The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Womanhood Can Wait
Nicole Hawkins

Sometimes, when I’m walking down the block, I’ll see a 12-year-old girl with hardly any clothes on and I’ll wonder if this little girl knows something more than I know. What inside of her makes her want to possess and execute such sexuality when it is too much for me to deal with? She seems in a rush to capture something that seems so much bigger than the two of us: womanhood.

I am 18 years old, but I’m not exactly sure if I’m an 18-year-old woman or an 18-year-old girl. Lots of times I feel like I’m on my way. But other times I feel clueless, like everything is still new and a mystery to me. It seems like girls are always in a hurry to grow up and become women—and part of being a woman means having boyfriends and having sex. But I’m still struggling to understand who I am, and I’m not sure I’m ready for womanhood yet.

When I was little I loved to play Barbies. Barbie was her own woman. She was beautiful, intelligent, and powerful. My Barbie was a teacher by day and a babe by night. She was sexy, feminine, and proud. Through Barbie and Ken, I would act out making love and how it related to the perfect relationship.

When they had sex, Barbie usually was a virgin and Ken wasn’t. She wouldn’t regret it, though, because it was the final big act of true love. Later she would feel nervous that her father would find out and disown her, but when he did find out, he realized that she was happy, and just loved and supported her. That was love and sex in my fantasy world. In reality, things were more complicated.

At a young age I was taught that boys were bad while girls were nice and made up of sugar and spice. I was told to defend myself against boys any way I knew how, including scratching their eyeballs out. One day when I was 6 years old, I was sitting on the couch with my legs spread wide apart. For no apparent reason my father slapped them shut. Little did I know this was my first lesson on sex. Lesson #1: It’s bad to sit with your legs open.

I was told that if I had sex before I got married, I would be disowned and put in a home. Maybe my father felt that since he waited until he was about 22 years old to have sex with my mother, I, a female, should have no problem holding out. My mother was even worse. If I had sex before marriage, I would not only be considered a disappointment, but worst of all, a SLUT!

Despite these lectures, I was still very close to my father. Besides instilling in me fear, my father built up my self-esteem and taught me to do things for myself. He would say things like, “You have to do well in school so that you can be accepted into a good college, so you can be your own woman and won’t have to depend on a man,” and I believed him. He taught me to depend on myself. At the same time, he made me feel like it was OK to be a kid.

Even after I started dating, my father still bought me Barbie doll stuff to add to my collection. I remember feeling happy, relieved, and confused all at the same time. While I was facing the idea that sooner or later I had to grow up, here was my daddy telling me, “It’s OK to be a kid for as long as you can.”

When I was 8 years old, my 11-year-old sister, Tamika, started puberty. It seemed like such a dreadful thing. Yuck, the acne, PMS, cramps, awkwardness, boobs, and boys. It just reinforced all the things my father had told me. Growing up was not fun. It was supposed to mean taking responsibility for yourself and your actions. Instead I watched my sister’s body and emotions control her, and then I watched her get grounded for acting irresponsibly.

image by YC-Art Dept

Unlike with Barbie and Ken, where love was safe and predictable, in the real-life situations my sister was in, everything seemed like a tailspin. I watched my sister become involved with boys and get hurt, either dumped or cheated on, and it made me glad that my turn was ages away. What a joy, I thought, to be able to lie on my stomach and be comfortable because my chest was completely flat. Part of me wanted to remain a little girl always.

Still, all around me people were maturing. By junior high school, the rest of my peers seemed to be well into their third or fourth relationship. I felt like something was wrong with me, unnatural. I felt like it was my duty to act mature, so I went a little boy crazy myself.

I had already had my first kiss when my mother decided to explore the pages of my diary. She called me a slut and a harlot and threatened to put me in a home. I was terrified by her reaction but a part of me wanted to show her what rebellion really was. Then something happened that stopped me dead in my tracks.

My friend Sharnette and I used to hang out and get ourselves into these fine little messes. When we were 13, Sharnette started dating this guy Ricky. Ricky had a friend, Edgar, who wanted to get hooked up with me. Edgar was cute and four years older than me. So Sharnette and I visited the boys at Ricky’s house. Edgar and I sat on the bed and talked and played video games. Then we started to kiss.

Soon Edgar began to massage my breasts. Immediately I wanted to put an end to the situation, but before I could act he was pulling the ends of my shirt out of my pants. I began to panic. I had no idea where the situation was going. I stood up in a rush and proclaimed that I was leaving. A couple of months later I found out that Edgar was planning to have sex with me that evening.

After that, I became fearful of guys and all my parents’ warnings raced through my head. Foolishly, I’d believed I was mature enough to handle a situation that was way over my head. I started to see guys as the unpredictable, conniving creatures my father described. I still wanted to explore my sexuality, but I didn’t feel safe anymore.

By the time high school started, I was also feeling more self-conscious about my body. The summer before high school, I grew a few inches and my chest swelled up to a C cup. While lots of teenage girls like attention from the opposite sex, I didn’t. I hated when guys would stare at my chest and look to see if I had a nice ass. I wore baggy jeans and plaid shirts big enough to hide the protruding obstacles settled in my bra. I became extremely shy around everyone, especially boys.

For the first couple of years of high school, I don’t think I even said a full sentence. Even though I was having a really hard time, I also grew a lot. Being alone so much gave me space and time to explore who I was and would ultimately become. I started to become my own leader, dancing to the beat of my drum.

When I was around 14 and 15, I began to question my father’s beliefs. I’d tell my father that I didn’t know if I could wait until I got married to have sex. He thought I was in a rebellious, disrespectful stage. He was partially right, but not fully. I also really wanted answers about sex. I didn’t want to be told that I was too young to understand, so I turned to other sources. I started reading a lot of magazines, like Mademoiselle and Vogue. They were full of images of new “Barbies” for me to marvel at. On the radio I discovered a show called “Love Phones” with Dr. Judy Kurianski. I would tune in every Monday through Thursday and listen to her talk about topics such as homosexuality, AIDS, cheating, virginity, femininity, even different sexual positions.

image by Stephanie Fulcher

Over the next couple of years, I began to gain control of my life. My schoolwork improved, and I became very spiritual for a while. I felt like I was rediscovering myself. I also began to feel that the sexuality that was sprouting in me was natural and shouldn’t be looked upon as evil. Last fall, I entered an alternative school and soared academically. I even joined the school newspaper. I was really confident and proud of myself. I also had a job.

By finding stability in other areas of my life, I was able to begin to feel comfortable about my body and my sexuality. For the first time in a long time I felt comfortable enough to allow myself to be emotionally vulnerable. I was ready to take on the responsibility of relationships. Soon I developed friendships with males and I no longer felt threatened.

This past year, my senior year of high school, I have really transformed. I have been living with my best friend and her family for a year because there were just too many arguments at home, and my parents agreed it would be better. I have also been working. I’m not completely independent, but for the first time in my life I feel somewhat in control and really liberated.

When I first moved in with my friend, I still wore baggy pants and no makeup. But I noticed that after my 18th birthday, my pants began to get tighter, my shirts began to get smaller, and I began to stare into the mirror, pouting and perfecting lining my lips.

There are times these days when I’ll put on a dress and suddenly I’ll feel more powerful. Occasionally you’ll see me walking down the street, strutting with such self-confidence you wouldn’t even recognize me. Sometimes dressing feminine can do that to a person.

The other day I found myself in a store looking at lingerie. That’s something I’d never thought I would be doing before the Second Coming of Christ. I am actually considering buying a matching bra and panty set even though the price is too high. A little voice inside my head is telling me, “You’ll look so sexy and cute in this outfit, you’ll be irresistible.” Part of me wants to be in the spotlight showing everyone just how beautiful I can be.

Still, I often question the pros and cons of exhibiting my femininity. It seems like it could make me more powerful, more me. But I also worry if it will make me more passive, and more likely to rely on beauty to get by. And sometimes I’ll be sitting on the train and I’ll look at the professionally dressed women and I’ll wonder, what if they’re as confused about themselves and life as I am? What if they’re just putting on a show to make their colleagues, families, and friends believe they are Woman?

I used to believe that after your teens, you get it all down pat. But as I approach adulthood, I don’t find that to be true at all. My current boyfriend and I started dating a week after this past Valentine’s Day. With Jamil it was different from the start. Even before we started dating, we were friends. We would listen to each other and make each other laugh. And after we began going out, it was incredible. For the first time in my life I actually trusted a guy almost 100%. That was something I never thought I would do.

Even though I love Jamil and I can pretty much see myself someday being with him, I don’t want to do something I’m not ready for. I have all the time in the world to experience sex. I figure why not wait a while and experience my virginity. I know that my first time will be very intense and will make me feel vulnerable, but I don’t want to feel overwhelmed or too out of control of the situation. I want it to be satisfying.

I’m glad that I’ve decided to be cautious about the choices I make. I’m glad that I’ve waited and not rushed into sex, because I haven’t found myself yet. I still have a lot to figure out.

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