How a traumatic gynecologist visit and a bra-snapping game changed my mind about women’s right and body image
I remembered it just like it was yesterday. Fourteen-years-old Ana. No boobs. Few signs of menarche (say: MEH-nar-kee) — aka that time when a girl’s body is preparing for her first period. Most of my girlfriends had gotten their period already and would talk about tampons, pads, and, of course, boys.
In the small town where I’m from, most of the girls and women would go to the same gynecologist. Dr. A. was a kind, chubby lady with the calmest voice you could possibly imagine. She would take care of my Mom, grandma, and my girlfriend’s moms and grandmas. She had basically touched 80% of the vaginas in that town. Dr. A. also happened to be the mom of one of my classmate’s.
Once it was my turn to see how my lady parts were doing, my mom made me an appointment with Dr. A. She would go with me, of course. I remember I wasn’t nervous, but curious. Dr. A was nice and explained a bit about the reproductive system and how my body was preparing to have a baby in the future. Cool. Roger that.
Then, I asked why most of my friends had already gotten their first period. Most of them had developed breasts and I hadn’t. I was feeling so far behind everyone.
(A few of my friends had even had sex already! But, of course, I couldn’t disclose that information in that room to my doctor, who knew most of my friends, and also because my mom was there too. My mom! Why did she have to be there with me? For support, I assumed. Hadn’t she realized I might have had questions I would’ve liked to ask in private?).
Dr. A. explained that every woman has their own clock, and that I shouldn’t be worried. She was almost certain that everything was fine with me. Still she would do a clinical examination. So, I went to the restroom, took off my clothes and put the gown on. I walked to back to the room. The floor was cold and my stomach crawling with anxiety.
What if something was wrong with me? What if she would see something I haven’t told my mom about? Could she tell I’ve been masturbating? Was there any way to find that out in a clinical exam?
It might be silly to imagine my misinformation back then, but those were real questions and fears I had.
I proceeded to lie down in the examination chair. Legs wide open, heart pumping like a Carnaval parade, and my mom there…watching everything. First, Dr. A examined my micro boobs. To be honest, there wasn’t much to analyze anyway. My breast development was pretty much nonexistent. Next, she look down and started examining my vagina. Then the traumatic moment happened. She asked my Mom to get closer to the chair and announced:
— Right there. Do you see it? That’s her hymen. Intact.
My mom with her eyes wide open as my legs. She was proud of her androgynous daughter and relieved because I was still virgin. Me, on the other hand, was terrified.
It was the first time I felt violated.
Not only of my body but of my privacy.
What if I wasn’t virgin anymore? With my appearance as a reference, one might have said there was no way I had initiated my sex life. I know. But I actually had sexual experiences at a very early age. I didn’t know what exactly a clinical exam could identify. What if my hymen wasn’t that “intact” for other reasons besides than sex?
I went home that day feeling extremely awkward. Was I making a big deal out of the situation? Would Dr. A. make a comment at home to my classmate? Would my mom mention at some point how proud she was of my virginity? Was Dr. A. even allowed to show one of the most intimate parts’ of my body to someone else? Even if that someone was my own mother?
Some how the scene of my mom staring at my vagina at Dr. A office stuck with me. The episode just added more embarrassment and shame under my low developed body.
Remember: I was in 8th grade! Gossiping and bullying was everywhere. The boys in my class had the ridiculous habit of snapping girls’ bras and running away. I didn’t wear a bra that they could pull. So, I never had to run away from them.
It’s hard to admit and still confusing in my mind. But the fact that boys could not snap my bra made me feel sad. I was an outsider in my own world. Somehow, it reinforced my shame and insecurities over my own body.
It’s insane I would feel that way because those boys were just being bullies. Sexual assaults are so rooted in our society. Often they are masked as a “funny game” that teens play.
It’s even crazier to think about how my idea of my own identity was being build. I was ashamed because my body didn’t fit in the standard for my age. I was ashamed because boys didn’t bully me like other girls with bra. I was ashamed because my gynecologist would show my hymen to my mom in a middle of a consultation without any hesitation.
I was ashamed of things that I should never be ashamed of.
It took me more than 10 years to realize all of that. But I’m happy that I finally did. It doesn’t even matter how long the process took.
I finally identified that my preconceptions of a woman body and her right’s were all wrong.
- I thought a girl should have well-developed breasts to become an attractive woman. Coming from Brazil — where most women have well shaped butts — large breasts were the differentiating element, the desirable one.
- I didn’t know I had medical privacy and confidentiality rights even as a 14-years-old. I wonder what would have happened if Dr.A couldn’t identify my hymen in that consultation. My mom would’ve thought I wasn’t a virgin anymore, and I would’ve been grounded for life! This is so fucked up because there are many other ways that a hymen can be break. I didn’t even know that back them. Now, I know that you can think of the hymen as tissue paper. It can be stretched or torn apart. Some women are even born without one. A hymen is a very small membrane inside of the opening to the vagina. Other things besides sex can wear the hymen away, such as biking, gymnastics, using tampons, fingering, and masturbation. But most importantly:
All hymens are not created equally.
- I thought that when a boy snapped a girl’s bra he was, in a very immature way, showing interest in her. I did not think that was an early stage of sexual harassment. *If you are a guy reading this, you might say that, in fact, that was your awkward way of interacting with girls. That you never had any intention of sexually attacking your colleagues and that I might be taking this too far. Well, let me tell you: touching someone’s body without their permission is sexual assault. My girlfriends felt uncomfortable and violated whenever one of our classmates would snap their bra so hard that it would come undone. It could have been only a “funny game” for you, but it was not funny for them. I didn’t know that was how they felt. I was embarrassed even to ask about it. I just assumed that was a “boy-girls’- game”, that I was not invited to play. Jeez, I was so naive and brainwashed by the magazines and TV series, I thought the problem was with me.
I hope you got my point. All my misconceptions about my rights and how my body “should” look prevented me from respecting the most important person in my life: myself.
I did not experiment with my body freely and without shame or guilt until later on in life.
Now that I have this awareness, I want to help others’ girls. I want to let them know that:
- It’s NOT okay to let a boy or anyone touch or play with your body without your consent.
- It’s NOT okay for a doctor or any professional to put you in an embarrassing situation about your body and intimacy — even if you are a minor.
- It’s okay to explore your body in your own time and privacy. Regardless of everything you see on IG and Snapchat, look at yourself in the mirror and contemplate your unique beauty. Acceptance is the most valuable gift you can give to yourself.
On that note:
Odarize-se diariamente! Become Odara daily!
Do you have a traumatic story that still bothers you? If you want to share, use the comments or send me a DM. I’d be happy to listen & I hope you’d feel relief and understood.
Thanks for reading and See You Next Tuesday! ;-)
Let’s connect! Tell me your about your journey in the comments and/or follow me on Twitter: @anaclaraotoni.