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Lady bits and seashells

TW: sexual assault

When I was 4, my parents took me to the end of the island we lived on where we ate seafood on the bay. Outside the restaurant was a parking lot full of broken seashells.

Beautiful, bleached-white fragments, grooves and ridges still decorating the outside of the shells. The chalky substance that manifested from their irregularly pointed edges made them perfect for homemade chalk.

Without hesistation, I proceeded to pour a handful of the jagged seashell fragments down my pants and into my underwear to use on the sidewalk later.

This is a special area, Sydney, you have to keep it safe.”

“Sydney!” My dad exclaims and runs over to me, hands barely out of my pants. He pulls my shorts away from my naval and begins collecting the meticulously harvested chalk supply from the cradle of my panties. “These are too sharp to put down there. This is a special area, Sydney, you have to keep it safe.”

Safe. You have to keep it safe.

As humans, it seems like our natural inclination is to marvel at shells. We collect them and bring them home to display on our window sills, bathroom sinks, and even paste them on picture frames. Small ones, big ones, broken ones. Each shell displaying the scars of their existance: surface-level cracks, shells weathered by the ocean tides, others cracked open by hungry birds.

What we forget is that the function of shells is to protect. To provide shelter to vulnerable and soft creatures inhabiting our oceans, prior to washing up on our shores and subsequently ending up in our drawers. Just like us, these shells have been through different things and weathered well enough. Sometimes I wonder if we scatter these shells around our homes to remind us of our own weathering and that we, too, are protected.

Years later, when boys began to use my body for their pleasure over my own, I didn’t hear my fathers words echo through my head.

I didn't hear him the morning after the times I drank too much and deceptive friends decided to prod their fingers in me.

Instead, my father’s words ring true every time I bring that pink razor blade down to meet my lips. Adrenaline and shame coursing through my veins as I part myself, careful attempts to avoid skinning the most sensitive and special parts of me.

How is this serving me?" I say to myself as I swiftly guide the razor across the inside of my labia, small drops of blood forming around the areas I nicked.

I watch as the diluted red liquid washes down the drain. “I can't continue doing this, I am desecrating the most special parts of me.” I say, as I set down the razor and lather up my legs for my next impending massacre.


When my body was taken advantage of by greedy boys looking for a cheap thrill, the clothing on my skin, nor the soft layer of protection that encapsulates my body was enough to protect me from their wandering hands and my lingering shame. In these moments, my consciousness was the only thing that could have protected me, which unfortunately was blurred by intoxication.

I now know that it wasn't the fault of the boys who claimed ownership of my body when I didn't have the capacity to say no. Their choice, their conscious decision to colonize my body for their own gain was not likely theirs at all. But the looming taunts from their friends, their fathers, colleagues even, who gave them subtle nods when a bikini-clad gals strode by, offered them labels like "crazy" to attach to girls who rejected their advances. Those in leadership who continue to let their "high-performing" team member's inappropriate behavior slide cause "boys will be boys".

I can do my best to hide my feminine features, perhaps even refrain from groups of men who let their eyes linger too long to give me a semblance of protection. But I will never be able to protect myself fully from the male gaze's apparent claim to my body. The only real protection I can provide my body is through the choices I do unto and for myself, and the rhetoric I may one day be fortunate enough to pass down to my future offspring.

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