Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Precocious Puberty and Sexual Harassment

I am a 36 year old disabled woman who has been variously labeled "fat", "crazy", and "a hippie weirdo." I now try to embrace labels that others use in an attempt to "shame" me into being someone more "acceptable". I am passionate about issues of race/racism, criminal (in)justice, fat acceptance, and mental health advocacy. I blog at My Name Is JuJuBe and I am on the team at The Intersection of Madness and Reality

Children suffering from precocious puberty may feel different from their peer group and this can cause social and emotional trauma in the young ones' minds. Depression, substance abuse and low self esteem are some of the problems that widely occur in children with this condition. If it is difficult for the young child and the family to cope up with such a situation then it would be best to seek counseling help. Psychological counseling can definitely help family better understand and handle emotions and challenges that accompany precocious puberty. (source)
In recent years, the incidence of early onset or precocious puberty has increased in young girls. 37% of Black girls, 18% of white girls and 23% of Hispanic girls have breast tissue growth significant enough to be classified as pubescent by the age of 8. Those numbers have been on the rise since 1997, when the issue of precocious puberty was last studied.

Precocious puberty impacts girls who are affected by it. Not only do they have to adjust to hormonal changes that give rise to feelings and urges that they may be too young to deal with appropriately, but they also are often ostracized from their peers. They are made to feel like they do not belong, they are treated differently by their peers as well as by adults, and they sometimes are the victims of sexual harassment without even  recognizing it.

Back in 1980, when I was 7 years old, I was the only girl I knew who had to wear a bra in 3rd grade. I remember trying so hard to hide the straps because I was humiliated that I was the only child in my class who was wearing one. And, when I got my period at the grand old age of 8 years old, I was terrified of the other kids finding out my secret. I was always taller and weighed more than the other children my age. I was teased for being fat, although looking back on it, I was only a bit chubby. I was just more developed.

By the time I was in 5th grade, I was wearing a bra that was larger than my mother’s. I remember being made fun of by other girls in gym class because I did not have a bra that fit properly. My breasts grew so fast that they spilled out of the cups. I was called “tornado tits” by the boys in school. Boys  would grab my bra straps and snap them. Girls in my class used to run around yelling “titty squeeze” and grab each others chests and pinch them, which was particularly degrading for me, since I had ACTUAL breasts,  not just tiny buds like the other girls.

When I entered middle school, I was 5’2”, 140 pounds. I thought I was so immensely fat, but I look back at pictures now and see that I simply had the body of a voluptuous woman. I had a big booty. I had thick thighs. I had large breasts. I remember being on the bus coming home from school., and day after day, two boys would sit in my seat, and grab various body parts. I thought they were doing it to emphasize that I was too fat. They would rub on my knees, squeeze my thighs, brush up against my butt and my breasts. I never even realized there was anything sexual about what they were doing until years later. My parents had taught me about sex, about it being an expression of love between two people. This had nothing to do with love. This was pure humiliation. This was degradation. This was me being treated as an object instead of as a person.I recall being in the girls bathroom changing clothes in one of the stalls, because I did not want the other kids to see my body. Two girls were trying to break down the door to catch a glimpse of my body. I thought it was to make fun of me (since these were two girls who were constantly making comments about the size of my breasts and the fit of my bras) but looking back, I can see that they were actually trying sneak a peak because they were attracted to my figure,  though even they might not have realized it at the time. When I saw one of these girls as an adult, she confessed that this was, in fact, the impetus behind her actions. 

When one of the boys at school asked me how much I cost, I had no idea what he meant. What did I know about prostitution? I was clueless about the fact that he was implying that I was a whore because my clothes were showing off my adult figure. I was wearing an outfit than many other girls would wear back then, a pair of tight jeans and an off the shoulder sweat shirt, a la Flash Dance, which was  the “in thing” back then. I just didn’t realize that the way I looked in the outfit was so different from how the other girls my age appeared.

When a boy in school came up to me and asked “If little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, why do they smell like fish?” I thought he was trying to say something cruel about my hygiene. I was clueless as to the sexual nature of his comment.

I remember grown men staring at my sisters  and I when we would go out places. My mother  would call them “dirty old men”, and I always assumed that they were looking at my older sister. She was a few years older, blond, skinny, she was what I THOUGHT boys/men wanted. But she was not developed AT ALL. It took me decades before I realized that I was the target of those lust filled glances. I think my mother allowed me to  believe that they were looking at my sister because she did not want me to have to have the experience of being treated like a piece of meat at  11 years old.

I will never forget a day in high school, after I had gained 100 pounds. A boy in my class,  one of the ones who used to make fun of me when I was simply thick, not yet fat, made a comment that I “used to have the hottest body”.  I can only assume that the boys made fun of me  because they had no idea how to interact with a girl who looked like a woman at such a young age.

And, as difficult as things were with my peers, I was also treated differently by adults. Because my body was that of a woman, I was looked at and treated as if I was much older than my actual age. I was expected to take on more responsibilities, and to be more knowledgeable about various “adult” topics. I remember incidences with my friends, when I was in junior high. We were acting rambunctious, just doing the sort of immature things that all children do. And, adults who witnessed our silliness would look at me, and tell me that
I should “know better” than to “act like a child”. They seemed to believe that I should act as a role model for the kids I was with, even though I was actually YOUNGER than my friends.

Fast forward 20 years. I am in a therapists office, trying to figure out why I have all of the psychological issues that I have. My therapist tells me that many of my symptoms, thoughts, and behaviors are indicative of a person who has a history of molestation. He postulates that I was molested by some adult man in my life, and that I am suppressing the memory. His theory was that I gained weight to “protect” myself from further victimization, that I wanted to hide my body, so I did it with a layer of fat. I tried to think back as hard as I could to figure out WHO could have violated me. I knew it could not have been my father. I tried so hard to remember inappropriate behavior from older cousins, family friends and teachers.

It never crossed my mind that there WAS NO adult man who molested me as a child. I never even imagined that the CHILDREN MY AGE who sexually harassed me all  through my elementary and middle school years could have had such a huge impact on my psychological development. It was only recently that I began to consider the possibility that my weight gain and subsequent development  of a personality disorder may have been related to the way children treated me when they saw my mature body.

I have no clue as to whether or not the trauma of being treated as a sexual object when I DIDN”T EVEN RECOGNIZE IT consciously did indeed impact me so deeply. I can  only guess. And it seems like a far better theory than the idea of some phantom child molester whose actions became a suppressed memory over the course of my lifetime.