During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, “Not for Ourselves Alone” is running a special series called 30 Days of Bodyshaming, designed to give a voice to the many different experiences of girls and women. This series will feature guest posts by professors, writers, a nutritionist, a cartoonist, young girls, and mothers. Gut wrenching and honest, these stories are presented in an attempt to bring about a deeper understanding of the plight of girls and women as we make our way in world that, for us, is hostile at its best and violent at its worst.
My Body Betrayed My Efforts to Stay Unnoticed
by Marnie Galloway
I lived in Huntsville Alabama for the bulk of my childhood, kindergarten through fifth grade. Huntsville is a college town in the beautiful Tennessee valley of northern Alabama, in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. In every childhood-adventure way I cared about, it was idyllic: there was an overabundance of big old climbing trees, some sturdy boulders for scaling up, willows to hide under and build forts, and hot summer air thick with fireflies to chase.
In school I was studious and focused, and as a content introvert I tried not to draw any of attention to myself. I was a friendly background player in all of the friendship cliques and watched with an amateur anthropologist’s curiosity, but I was more interested in drawing and exploring the forest next to our apartment building than getting involved in other people’s lives.
My body betrayed my efforts to stay unnoticed. I developed secondary sex characteristics unusually young; I was the first girl in my class to need to wear a bra…in first grade. Children’s shorts cut uncomfortably in to my hips. Some of the girls in my class would call out if my bra strap was showing, which made me feel self-conscious, but the comments were more outgroup curiosity than malicious teasing. I was mostly able to hide under baggy tshirts, which I thought returned me back to a safe, inconspicuous background.
After fourth grade there was an optional first-week-of-summer camp that my class was organizing. I had never been to camp and had mixed feelings about the whole endeavor: a week of hiking in the woods was a dream, but a whole week without any time by myself was a nightmare! The promise of seeing new bugs and birds won out, so I packed up my sleeping bag, dropped it off in the girls cabin and dove in to camp life. Everything was exciting and new; I went canoeing for the first time, learned chanting clapping songs, made some pretty sweet lanyards and thought the teenaged counselor with the guitar was the coolest person I would probably ever meet in my whole life.
I came home from camp delightfully sunburned and full of hot dogs, but shortly after getting to our apartment my mom sat me down for a talk. My best friend had told his mom, who then told my mom, about his very different camp experience. Every night, the boys cabin was full of explicit and escalating discussion about sexual things they wanted to do, at first in abstract but then specifically to me. My friend tried to argue against the group (I will always love him for that), and he was teased and bullied for standing up for me. One of the boys who was most violently aggressive in these talks was a quiet unassuming boy who lived two doors down. All of the boys were classmates that I had considered friends.
I felt partly like I’d been stabbed, and partly like I needed to throw up. I was confused and ashamed and didn’t have the tools to know how to deal with those feelings, and I was angry at myself that I hadn’t noticed anything was different during the week. I had sat next to these kids at lunch for years, and now I was being warned to keep a safe distance from the neighbor boy. It rewrote the week I had just loved into a horrible game where I was being watched, where I was the prey. Even as an adult, I think back on this experience of objectification and I get a knot in my chest; it was by no means the last or anywhere near the worst of that kind, but it was the most potent for having been the first.
Marnie Galloway is a comic artist and illustrator working in Chicago, Illinois. She was born in Austin, Texas and studied philosophy and symbolic logic at Smith College. Her three-part wordless comic series “In the Sounds and Seas” won a 2012 Xeric Grant, was nominated for the 2013 LA Times Book Prize for Best Graphic Novel and made the Notable Comics list in Best American Comi. She is a co-organizer of Chicago Alternative Comics Expo ; her illustration and comics clients include 826CHI, Saveur Magazine, Cricket Magazine and Chicago Zine Fest. She lives in a quiet building with her husband Tom, two monstrous cats and her beloved bicycle, Ed Jr.