When I was sixteen, I had my first kiss. Let me rephrase: I let a boy kiss me. I had been texting—let’s call him Ryan—for a short while. He rode bulls in high school rodeo. As an avid barrel racer, I was googly-eyed over the fact that an older boy who competed in what I deemed one of the manliest sports ever was interested in me.
I was the best friend of one of the prettiest girls—we will call her Katie—in school. Everywhere we went, I was the goofy, funny one, and she was the one with the beautiful blue eyes, full lips, and endearing soul. I was always the “wingman,” the third wheel, and for what seemed the first time in my life, a boy, Ryan, had taken interest in me.
At a Wednesday night barrel race, he met me after my run. He wanted to kiss me. I resisted his advances, but he pleaded, “please? for my birthday?” He was turning maybe nineteen that day. I felt guilty. I let him kiss me. It was awkward. I wanted to escape. We then said our “see you later’s” and parted ways. He texted me a few times after that, but for reasons I could not explain at the time, I did not want to talk with him further. I felt violated, and I did not understand why I felt that way. I had my first kiss, and I had agreed to it. I should feel elated, right? I only felt robbed. And confused.
I am not sure what age I was, but I know I was not yet thirteen when my dad told me to change into something with more coverage than the tank top I was wearing before going to the nearest army base for the day, because “I know what those Army guys think,” he claimed.
In sixth and seventh grade, at the private school I went to, I was constantly told by teachers to “pull my top up” because the collar line on my shirts tended to fall lower than four fingers below my collarbone, breaking the dress code rules. So much attention was brought to my chest—attention that should never be brought to a twelve-year-old girl’s chest. I was already a self-conscious girl, struggling with the changes that come with becoming a young woman in society. I was trying to teach myself how to use a tampon so I could go swimming despite my monthly bloodshed, and I was learning that I had become something more than just, myself: I was suddenly a body to be looked at, examined, told was too skinny, told was too tempting, and told to hide.
When I turned eighteen, I started dating my first serious boyfriend—we will call him Josh. Josh really liked me. I was flattered that a tall, cute, redheaded boy with popular friends liked me. He was also usually the funniest person in class, and the attention I got from him when he would pass me silly notes or offer to trade Ipod’s for the class period gave me butterflies and made my cheeks flush madly.
He asked me to be his girlfriend. A week later, he told me he loved me. He was funny. He helped me clean my horses’ stalls. He brought me Starbucks. He charmed my parents, and he gave me attention like I had never received before.
We kissed. We made out. I had a purity ring. I was “saving” myself until marriage. I told him I did not want to do some things. When he rubbed up against me, I said, “I think we should stop.” He agreed. Then he kept going until the front of his pants were wet. Afterward, I felt hurt. This was my boyfriend. He was just doing what boyfriends do, so why did I feel so… used? He apologized afterward. He knew what he did was wrong, and he knew that at that moment, he had transformed me into a body, a tool for him, and he had disregarded the person occupying that body.
The next day, he walked into the classroom I was in, with a class full of people, and gave me flowers and a bag of my then-favorite candy, red licorice. Everyone commented on how cute and sweet it was. I knew it was largely because of what had happened the night prior. He was taking precautions to keep me.
I forgave him. Of course, I did. I forgave him like I forgave Ryan. I forgave him like I forgave the nameless boy Junior year of high school who kept trying to kiss me and who, when I pulled away, pushed me up against me the railing and began kissing my neck in the empty school hallway while I asked, “could we maybe not do that right now?”
I forgave him like I forgave the boy who, years later, promised we would just cuddle if I allowed him to drive my intoxicated self back to his place for the night. That night ended with me balled up in tears on his bed after being yelled at for “turning him on all night” only to turn down his sexual advances when we laid down to “cuddle.”
I forgave Josh when he asked for another girl’s number while we were dating, and I believed him when he lied to me and promised he would never do it again. I sent him “sexy” pictures to try to keep him faithful and satisfied with me when we were apart, and I forgave him more times than I can remember before I finally realized something: I did not need to sacrifice myself for him. It was not my responsibility to please him, to please others. My life was not meant solely for the pleasure of those around me.
My life had its own purpose.
It was not my responsibility to dress “responsibly” so men would not be visually stimulated by my body when I was twelve, and it is not my responsibility to do so now. It was not my responsibility to allow a boy to kiss me because it was his birthday and I because I owed him that much.
It was not my responsibility to “please” my boyfriend sexually when I was not yet ready for that. It was not my responsibility to take actions to convince him to be faithful and loyal.
I do believe I have a responsibility, though, and that responsibility is to other young girls.
You, beautiful girl, are worth so much more than your body, or the flesh suit you wear. Your body will change. It will grow. It will shrink. It will shift. What you should never let shrink is your soul. Your worth. Your fire. Never let society shrink you. And never let it convince you that your purpose here is solely for the pleasure of others when you have so much more to offer.
And that is why I think the dreaded “f” word, feminism, is important.