I wrote a response to FYI (If You’re a Teenage Girl).
Can everybody please stop masturbating for five seconds so we can talk about modesty, but also talk about me? I was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, and modesty was intertwined within every aspect of our teachings and culture. Our hems had to be a certain length, no makeup was allowed, and most of what I heard about sex as a child/tween was that boys want sex, they will do anything to get it, and you have to keep them from having sex with you, because they will try at all costs.
Of course it was never mentioned that girls will also want sex, so when the time comes and you do start feeling arousal and attraction, not only have you and boys both been taught that you’re responsible for keeping them out of your plaid skirts, you’re also responsible for keeping yourself out of their pants. (And if you’re gay, your sexuality was never ever brought up, but trust me, it’s still your fault and you are very very bad if you ever have an orgasm. Catholic guilt is always in abundance, enough to go around!) It’s confusing, indeed, to have the very idea of your own sexuality or arousal treated as non-existent or an illusion.
The message was loud and clear: ‘Boys and men are very sexual creatures and think about and want sex constantly. Women and girls don’t want sex. It’s something they do to appease men and it’s not something that women and girls think about or want.’ It can create a sense of guilt or shame when you do start feeling arousal, because ‘isn’t that just for boys?’ My own attraction and attractiveness were never to be discussed or acknowledged. And with that comes the burden, as an adult, of unpacking all of that dogma and conditioning and getting to a point of understanding that my own sexual arousal and desire are real, normal, and OK.
Further, it is OK for me to like the way I look and to be comfortable with that, and to not have to apologize for feeling pretty. And it can be difficult, as a girl or a woman, to feel beautiful. And if we can’t get to a point where we can feel beautiful, even feeling comfortable or accepting of ourselves can be a challenge. We are daily inundated with messages telling us how to perfect or enhance our beauty, how to change our bodies, how to adjust our clothes, how to attract a mate, and the focus, always, is on our bodies and the way we look. For many women, these messages are even more harmful, as the beauty standard constantly put forth is typically whiteness first and foremost, a white supremacist advertising utopia. It is a form of cultural violence to perpetuate the lie that a woman’s worth is seated in her attractiveness, and that what can be considered attractive is limited to such a narrow construct.