I too, was a baby woman. A child with breasts she had no clue what to do with.
It’s a weird thing for me to say, “I can relate to a model.”
At first glance it’s hard to see why I would have any common ground with one. I’m not skinny, not tall, not paid to strut in my underwear on runways, nor would I ever be seen gallivanting on a yacht with Leonardo DiCaprio. So when I found myself nodding along to Emily Ratajkowski’s piece in Lena Dunham’s newsletter, Lenny, it really caught me by surprise.
You might recognise Ratajkowski, from Robin Thicke’s infamous ‘Blurred Lines’ video, or, more recently, as Ben Affleck’s side chick in Gone Girl. So when I opened the latest Lenny letter titled, “Emily Ratajkowski’s definition of sexy,” I didn’t expect to read what unraveled in front of me. A beautiful tale about a young girl who developed early and was sexualised from a young age. When I opened it, I certainly never expected to say, “Hey, that’s me.”
I got my first period when I was ten. I was at a family friend’s house. I went to the bathroom and there it was, staring back at me. Thankfully I had already been taught about ‘what to expect’ when it happened. So a short while later when we arrived home, I calmly told my mum and she showed me where she kept the pads and tampons. That was that.
It wasn’t long before boobs, cramps and hair in foreign places followed.
“[I was] a 12-year-old with D-cup breasts who still woke up in the night and asked her mum to come and sleep in her room,” Ratajkowski wrote. “Growing up, my father would lovingly refer to me as a ‘baby woman.’ I was safe in the in-between place of half-baby, half-woman.”
I too, was a baby woman. A child with breasts she had no clue what to do with. I had a woman’s body before I even knew how to be a woman and what being a woman meant to me.
Ratajkowski said it was those closest to her that made her feel the most uncomfortable about her developing sexuality. For me, it was the opposite. For me, it was the men who thought they had the right to comment on my body now that it was shapely. It was the men who would wolf-whistle at me while I was delivering the daily paper around my neighbourhood. It was even the young boys at school who liked to ‘rank’ girls by their chest sizes when we were 12.
I always felt developing early was more a curse than a blessing. It was a few years before my friends began to get their periods, which at that age felt like a lifetime. Other than the obvious physical developments, I could see a certain divide between my friends and I. I felt more ‘mature’ having to deal with this Big Life Thing once a month. I started wearing bras with underwire and started caring more about how I looked, something I’d never really thought about before.
While I started applying mascara and shaving my legs, I watched my friends live their seemingly ‘carefree’ lives. They didn’t need to worry about what colour pants they were wearing for five days of the month, or if they would ‘accidentally’ leave a trail of blood behind them during swimming lessons (it took a while for me to put my complete trust in tampons). They didn’t have to stress about their P.E. uniform being too tight and revealing or the two bras they needed to wear just so their boobs wouldn’t bounce when they ran.
Developing early is a lonely experience. Back then (and by ‘back then’ I mean 2003, which isn’t really ‘back then’), computers and the internet weren’t a household fixture. I had to rely on library books for all my information about what the heck was happening to me. Yes, you have your mum, but when you don’t have older sisters or friends you can talk to about all these changes, it feels like you’re existing in your own little world. You’re in a strange bubble of adulthood you weren’t ready for.
Luckily, though, I had sex education taught to me from an early age. When I spoke to a friend about getting her period for the first time, she told me an interesting story. She told me about her grandmother and how when she discovered her period in the 1930s, she was terrified she was dying. So terrified it took her a few months to even be able to mention it to her mother.
So thank you, Emily Ratajkowski, it’s comforting to know young girls have some insight into the change that’s happening within their bodies and to know they’re not alone.
And it’s comforting to me.