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When she tried to keep up with the neighborhood boys.
All skinned knees and firefly-lit kickball games,
She understood that sports were not hers to master.
The little girl with wide eyes and an even wider heart witnessed one boy shout to another,
“You kick like a girl!”
She was the worst thing boys could imagine being compared to.
It’s no wonder she was chosen last.
When she flipped through the pages of a magazine and realized that her shape didn’t fit the feminine mold that Teen Vogue deemed worthy of advertising.
The thirteen-year-old girl with a sharp tongue and mind
Learned that her value was to be found in her appearance above all else.
This newfound norm had been weaved into her cultural practice since birth, but for the first time,
These images struck her as imposing, almost instructional.
She began to alter herself for other people’s pleasure.
This vastly contradicted her religious upbringing,
Which taught her that true worth was found in the love of oneself and of mankind.
The only things she perceived others cared about were facial symmetry and overly sexualized bodies.
Subconsciously succumbing to societal norms, she learned to adjust.
When the boy she liked in high school said she was only good enough to love behind closed doors.
She was his, so long as no one knew that in the streetlight,
Their hands fit together just like puzzle pieces.
She mastered the concept of secrecy, along with the dark cloud of silence that accompanied it,
And found her value in the receipt of male approval.
But by letting others decide her self-worth, she discovered that it disappeared in their absence.
Rejection wasn’t being alone,
It was seeing him lower his head as he passed her by in the hallway.
When she decided that her body occupied more space than it deserved.
She ate less, exercised more, and made room for the entrance of men into her life,
Never really knowing what to do once they left her for someone with a smaller frame.
Her unhealthy relationship with food was rewarded with approving glances and positive reinforcement.
“You look beautiful.”
When she was catcalled for the first time on the streets of her college town.
The man asked her why she didn’t say “thank you,” and suggested that she smile more.
She knew better than to accept this objectification as flattery.
This man thought she needed his validation to feel beautiful.
Her skin thickened as she internalized this experience and used it to define womanhood.
When she began to notice her own voice shrinking.
As if the weight of insecurity and the male gaze wrapped itself around her vocal chords.
When she spoke, her words desperately tried to crawl themselves out of her mouth.
A male peer in college referenced her appearance before each meeting they attended together.
He said, “It’s just adorable when you give presentations.
Your face is so cute, it makes me want to listen.”
She hid the quiver in her speech with loud opinions and hyperbolic happiness.
She wondered if the men she worked with in the future would ever take her seriously.
When a man she hardly knew decided that it was his right to take control of her whole body.
He criticized her for apologizing in every sentence.
Yet, as he placed his hand over her mouth,
She could see clearly that he had no problem silencing her voice for the purpose of his own pleasure.
To be female meant to be eternally responsible.
It was always her fault, and this time was no exception.
Her stoplight was his green light.
The word “no” did not seem to hold its original promise.
“Aren’t you glad I didn’t stop?”
When the man whom she loved for two and a half years told her that she was easy to manipulate.
Her good-natured soul and well-intentioned smile marked her as easy prey.
In this relationship, she felt chastised for merely existing.
She walked on the eggshells of his temper, and did so in stride.
After all, practice makes perfect.
Over and over, she assured him that she would never leave.
He held ownership over her personhood, and that seemed to make him feel better.
And on his absolute worst day, he knew that she would still be there,
Standing firm in the wind like a flag after battle.
She learned that staying is the only thing you can do for a man who hates the sound of his own heartbeat.
When she realized that the men she loved came back,
But did so only to be reminded of how much people missed them when they left.
She fell for someone who had no problem acquiring a second girlfriend in a neighboring state.
Her Christmas was spent bedridden, while he spent Winter Break inside of another woman.
She wrote down his goodbye, word for word, and memorized the feeling of worthlessness.
It was etched into her eyelids,
Waking up was a reminder of the control he still had over her.
Only when free from his hold did she realize that good still existed in this world.
Although she need not have an inherent distrust in the people around her,
She will remain guarded.
She learned that the best thing a woman could do for herself was become her own “home.”
Significant others are supposed to protect your heart, ensuring its safety through their stability.
They are houses personified.
But what happens when they leave you?
Homes aren’t meant to disappear.
She never wanted to discover that her soul had been evicted from its dwelling place,
But this discovery signaled a turning point.
To learn to love the beat of her own heart.
To appreciate the sound of her own voice.
The minute a woman decides to build a home within her very own body,
A place for her spirit to soar and her value to be recognized,
She will be free.