn’t show post-baby large breasts on a petite frame that still brings shocked comments from friends. I hid it under a hunched posture to hide away those curves so others wouldn’t notice or say anything. After years of my body belonging to others, I just want it to be mine.
I don’t want to hide anymore. But how do we heal from wounds hidden so deeply that we can’t even name them yet? How do we make sure we don’t pass on these burdens to our daughters? I don’t know the answers yet. I live in fear that I will perpetuate patterns that tell my little girl she doesn’t have choices about her own body. I don’t know yet how to operate outside of these painful “norms.”
But I do know she was created in the image of the same God as my son. And I know that the God who took on this human flesh teaches us how to live and love in our bodies in a way that redeems all things. I do know bringing our hurts into the light of Christ makes them lose their power and so we keep bringing them. And we keep asking for healing of all the things we’d rather hide but that God would rather make new.