These girls’ stories of being sexualised underage proves how depressingly normal it is
‘Every girl has a story like this’
Growing up as a girl, there is one thing that unites us all – our experiences of sexism at a very young age. Being told our skirts are a distraction for male teachers, being shouted at from a van whilst on a jog or being teased for the size of our boobs. Ask any woman you know and they will relate to at least one of these experiences.
When I reached out to the women in my life, I was inundated with examples of everyday sexism and sexualisation of girls who have stories from as young as 11-years-old. And what’s even worse is many of them were so similar and were things we’d got so used to happening that we’ve accepted them as the normal rite of passage of being a teenage girl.
These experiences are not what we should all have in common and yet they are so prevalent in our lives. The policing of our bodies and clothing comes from our teachers, parents, friends and sometimes even ourselves as a result of internalised misogyny.
The stories I collected from a variety of young women showed that these early encounters of sexualisation are more than just being told our skirt is too short (although that is very often the case). The stories stretch across every moment of our lives from hobbies, to working out, to your first job at the local sandwich shop, to simply walking down the road.
These are just some real life examples of times girls were sexualised at a young age:
“I remember being called a porn star when I was in year seven by the boys at my school because my boobs developed early. I was so confused because obviously I couldn’t do anything about it but the boys just seemed to sexualise them so much, which I now realise was actually really off putting and made me self conscious.
“I remember being so embarrassed and not telling anybody that they were saying it, and all my friend just finding it funny when in reality it made my body become sexualised before I had even hit puberty properly.
“I remember being in like year eight or nine and a guy photoshopped my face onto like a porn photo. Loads of my mates messaged saying ‘I can’t believe you sent him that pic’ and obviously I denied it as I didn’t, but didn’t really think much of that until I was older! The guy messaged me apologising but I still think it’s mad that he did that.” Gemma
“At my boarding school, it was against school rules to wear a coloured bra because the pink straps were too distracting. So we’d wear black, white and skin coloured and when that apparently became too distracting, it was against the rules to have straps showing unless in your boarding house and teachers would send girls to the principle’s office if their straps were showing.” Vicki
“My sixth form history teacher would call me ‘Love’ and nobody else. My whole class picked up on it basically straight away and he stopped… I think he meant it in a ‘nice’ way as I was going off to do history at uni but yeah, a bit weird.” Susie
“Teachers’ over use of the phrase ‘that’s not very lady like’.” Lucy
“I think young girls being told they’re bossy instead of just leaders, never really heard the boys in school get called bossy.” Liv
“I remember in my physics class a female student was putting on lipgloss and the male teacher told her ‘Stop that! It’s tempting’.” Funmi
“I used to wear TWO BRAS to school because I was scared boys would say my boobs were small otherwise.” Maddy
“It’s so toxic how girls are programmed to take responsibility for men’s actions. A 60-year-old teacher at my school had a relationship with a 17-year-old pupil and so many of my friends blamed her and called her a slut and his wife defended him saying the girl was the predator and had tempted him.” Emily
“I always had big boobs growing up and used to get bullied mercilessly for it. I got called ‘melons’ every day between the ages of 12 and 16. So I was led to believe I was unattractive and fat. I wanted a breast reduction for my 16th.” Molly
“I remember one non-school uniform day in year seven, I wore this red nautical playsuit (in hindsight, not cute, but I LOVED it) and on the way to my next class a boy shouted ‘slut’ at me. When I told a teacher passing by, she told me that it was probably the way I was dressed.” Kea
School skirts (yes they need their own category)
“When I was at school, I would always have teachers (male and female) telling me to pull my skirt down and had a science teacher once tell me to sit on a chair as a ‘lady’ otherwise it would distract the male teachers (I was sat with my legs over the arm rest).” Georgia
“I went to an all girls school year seven to year 11 and there was a male teacher who used to carry round a ruler to measure our skirts to make sure they weren’t distracting if they were too short.” Alice
“When I started an all girls secondary school we were told we weren’t allowed to wear our P.E. skorts around school unless we put tracksuit bottoms over the top or wear shorts on non uniform day because it was ‘distracting’.
“Since other girls saw the skorts in P.E. lessons it can’t have been about distracting our fellow pupils so the only logical assumption is that they thought we, at 11, would distract our teachers with our legs. Very victim-blamey because if a 30-year-old teacher is driven to distraction by a pubescent child’s legs then that is very much their problem.” Caitlin
“A female teacher once told my 14-year-old self that my skirt was too short and made me pull it down in front of an entire canteen of students.” Sapphire
“Teachers would measure our skirts with rulers. I was tall so they always slut-shamed me and all the other tall girls would have to wear super long skirts to appease the puritans.” Funmi
“All the girls in my year got given detention for having too short skirts at our Catholic school because it was distracting for the boys and male teachers.” Eirian
“I remember at the start of year 10 my skirt was too small and therefore quite short and one of my friends said something like ‘I can’t believe you want to look like one of those sluts’.” Caitlin
“I’m 21 and my mum will say my top is too revealing if I’m showing a slight bit of cleavage and that I should cover up so I don’t get stared at.” Claudia
“I remember at 15 my dad told me to take down a picture off Instagram because I ‘looked like a prostitute’.” Alice
“My sister in law, who wasn’t married to my brother at the time, told me to change my bra because you could see it slightly through the top I was wearing. What has it got to do with anyone what fucking bra I choose to wear? – I was 14 at the time.” Beth
“Wearing anything short when you were younger whether that’s a skirt or shorts and your mum or someone older saying ‘you’re not wearing that out’ – when there’s literal men on the street with their tops off.” Lucy
“I worked at a golf club near my home. There was at a themed night and we had a DJ in – he made comments about how my shirt would take a mans eye out (it was a normal button shirt) and then made a comment about my school shoes like how I was still at school.
“I didn’t feel comfortable working there anymore and the golf club were shocking when dealing with it. They spoke to him about the comments on the shift but refused to ban him from the club, they said he wasn’t actually directly employed by them, it was whoever the DJ company wanted to send.” Georgia
“I worked at this little shop from age 13 – 16 every Saturday morning, and the amount of grim comments I’d get from like old men or like workmen when I was making them sandwiches was obscene.
“This one guy used to always ask me for a kiss with his sandwich and make comments about my body when I’d turn around, and ask what time I’d finish. I was 13 so didn’t know how to tell him to piss off whilst still being polite? The boss was a family friend and used to laugh and go with it because he didn’t want to offend the customers.
“Most of the time they didn’t know how old I was, but like that’s no excuse?? I always got my dad to pick me up even though I only lived a five minute walk away.” Tiffany
“I worked in a kitchen around men all the time who used to be predatory on me and the other girls.” Beth
“Don’t even get me started on my mum, she’s always trying to police my outfits, such as my workout outfit I’ve been wearing at home (which obvs no one is seeing) and how it’s too revealing ‘who are you trying to impress'”. Alice
“You can imagine what it was like when I started playing water polo at 13… Obviously that was for more attention and to show my body off in a swimming costume.” Alice
“Even now I won’t go for a run in just a sports bra and leggings, I have to put on a top, because I don’t want the risk.” Rachel
“Honestly I’m still low key scared to go running because without fail I’ll either get cat called or called a fat bitch, or more likely both.” Sophia
Literally just walking around
“Sometimes these gross guys will catcall you and follow up with racial slurs if you don’t answer them.” Funmi
“I was 14-years-old and was walking with a friend down a main road, we were both wearing shorts. We got tooted and I remember feeling really proud, but now looking back on it, it’s weird that a grown adult honked at two children.” Rachel
“Shouting at you from cars/vans is a classic. It’s so jarring. You could be having an amazing day and then it’s just dampened down.” Funmi
“When I was learning to drive age 17 I had this instructor who was everything your parents tell you to look out for. When I think back to it now I feel so uncomfortable and annoyed I didn’t say anything.
“He was a massive creep and would talk about sex in front of me all the time, comment on the length of my skirt, and would ask really inappropriate questions about me and my boyfriend’s sex life.
“At the time I would just laugh it off and play along because I was scared. I never said anything to the driving company or my parents because I was both worried he would find out it came from me.
“And I was worried he would lose his job…which is so mad now I look back on it because why did I feel bad about some absolute creep losing his job when he almost definitely being a perv to other girls learning to drive just like me. I felt like I shouldn’t cause a scene, and that it was wrong to stand up for myself and call it out – now I look back on it I really wish I had.” Lucy