the wrong impression

We’re sitting at dinner talking about how to talk to teenage girls about how they dress.
we as in me, and two middle aged men I love and respect.

“They have to be careful. You don’t want to them to give out the wrong impression.”

I swallow hard. angry, I blurt: “but you do! you want to give out exactly that.”
at sixteen, I wanted to smell like sex. I wanted to be objectified, ogled, wanted men to drink me in, women to watch them, I wanted to be noticed. I wanted to be praised for my body and sexuality, and nothing less.
did I grow up around strong women? did I know I was smart, capable? yes. did I care? no. 
love was the be-all end all. the something more, the life force, the thing to vie for, a reason for living.
in my therapist’s words: the escape.
why? because there were a lot of things in my life worth escaping. 

so how do we get love, we ask, staring in the mirror at bad skin and oily hair and breasts we’re begging for or trying to hide? 

well we’re certainly not taught that we deserve it, like it’s our right, like it will come when it comes and we actually don’t have to work at it. even though that’s true. so cue the plucking, the picking, the push-up or sports, the shaving, the magazines, the chick flicks, the porn we’ll never know if we wanted to watch because we watched it for them, the dieting, the comparing, the stolen alcohol to ensure we could be the pornstar, the walk, the talk, the well-curated texts, the nude pictures our parents begged us not to take, and the clothes. because you better believe that under the clothes my mother demanded I wear, I was definitely giving out the wrong impression.

I remember when my she asked me why my pubic hair was gone. “yours isn’t?” I snapped.

I spent more time quizzing myself on how to give a blow job instead of studying for, well, anything. 
I failed AP english, was in remedial math, got detention for texting (boys), and a teacher called my parents in to say my best bet was community college. I got a perfect score on the reading portion of my SATS.

But my entire body breathed boys. No matter that I was gifted, precocious, intuitive. None of it mattered if no one chose me for snowball.

I snuck into the city at sixteen and found myself in an underground party. I climbed onto the bar and mewed for some disgusting drink I’d never touch now, turned to the man next to me, and made him guess my age. after three tries, I shouted “SIXTEEN,” licked my lips, and ran away. I saw him oscillate between shock and desire, and I was high for the rest of the night.

that power was so much better than doing my homework. that power was so much better than home.

I turned to the men I love and respect and said that women should be allowed to wear whatever they want. that it isn’t a man’s right to dictate what we should wear. which is what I am supposed to say. the blanket statement of woke that stands atop a mountain of educating I do not have the time or energy to do.

I wanted to say:

“you are the root of your own dilemma. your kind is the reason you are so petrified. your worry exists because of your capacity to do exactly what you fear with someone else’s daughter. because you have been taught, and unfortunately perpetuate, that it is okay.”

“she she has to learn at some point.” they said. 

I remained silent. sure, she will learn. I am still learning. learning how everything I was then, everything I wore, was my hurt begging for attention. every love scenario I fantasized about was an escape from a reality I knew I did not like, but had no words to explain why. and even when my cliche caught up with me, when I learned my lesson, when the short skirt and alcohol turned me into the girl who was asking for it, when the game came to a nameless end and the words for rape wouldn’t find my mouth for seven more years, the fantasy remained intact. a robotic trance that did not break until I entered the world of much more, of much more of me, a reality I had no need to escape from.

instead of telling young girls they are giving the wrong impression, ask yourself what yours is, first. 

no one ever asked me why I dressed and acted the way I did. which wasn’t bad, by the way. because this isn’t a matter of quantifying. It’s a matter of understanding. I see it all now. every part of it, every part of me. how my pain hurtled itself from the inside to the outside, how it would take years for me to believe someone loved me undone, and how I would eventually be able to embrace the parts of my expression that felt good. because it’s okay to want eyes on you. To be desired, objectified. even if it’s layered in uncomfortable, in brainwash, in centuries of structures we are trying our very best to break.

I have reclaimed those parts of me. Safely, healthily. I know that I can shave my legs because it feels good and sexy, I can know why it’s problematic, I can be that complicated and still at peace with my own flesh.
but I have the language for that, and I didn’t always. Most people don’t. I understand why parents want to keep their children safe, but paralyzing their self-expression with outdated reductives is not how.

“she has to be careful. she doesn’t want to give out the wrong impression.”

I am not interested in what she is putting out. I am interested in what she is taking in. have you ever thought to ask?