I think I was about 9 or 10 years old when I first felt the strangest lumps on my chest. From that day I would check my lumps every single morning and as hard as I wished them away, they continued to grow into breasts.
I was the only girl in my 5th-grade class with boobs, and it was one of the most humiliating and awful times of my life.
Women of color sometimes develop a lot younger than many would expect. We get boobs in elementary school instead of middle, our bodies are curvy and “woman-like” from a young age, our hair big, commanding attention. All of which has led to the horrible hypersexualization that many of us face and have faced for centuries. I wish I could tell you that I experienced a beautiful journey into womanhood and that it was exciting to shop for bras with my mom and have educational and thought-provoking conversations about sex and the female body, but no, that shit was for storybooks about white girls.
Women, no matter what they look like at any age, are constantly subjected to sexist and disgusting comments about their body, and at the very young age of 9, most of us have already come to expect them from men. But the most shocking and hurtful instances is when you receive that hate from your family.
Puberty for me was filled with shame. I was shamed for having a body that attracted grown men. I could no longer wear shorts or V-neck tops or anything that showed my “shameful” body. To this day I still feel dirty if my boobs are even slightly on display. I was shamed for wanting to wear tampons instead of pads because of the uber-religious women in my family who thought that meant I was engaging in sexual activity or trying to be grown. I honestly just hated the feeling of blood leaking out of me and getting all over my pants.
I had never kissed a boy, thought about kissing or boy, let alone to have sex with one. I remember the day when I could no longer sit on my big cousin’s lap because it was considered “being fast.” Never mind the fact that HE WAS MY COUSIN. I never understood where any of the accusations were coming from, but I learned to stay in my place, and never ever talk to boys.
This story, like I said, is not one you read about in storybooks. But Elizabeth Acevedo knocked that wall to the ground and brought me and many other girls’ stories to life with her novel The Poet X. Her book tells the story of a girl named Xiomara or X. She is brown and beautiful and tall and curvy; her body dares to take up space. It takes up so much space and causes so many comments from men and her Catholic mother that there’s no room left for her to have a voice. But one day a loving teacher introduces her to slam poetry and it’s like X’s voice can no longer be contained.
Every day she writes and writes and dreams of the day she can share her work, and when she finally does, I felt that power of that healing. You see everything about Xiomara brighten as the story builds towards its climax and then Acevedo rips your heart out once more. I hate spoilers but just know that the climax had me on the floor as I recalled a time when my family too invaded my privacy and took away the one thing that made me feel worth something.
Everyone NEEDS to read this book. It’s filled with so much beauty and pain and healing. The same way I read this story and saw my reflection, I wish my parents could read and see how toxic their behavior is. Like Xiomara’s mom, I feel our parents mean well and are constantly trying to protect us from the world, but often they are the first people to hurt us and sometimes it feels worse than any strangers evil ever could.
This book made me cry so many times and you cannot convince me that it’s is not about me. I too found my voice through poetry, public speaking, and writing. I still can’t afford therapy, but pen and paper have yet to break the bank, and so like Xiomara, I write. Maybe Xiomara’s story isn’t like yours but The Poet X is worth the read. You follow not only her journey but also her twin brother as he finds his truth and her parents who have to face their own trauma.
And if I haven’t managed to convince you yet, this book just won the Carnegie Medal and Elizabeth Acevedo is the FIRST writer of color to win. She has also been awarded the National Book Award, the Michael L. Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Award for Fiction, the Pura Belpre Author Award so honestly…READ IT. I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the book,
“…Think about all the things we could be if we were never told our bodies were not built for them.”