it started when i first saw the lady in the bathroom at a fancy french restaurant. i was fifteen and our scout leader had taken us girls out to a fancy romantic dinner. talk quickly changed to aghast reactions about the lady in the bathroom. we saw her as soon as we opened the door; the twenty-something european, staring at you with a toothy grin. she was posed with her hands in the air above her head. but what made the six-foot tall portrait stand out was the fact that the model's armpits were full of hair. unabashedly so. we gawked as she stared back at us, happy. defiant. disgusting...she must not care about how she looks... we remarked. the hairy portrait in the bathroom disturbed us and we thought we knew why; it was unattractive for a woman to have hair under her armpits.

these rules about how to be a proper young lady were ingrained in us and we accepted it without question. we perpetuated the message along to our peers without realizing the repercussion of our words.

i was barely a freshmen in high school when i attended a friend's church meeting. unaware of what sexuality was at that age, i wore a pair of jeans with a cute shirt that showed off my midriff right below the belly button. just like britney or beyonce, i had thought, just like every other teenager i knew whom wanted to emulate the images they saw on mtv. a very blunt girl approached me that night and asked me where i got my shirt. after i responded she said loudly, 'it's cute but it's a little slutty.' the shame and humiliation that washed over me made me almost want to cry. is this how everyone else here sees me, too? do they think i want to sleep around or something? suddenly, all i wanted at that moment was to be invisible. i was about fourteen and i had experienced my first instance of slut-shaming.

that girl is now a married woman. i hope that her daughters or sons will never be made to feel that kind of shame and humiliation from a peer.

i remember emulating my mother at a young age, by taking her face powder and hiding under her bed. when she found me, i would be sitting in a cloud of dust, covered in the pasty stuff. i started wearing make-up when i was in eighth grade, playing with eyeliner and not doing a very good job of it. the more mature girls at school wore make-up and i desperately wanted to be mature too. soon, without make-up i would get remarks like, 'you look tired' from girlfriends. we set the standard for each other, and we forced each to stay within the lines. i think we all saw mean girls and know where this entry is heading.

we wax ourselves pink and raw and deprave ourselves of proper nourishment to stay skinny. we spend exorbitant amounts of our income on professional wear and cosmetic upkeep when men just have to shave and get a haircut. ideals like these about how women should look or behave would continue to be articulated and chiseled into my very bones, if they hadn't been already since the day i was born.  they came from my peers who uttered them because they heard their mother or fathers say it in passing. thoughts like, 'girls should not be staying out late' or 'that girl is a bad influence, i don't like the way she dresses.' i remember being at a wedding a few years back, in a very nice dress i got from neimans and beautiful loeffler randall heels. i made a new friend that night since i hardly knew anyone, and he later told me that his parents had seen me across the room and had remarked to him, 'be careful with girls like her. she looks wild.' who set decides what is wild looking? no really, who does?

it gets a bit worse now that we are grown women. i see the girl who constantly gets drunk or acts out to the point of self-destruction in order to get attention. i see the woman who overshare every excruciating detail of her life, embarrassing as it may be, to get that same sort of attention. i see the woman who salaciously interjects herself into other people's relationships to reaffirm to herself and others of her self worth. there is the girl who is the obvious rebound, who negotiates for reciprocation while desperately pleading for affection. or the one who knows she deserves better, but puts up with it anyways. the one who sees every other woman as a threat. every girl friend's achievement is a personal attack. and i wonder why are we so willing to denigrate ourselves in the long run for the sake of short-lived gratification? why are we so insecure?

the beautiful thing about America is that we are in the midst or resetting gender norms for ourselves, now more than ever. the first two waves of feminism did laid down the foundation, but now we must attack the ideologies, the intangibles that forces itself upon us. we have been victims of society's rigid gender rules before we were even aware, but if we choose to acknowledge the constraints we put upon one another (men onto women, but mostly women onto women) no one can victimize us. we get answers to simple questions like why does having hair in our armpit make us less desirable? why does showing my stomach automatically mean i am promiscuous and sinful? when did it become a sin to be a woman? why is promiscuity a shameful thing for women and not men?

i envy the woman in that portrait. i want the courage to be that defiant. better yet, i want to be able to be me without having to need courage, without having it be called an act of defiance. i want armpit hair and nipple slippage/wardrobe malfunction and no make-up to be as uneventful and as blasé of a topic as male armpit hair, male nipples, and male facial hair.

i want you to know that it takes a lot of courage to be a woman and i admire you all for it.

and this. and this.