I was probably 6 or 7, and we were in her kitchen, just by the hallway that led to the bedrooms for her and her husband and their three daughters, my friends. It must have been summer – that seems the only way she would have worn a tank top in the mountains.
Or maybe I was in her bedroom with one or two of the daughters getting ready for church. Maybe she had just come out of the shower. Maybe she was in her white, wide-strapped bra and a slip, getting dressed while we put on Easter dresses ourselves.
The armpit stubble. There was no maybe about that. The image of those black dots coming from under the mother of my friend stopped me cold. I’m sure I stared.
I didn’t know women grew hair under their arms.
I am 11 or 12. 5th grade maybe. Mom calls me into the formal living room. I stand in front of her with my shoulders sunk, braced for the talk.
“I think it’s time you start wearing a bra, Andi.”
There, in the living room, we stripped up my cotton shirt and slid that almost flat piece of fabric down over my shoulders.
Mom left the room. I didn’t know why she had been embarrassed.
A chat under the covers with a friend from up the mountain, something about men put this there. A book my mom handed me just before my 13th birthday, one I left on the dresser in my room before my birthday party, one she made me hide before the guests arrived.
These are all the conversations I had about what it meant to be a woman, about sex, about sexuality.
I heard lots of conversations – a friend losing her virginity in a shower, another wearing a “promise” ring, boys and whispers about boobs and third base. I heard lots of lectures, too – wait until you’re married, God made sex for marriage, women were made to be the helpmeet to men.
But no one talked to me about my body or about sex. No one answered my questions. No one asked if I even had any.
I think this may be the story for too many of us as young women. Taught purity. Taught to cover up. Taught to not ask questions. Taught only that our bodies are things to be tended to in secret, that they are things that tempt and must be bound up, that they must be shuttered away.
For this – and a list of reasons I cannot even begin to list here – feminism matters because it teaches women that ourselves – our minds, our spirits, our intellects, and even our bodies – are beautiful. Not because we are shaped just a certain way or shaved to the babiest softness of skin. Not because we are quiet or loud, brash or meek. Not because we are greater than men. And not because we are lesser.
But because we are. Created. Adored. Loved.
I wish now that I had walked up to my friends’ mom and touched that stubble. My tiny fingers running soft on the underside of her arm. My quiet question.
But by then, I had already learned I wasn’t supposed to ask.
Women, what were you taught about your bodies? Men, what were you taught about women’s bodies? What will we teach our children?