I never knew what love was. I never knew what womanhood and femininity were either. All I knew was what my mother knew, and all she knew was brokenness–no doubt inherited from her mother, and her mother’s mother, and so on.
I treated myself like a meal, something to be consumed. Everything I did added to my perceived deliciousness; should I wear my hair up or down? Should I put on this blouse (it shows my cleavage) or should I put on these jeans (they show my butt)? How best can I advertise myself? At the time, I didn’t even know who I was advertising myself to. I just knew that being beautiful and sexually attractive was one of the most valuable things a girl could be. And sure, I’d gotten the lectures about being an independent career woman, and focusing on my studies and going into engineering or some other male-dominated arena. Yet, I didn’t see the payoff in any of those things. I wanted to be like the pretty popular girls in teen movies, I wanted to be the sublimely evil femme fatale. All the women I looked up to, and aspired to be like, had sexual power and dominion over men. Men fell to their knees in front of these women, they lost sleep because of them, their lives were single-handedly ruined by them. If God was a man, it meant even God could fall, even God could be schmoozed and seduced into giving up everything He kept from me.
I built myself up to embody the phrase “sex on legs.” I read the articles, watched the videos, subscribed to several email lists promising to teach me how to make any man submissive to me. I read first-hand accounts online of men who had fallen in love with women just because of their scent and I convinced my mother to buy me my first fragrance from Bath & Body Works, called “Cherry Blossom.” I bathed in flowers picked from my backyard. I meticulously and ritualistically put on makeup every morning before school. I only wore heels.
Femininity meant softness and sweetness like honeysuckle, prime for tasting. Femininity meant being consumed by men. Unlike the women I knew, who were consumed and thrown away like a chewing gum wrapper, my goal was for men to consume me and become poisoned.
If I played to their desires and deceived them successfully, I too could be powerful. But every day there was a new standard, and it was hard to keep up. My mission never seemed to be complete, there was always something else. Hair had to be longer, skin lighter, waist smaller.
What I thought was self-empowerment was really self-destruction. My body was exhausted from me poking and prodding it, pushing skin and fat, angrily wishing for it to be something different. My hair was damaged from the regular sessions of straightening my kinky hair into submission. I didn’t know who I was, or could be, outside of an aesthetically pleasing poison.
This is how I learned to be a “woman.” This is how I learned to be “feminine.”