Written by Kylee Wiens
When we are born, the world is filled with colors, smiles, calming voices and wonder.
We know not of insecurity, loneliness, despair. We know not of oppression, brutality, terrorism. We know not of prejudice, intolerance, privilege. We know not of hatred. So how do we grow up to live in a fractured world of sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, and (so) much more? Because that is what we are taught from the minute we are born. I was seven years old when I began to take an interest in my sister’s makeup.
Covergirl Commercials, America’s Next Top Model and billboards of models taught me to think that if I were to be pretty and mature; I would need to start altering my appearance now. I put on sparkly pink eyeshadow and a dress, wondering if I myself might ever end up on a billboard or the cover of a magazine.
I was eight years old when I first saw a gay couple. I was visiting Berkeley with my family when I saw two men holding hands. I came from a fairly conservative town, and though my family is liberal, the word “gay” had never reached my ears. I was curious and upon inquiring to my mother, I was informed that two men could be in love too. I thought, OK, but since I had never seen such a thing, it had to be pretty rare.
Later that year, I saw what I thought was just a man wearing women’s clothes walking through the mall. I distinctly remember a woman walking near us saying, “That man is sending mixed messages,” with a disgusted look on her face. I then thought, oh that must not be right, because I was taught that deserves a scrunched up nose and snide remark.
I was ten when a started to despise my appearance. Boys had previously teased me for wearing loose pants, so I asked my mom to buy me skinny jeans. A fourth grade bully told me I was fat, so I began to look up how to diet. Popular girls wore flowy shorts and their hair down, so I started to. I thought that the reason I wasn’t cool was because my boobs hadn’t started growing and my hair wasn’t long enough.
I religiously listened to the song Forget Perfect by Pink, but I learned that perfect was simply unforgettable. At age twelve I laughed at the term “shemale” because all of my friends did. I rarely spoke up about social issues because I simply didn’t know how. I felt a little pang of guilt every time people insulted each other using “fag” or “queer”. I knew these “insults” were petty and demeaning to the LGBTQIAP + community, and though I refrained from using them myself, I didn’t always call others out.
Uninvolvement seemed synonymous with popularity and I was taught myself that this was the ultimate goal. I was 14 when I began to notice subtle teachings of hatred that our society had put forth. I noticed that I could always find makeup in my skin tone, but that the darkest color was “caramel” or “deep sand”, (which only seemed one shade darker than my fair skin). I noticed that naked girls are used to advertise burgers, while the men in the commercials get to be in suits. I began noticing the less subtle teachings, like stories of unarmed black men and women being shot to death brutally by the police; while headlines spoke only of the victims’ past. I noticed boys trying to pass rape jokes as meaningless banter.
Finally, I watched a YouTube video created by popular viners Cameron Dallas, Nash Grier and JC Caylen. The video was titled “What Boys Like in Girls” and included an extremely detailed set of seemingly unattainable expectations, many of which included catering to the boys’ needs. I was sickened. I decided to identify as a feminist and pledged to begin unlearning the teachings of hatred that society, media, and peer pressure had put forth. I am now fifteen and a sophomore in high school.
I have in the past year been taught about intersectional feminism, institutionalized racism, police brutality, classism, and the privilege I have that allows me to benefit from systematic oppression. I have been taught about internalized misogyny, ableism, cultural appropriation, transphobia and the struggles that the LGBTQIAP+ community faces. I am working on learning to love myself. I have promised myself to teach myself more and more every day, and to unlearn the hatred I allowed myself to feel. I have learned that society as a whole is capable of compassion. We must tolerate and accept each other. Let us teach ourselves and our children to love.