I was 12 or 13, minding my business walking home from school. We lived in a developing neighbourhood, which meant I had to walk past houses in various states of construction. That day was sunny, I was wearing a dress, and I got catcalled for the first time in my life. I remember feeling so uncomfortable and shocked. I put my head down and quickly walked the rest of the way home. When I got home I told my mom what happened and how I felt, her response was something I remember clearly today, “Would you rather they didn’t whistle?”
Apparently I should have felt happy and grateful that men found my looks worthy of whistles and catcalls. What I felt instead was shocked, angry, and for some reason, ashamed. It was confusing to say the least. How could my instincts say that this felt wrong and yet the women around me tell me it was fine?
This may have been the first time I experienced that feeling, but it’s been far from the last. It also may have been the first time I felt like an object, but again, it’s happened so many times since that I’ve lost count.
When I was 14 I became a right leg amputee and my body became objectified in a whole new way. All of a sudden my entire identity became my leg, my prosthetic, my disability. I was the “chick in the wheelchair” or “the girl with one leg.” So many individuals decided I wasn’t worth even getting to know because I had one leg. To them I would never be more than a body part. I cried to my mom that no one would want me because of my leg—I was learning quick, the heartache of rejection.
When I did encounter guys that wanted to date me in my teens, it felt like a service. I should be grateful. They should be praised. My first boyfriend was even given props by his friends for dating me. Over time, I debated between telling men right away about my leg and risk instant rejection, or getting to know them and hoping they could see past it. Most found an excuse: All of a sudden they didn’t want my number or to go on that date. Others didn’t beat around the bush and told me or friends that they would date me if I had two legs. When other parts of my body were objectified, my ass grabbed or my back stroked, it was an unsaid thing that I should accept the unwanted attention. After all, they were kind enough not to reject me.
It’s been so ingrained that some may not want to date me because of my leg, that even when I found myself single in my thirties, this time with three kids and a postpartum body, I still gave men I met through online dating a “head’s up.” I gave them an out, a way to reject me because of my BODY. I gave them permission to base my worth on my leg.
What everyone seems to miss, what even I missed until recently, is that I am not an object. I am a person, and the only person who needs to love my body is me.