‘I’m playing the tiniest violin in history right now,’ read a reply online to an interview with actress and model Sydney Sweeney after she reflected on her teenage years.
In the piece, 25-year-old Sweeney revealed that playing Cassie on hit HBO series Euphoria – a character who falls victim to revenge porn and victim shaming – triggered thoughts of her upbringing. Specifically, how she felt after developing breasts earlier than her classmates.
Recalling her feelings, she stated that she ‘had boobs before other girls’ and felt ‘ostracised for it’.
‘I’m sure she was quite popular with the boys,’ read another comment on the article. ‘Girls like Sydney Sweeney were always the most popular in my school.’
Reactions like that made me feel angry, especially seeing them come from women.
It was astonishing to me that people who know from experience how the female body changes would have the audacity to say such things.
I only read the replies hoping to find people speaking in support of Sweeney, but this was like looking for a needle in a haystack amongst so much narrow-mindedness.
I deeply empathise with Sydney Sweeney because I too had a similar experience.
I remember vividly the day my body began to change, aged 10 – my periods started when I was still in primary school. I missed out on ‘teen training bras’ and moved straight in on the women’s section, aged 11.
Even something as simple as using the same P.E. changing rooms as my peers, who weren’t experiencing the same things as I was, made me feel embarrassed and alienated.
The sound of whispered comments and the image of side-eyes from girls will always stay with me.
I often asked myself: Why me? Why now? It felt isolating and often embarrassing.
It is something that continued through my high school years.
The moment I was asked in the hallway by a boy: ‘Go on, what’s your bra size?’ is forever ingrained into my mind. The reaction of my parents embedded even more – as they rightly went into bat for me.
After I was able to point out the boy who had asked me the question, my dad jumped out of his car and told him to ‘never come near’ me again, before insisting that teachers do something about the incident.
But no real negative consequences were ever given to the boys in my school who were ‘daring each other’ to ask me questions about my bra size – only a morning spent in isolation.
I was never offered any support, not even an apology – and the adults in the situation made me feel as if it was my fault for my body changing and the boys’ reaction was just something to be expected.
The saying goes that ‘boys will be boys’, yet this defensive attitude fails to consider the feeling shared by me, Sweeney, and other girls who have been in the same position.
A study conducted by OFSTED in 2021 found that approximately 92% of girls experience sexist name-calling, finding that ‘sexual harassment in schools is so frequent that it has become ‘commonplace’ in the classroom’.
Sex education needs to focus on a wider scope of issues. Young boys need to learn about girls’ bodies in the same way that girls are taught how to put on condoms; and harsher sanctions need to be given to boys who make the lives of girls hell through sexual harassment.
A few hours in isolation or after school detention simply won’t cut it.
Being a child and having boobs can be one of the scariest experiences of your life; dealing with men looking at you sexually; the feeling of no longer being treated as a child anymore simply because your body is changing. It can all be overwhelmingly traumatic for young girls.
Being slut-shamed and objectified by boys for something that occurs naturally has a strong psychological impact, as Sweeney rightly states. Girls hate you for developing before they do; boys treat you like an object; and the teachers treat you as if you are doing it on purpose.
Men, especially, need to realise the effect that their words and actions are having – for they have no idea how hard it is to be a developing young girl. Comments surrounding the female body changing, something that we have no control over, can lead to years of insecurity and body dysmorphia.
They also make you less likely to trust men in your adult life too.
So hearing somebody as influential as Sweeney speak out about her experiences provides courage, and comfort, to those like myself who have been through similar experiences.
My message to her, and other women and girls who developed young is, don’t let the opinion of others drag you down. Your experiences are valid.
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