Sydney Sugars 
16 March 2022

In 21 years, I remember nearly everything said about my body. In this scene, I’m 12 and I’m at one of my girlfriend’s houses. There were three of us – all knobby and needy and nervous – and we were undressing to try on outfits for a school dance. When I took off my shirt, one friend looked down at my chest.

“It’s too big for you.”

She was staring at my gray Target bra. I looked down at the one-inch gap between the fabric and my skin. A “better” woman would have filled it out with tissue. I couldn’t be bothered; I confidently left a gaping chasm passing between my breasts and my bra. When my friend said “It’s too big for you,” what she really meant was, “You have absolutely no rack!” I was exposed for fraudulence and I was still flat-chested.

Jumping ahead five years, I’ve since hit puberty and gotten everything I wished for. No need for tissue, no bra gaps – I’m a “woman” now! My friend says I’m lucky. But now, at 17, I want nothing to do with it. When I can, I cross my arms over my chest. I hate the way they look in most shirts. I employ a grotesquely poor posture to draw attention away from myself. I have developed a small hunch in my back from this.

I consider chopping them off.

I was embarrassed at 12 and still embarrassed at 17 – first of a lack, and then of an abundance. What hasn’t changed from then to even now is that there’s this thing about the body.

The body is in a constant state of push and pull. A state of give and take, of adding and subtracting, of breaking down and building up. Of being altogether too much and barely enough. And it’s not just breasts or an exclusively female experience. It’s the nature of the body and the way the world chooses to accept or reject it, and the way we often choose to accept or reject ourselves after that.

It seems sometimes that body types go in and out of style. But the body is not clothing; our bodies are ours entirely and are not things that can be taken off and put back on. It’s ridiculous that something that is genetically determined, and so often unchangeable, undergoes microscopic review by the media and our peers. There’s so much shame associated with the body because of this. I remember coming to a point where it felt that my body would never reach a perfect medium. I knew perfection was not achievable, and I didn’t want that. Most people don’t want to be perfect. They just want to feel like what they have is enough.

I couldn’t win. At 18, I felt this incredible disconnect between my body and me, and then discomfort in anything I wore. Everything felt too tight, too loose, too scratchy, too heavy, too wrong. I either felt swallowed by the fabric entirely, or it was doing a horrible job at covering the truth of myself – a truth that I didn’t want to bear. The clothes were wearing me. It felt like this for a very, very long time.

One of my friends said that her “life is too short to not dress slutty”. I know that sounds crude to some people (sorry Mom) but it’s a very layered thing – there is a time and place for everything. People come from different backgrounds and generations and practice different norms. Not everyone is going to have the same taste in clothing or the same level of comfort in certain pieces. But when my friend said this, I realized that I have the agency to do what I please, and I can do what makes me feel good. 

I think people equate showing skin with sensuality. It seems obvious. To show skin is to reveal. Like with our skin exposed, we reveal something about ourselves too – our desire to be desired, looked at, or seen for who we are. Some think showing skin is sending a message. One that says, Here’s my body. What do you think?

But stripping down to me is a way of stripping all that old shame away. I spent so much time feeling detached from my body, shoving it away to the back of the closet, or stifling it with an angry hand. To own my body now looks like breaking the barriers I couldn’t and wouldn’t cross before.

As we get older, we should embrace the idea that we are adults who can make our own stylistic choices. I choose what I want to show. Different clothes elicit different reactions from people. So sometimes, the discomfort we feel in certain clothes (or lack thereof) is actually coming from the outside. But you can learn to take that discomfort and move forward. People will think things and even say them, no matter what you have or what you show.

I love mini-mini skirts. I love tiny tops, and I love belly buttons. It’s freeing, it’s fun, and best of all – it’s me and my body, as one.