Writing and artwork by Tatum Van Dam
PART 2 OF 4: awkward
I suppose we will start with the very beginning — elementary school. After two years of transferring from a private school where I was too young to dress myself into the red and green plaid dress and white collared button up girls had to wear, my wardrobe had developed into nothing short of different pairs of the same, baggy sweatpants and zip up hoodies from Target. It didn’t matter if it was hot outside, I was not going to take off that hoodie. I remember seeing other girls wearing dark brown culottes and foamy platform sandals and those ringer shirts that said something like “my brother is bananas!”… I wanted to wear stuff like that, but I didn’t know how to.
I remember going to the mall with my mother and asking her if I could buy something unbeknownst to my torso: tank tops. These weren’t even the spaghetti strap kind with the lace trim from Abercrombie & Fitch — I’m talking regular ribbed tank tops with two-inch straps. I bought a few fun prints, one of them being light pink with pastel colored ice-cream cones (very on brand for such a young age). When we got home from the mall, I went to my safe haven known as the bathroom to try on my newest fashion statement. I looked in the mirror, and I kind of liked it. “Well, it’s not bad,” I thought to myself. I walked outside of the bathroom, heard footsteps of my oldest brother coming upstairs, and immediately (but silently) stepped back into the bathroom, locked the door, and changed right back into the hoodie that protected my oh-so sacred shoulders. “Nevermind. It’s bad”.
Looking back on it, it wasn’t bad. Like, at all. It was a perfectly normal tank top for a second grader to be wearing. It wasn’t the slightest bit “risque”, but it felt like it. Anything that showed off the fact that I was a girl made me want to hide it from the world. And this only got worse in that one phase of life that no one likes to look back on: middle school.
Ah, yes, the sweet, sweet reminiscence of the oh-so-sanitary P.E. locker rooms.
Picture this: you walk into a musty room lit by the two working light bulbs and the strip of the 2 o’clock sunlight beaming from the single rooftop window. The air appears to be foggy, and this is due to the lovely aromas of twenty different Victoria’s Secret fragrances being circulated throughout the space. You hear the sound of the “warning bell” muffled by the loud chatter of preteen girls talking about the new cute boy in their core class, that one kid who rigged the election votes for Sixth Grade Commissioner, and, of course, how Susie and Josh got back together — again. Again?! The chatter is followed by the slam of lockers shutting and locks clicking as the army of girls shuffle out the door sporting their oversized “Los Cerros Panthers” t-shirts (the perfect shade of gray to sweat in), rolled up gym shorts (because if you didn’t roll them up, they’d fall mid-calf), and a not-so-wide assortment of Vans and Converse (running shoes to P.E.? No thank you).
Though the locker room was essentially a giant bathroom, this one, in particular, was not my safe haven. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
Seeing other girls changing in the locker room taught me everything that I was doing wrong (but was too scared to change on my own): I should be shaving the hair on my body, wearing a *voice softens* bra, and maybe I should try wearing the kind of underwear that looks more like a piece of string. I mean, my friends and classmates were doing these things, so shouldn’t I be, too? Did their moms just sporadically provide these things to them? How are they so nonchalant about it all? Am I the only one who can’t say the word “bra” at a normal auditory level?
Consequently, as a product of being too uncomfortable to ask my own mother how and if I should be doing these things, I tried to do them on my own. Shaving: used my older brother’s materials, and resulted in a thousand cuts. Bras: did not have one to steal from my brother, so I wore multiple camisoles to suffice. Yes, like — one on top of the other. That lead to a lot of bad back-acne that persists to this day. That certain kind of underwear: tried on one of my mom’s and immediately wondered how it was classified as wearable clothing. After making my best attempt to adhere to what I thought was the norm, I became even more uncomfortable with myself and this weird body I was put into. Those five-minute locker room changes were easily the worst part about middle school — not only did I have to expose my body to other people, but I had to expose the fact that I wasn’t yet doing everything at the level they were.[share]