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Just about everyone knows someone who has been bullied, in ways big and small. Understandably, though, many victims are reluctant to speak about their experiences. We found some who aren't.
BY KATE FUEYO, Tampa Preparatory
I’m alone in WestShore Plaza on a Friday, and I’m trying to work up the nerve to enter Victoria’s Secret, that lacy, heart-y, Valentine-present-y mecca, for the first time.
Just for the record, I’m 16.
My reasons for never before stepping over the lingerie threshold are varied. My family simply doesn’t produce the Victoria’s Secret kind of female. When I hit puberty, my mother dragged me to the very tasteful Nordstrom to pick up a couple of lace- and rhinestone-free undergarments. I don’t have a big sister, or a friend who is similar to one, and most of my clique’s trips to the mall consist of a movie and Pinkberry — not wearing signature VS PINK sweatpants, which I don’t own.
And not only have I never had the opportunity to enter this choke-hold of perfume (apparently meant to cover the parts of you the underwear doesn’t), I also never had the desire, either. I’m a simple kind of girl, the kind who would rather surf Netflix for awful horror movies than go to a party (where my underwear wouldn’t be on display anyway). And I like ice cream too much to fit into Victoria’s merchandise.
Yet here I am, tip-toeing over the doorsill like I’m entering a booby-trapped criminal hideout. There’s a large photographic ad in the front, with five white models and one black one (because that totally represents the actual demographic of the country), claiming “real women have curves!” Of course, you can count all of their ribs.
I push myself to do so because it seems like an adolescent milestone, like riding SheiKra or sneaking into something R-rated at the AMC theater upstairs. (I’ve only done the former.) I feel like it’s my time now, because I’ll do anything once just to try it, like eat snails in France, prank call Domino’s asking for Pizza Hut, or rock climb. But frankly, the difference between those exploits and entering Victoria’s Skimpy is miles wide, because I had no moral objections to those things.
Genetic proscription aside, I’ve avoided Victoria not because I’m religious, or even highly modest. I’ve avoided the store because it once marketed a lingerie line called “Go East” that played on Asian stereotypes with sexy geisha outfits. Because the first panty I pick up when I walk inside has the exploitative “slap me” emblazoned in rhinestones across the front. (There is no back, go figure.) Because this place has made me, who grew up with a healthy self image but without a swimsuit body, feel inferior. Just like thousands of other girls across the country, across the world, who diet and skimp and strain and starve themselves to get into those bikinis.
Behind me, there’s a wall of push-up bras with more padding than my friend’s lacrosse gear, in high-lighter colors that would probably show under anything but a parka. Next to the “slap me” thong, there’s one that has “let’s make out!” and another that says “kiss this.” Uncensored Top 40 blares over a rack of PINK sweatpants, with smalls so shrunken they wouldn’t fit a twig. There are so many shades of magenta, the back of my eyes hurt. I pick up a bottle of the most innocuous thing I can find, a “fragrance mist” I saw a similar, already overpriced version of across the mall at Bath and Body Works. The VS tag proudly proclaims this squirt-bottle of chemicals will cost me more, $25 plus tax. I put it down like I’ve been burned, trying not to make eye contact with any sales associates, whose expressions are hungry for insecure customers, and feel a stab of companionship for a guy who’s being dragged through the T-shirt rack by his girlfriend. She’s complaining that anywhere else, she’s a medium. He’s thinking that he’d rather be anywhere else.
What is the message they’re trying to send? The stick-skinny ad campaign proclaims “real women have curves.”
The good thing for me is, I know it’s true.