I WAS 17

(And all the other times my body didn’t feel mine)


When will this body feel mine?, I had constantly wondered growing up.


It didn't feel mine at 9.


Halloween in 4th grade was trick or treating dressed in a witch costume- clad in

black from head to toe with a long-sleeved dress that reached my ankles. We had

always spent our Halloweens trick or treating in an upscale exclusive gated village

where our rich uncle obsessed with Dracula lived. This was where it started. This was

the first of the countless catcalls and howls and whistles I would later learn to ignore

and turn a deaf ear to. But at 9 years old, I froze.


"Hey there sexy witch"


"Oh yeah, why don't you show us that ass"


"Yes, walk for us baby"


There were some more whistles, some more howls, some more hips thrusting

into the air. And you'd think educated rich boys from an exclusive village would have

some class...


So...maybe it was my fault then. Maybe this body (in the way it was shaped and

molded) made them do what they did. Maybe I was asking for it, walking passed them

like that-like I wanted to be noticed. Maybe they weren't even talking to me- how

assuming of me. I walked away shaking, ashamed and enveloped in self-doubt. I

closed my eyes and wished for another body- one that wouldn't make other boys do

what those boys did.


It didn't feel mine at 14


Boys are dangerous, that's what I learned in high school.

At recess, a classmate told me I ranked #4 on the class' list of biggest

boobs. That person laughed and before I could even decide if it was funny or not, I took

the cue and laughed too.


There were more uncomfortable jokes we had to sit and laugh through. Jokes

about gratifying themselves because of a girl's boobs, or her legs or her lips or her tight

skirt.


"They want it",


"They want me",

they would say.


But I didn't want it and I certainly didn't want them but voicing out those

objections were met by downplaying retorts like


"It's just a joke",


"Chill out, you're too serious",


"It's just boy talk".


My voice didn't matter. They were going to take what wasn't theirs anyway.

Somehow, the body I use to walk and run and dance and play- the body I use to

care, to love, to breathe was reduced to something they can use to get off. Every

sexual suggestion, every locker room joke tore my body into bite sized pieces fit for their

consumption.


That was when it started.


I became all too aware of their eyes wandering around my body as if inspecting

what's theirs for the taking- whatever it is they can use for later. I started to walk faster

around them, and I hunched my back in an attempt to hide my breasts. Hypervigilant

habits I wouldn't have unlearned until much later on in the future.


Boys are dangerous- something that has held true long after high school.


It didn't feel mine at 17.


College had me parading around a new found confidence and sureness of self. I

was studying in my dream university, I had a booming social life with one alcohol filled

night after another, and I had even gotten myself a boy.


He was 21 and was my first real boyfriend. Teenage recklessness and

impulsivity threw all rationality out the window.


At the back of the car in our garage, he smashed his lips on mine. And just like

how it was with everything in the relationship, I was young and naive and was railroaded

into following his pace.


This is too rough, I had thought to myself but just as quickly dismissed those

feelings. He's older so he should know better about how these things go. I followed suit

as I always did. But then his hands started to roam.


I said "no" and shook my head and tried to push him away. But all my "noes"

seemed to fly above his head because he proceeded to jam his hand into my pants. It

hurt. My head started spinning and I had stopped pushing back and before I knew it, he

was done touching me. He kissed me goodnight and left, as if everything was normal;

while I stayed awake in bed for hours trying to figure out what happened.

A familiar wave of self-doubt comes seeping in.


Maybe I didn't push him away hard enough. Maybe I stopped saying "no" too

soon. Maybe I was a tease, maybe I did something that asked for it. Didn't I want it?

Did I want it? I cried through the night without knowing why. Silly girl with silly tears-

crying over nothing. I put my disarrayed feelings to rest and settled on a compromising

thought: We were in a relationship and it was normal for couples to do that.


A good girl does what she's supposed to so the next day I walked through life as

if nothing had happened. I buried that night into the deepest corner of my mind where

no one can touch it. If I didn't think about it, if I didn't talk about it, it never happened. I

stayed with him months after that night until the relationship eventually came to a

natural end.


It wasn't until later that I realized what the not-so-silly girl was crying for. She

cried trying to wash away regret and frustration and confusion and disgust. There were

tears of grief and anger for something that was forcibly taken away from her. She

screamed for sovereignty over what was hers only for some foreign body to crash land

and claim what wasn't theirs in the first place.


When will this body feel mine? I've asked myself over and over again. The

shelter of my being had felt so foreign for so long- void of any control, power or

authority.


For so long I thought that if I was strong, and good, and careful and followed the

rules, no man can ever steal what's mine. But no matter how infallible I thought my

defenses were, I still came home defeated too many times. Surely (and unfortunately),

in the few times that I won, other women lost the very same day.


It took years of scrubbing away stains of doubt and guilt and regret. Years of

clawing my way into claiming back my silenced voice. Years of uphill battles against the

voices in my head on top of the accusations of the world. All this, only to arrive at the

simple truth. It was never my fault.


Not in the way I dressed. Not in the way I walked. Not in the way I talked. Not in

the way I drank. Not in the way my body was shaped or molded.


How many more catcalls do we have to endure, locker room jokes we would

have to hold our tongues through, bodies painfully raided by men before we hold them

accountable for their actions? All your ifs and buts, I’ve heard and battled myself with

before. This body has long been treated like prized commodity-bought, stolen, sold to

the highest bidder. But not today.


Because today, you will not take away my voice. Today, I’m demanding back

what was stolen from me. Today, this body is mine- all of its curves and edges, and in

however I choose to use it.


When will my body feel mine? I'll tell you this: it has always been mine. Men only

need to stop stealing from me.



Bianca is a 26-year-old daydreamer, writer, and speech therapist from Manila, Philippines.


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