A Potluck and an Insult


It’s hot and I have sweat stains on my gray shirt. My head is itchy and my face hurts from smiling for too long. I would rather be home, taking a shower and soothing my throat than standing here, making idle conversation with people from a past life. 

The moment catches me off guard; a sharp word, a mean glance, a twist in my gut. 

Suddenly I am not a woman, I am a girl. Suddenly I am not strong, not smart, not capable. 

Suddenly I am seven again, being told I shouldn’t cry because I got my dress dirty. I’m 12, crying because the neighborhood boys made fun of my newfound curves. I’m 15 years old sitting in my third-hour class having the right answer I calculated repeated back to me by a boy claiming it as his own. I’m 17 holding my friend while she tells me about her assault. I’m 17 being followed home by a man on the street. I’m 17 hearing the news that I no longer have control over my body, I’m 17 curled in my bed, sobs wracking my body. 

I’m 17 listening to my former teacher make fun of me. 

My ears are bright red and I feel uncomfortable. I am young and she is mature; she twists her face into a smile and looks around for validation from my peers. Some throw her laughs, others just look uncomfortable. What an odd experience: this woman, this so-called educator, demeaning me for my femininity. 

All night she has been there, on the periphery, mingling with the men and avoiding the girls that remind her too much of her mother. 

She can’t help it–she is a boy mom, a boys’ girl, she’s never gotten along with women before; they’re too much drama– she has to make a comment. 

All night she has been there, on the periphery, mingling with the men and avoiding the girls that remind her too much of her mother. 

So she goes for the low-hanging fruit, the soft underbelly of every woman’s confidence. She insults my beauty, my talent, my softness. 

And for as much work I have put in, for as much time and thought and effort I have put towards being confident in the woman I am becoming; I can’t see her anymore. All I see is the shame that has broiled under my skin for years. 

Shame for the muscles that have plagued my body since girlhood; shame for the curves that overtook my slender frame; shame for my innocence and demurity; shame for the loss of it. 

The inane comment, thrown haphazardly at me, hits me right where it hurts: my femininity. 

I’m 11, shaving my legs for the first time. I come out of the shower covered in cuts, blood flowing steadily down my pale, knobby knees; a smile pulling my face up, ear to ear. I didn’t understand why my mom wanted me to wait, asked me to bask in my childhood, praying I didn’t feel the shame that hung around her since the moment hair congregated on her legs. 

I’m 17, driving with the windows down. My hair flows behind me as my breath rips in and out of my lungs, my head tipped back to allow my emotions to burn my cheeks. After weeks of numbness, I can suddenly feel everything. 

I’m a woman, imperfect and flawed, watching as my choices are scrutinized by the men around me. I’m a girl, watching another woman rip me apart for showing too much weakness, too much girlhood. And I feel, if only for a moment, so incredibly sad for my former teacher. My heart breaks for her lack of choices, tears congregate for the loss of love she has never felt. 

She will never understand the joy I felt at 16, trying on my prom dress for the first time. She didn’t get to see my mom–smiling and teary-eyed– putting her wedding earrings into my hands, excited for me to have the night I always dreamed of. 

She’ll never get to feel the truest form of love: a female friendship. She hasn’t gotten to feel the warmth of laying in other women’s arms; basking in the unconditional joy of each other. 

So, I can’t say anything back. For as much as I want to undermine her; to let her taste the stale tang of resentment that now burns on my tongue, I won’t. Because I know this is not her fault, her hatred of women was bred into her. The moment she graced this earth she was taught to hate herself; just as I was, and my mother and every single baby girl who has been born. 

Instead, I excuse myself from the evening, grabbing the hands of the girls I have grown up with. I walk out, my heart unscathed and my conscious clean. I let my friends ground me, let them take the weight of my day from me, let them share in the burden that is womanhood.