After that day, Mum never hit me again. I’d like to think she felt remorse even though she never said anything about it ever again. But there’s a sinking feeling inside that her newfound discretion came more from a fear of being labelled a child abuser and losing her job as a primary school teacher. A week after this incident, at the awkward age of eight, Aunt Flow came to visit me for the first time. I was so scared that I covered it up with wads of tissues and never told anyone else about it until now. I was so anxious about having to tell my Mum that I was becoming a woman that I caused myself to gain ten kilograms in a month and didn’t get my period again until I was fifteen.
By that time, the constant loss of self-esteem I felt by being an unattractive woman and a disappointment to my family (they never touched me), had started to cause me to experiment with bulimia. I was a straight A+ student with a raft of extra-curricular endeavours, an impressive trophy case and an awards, honours, and mentions list that would make any parent proud. Any parents, but mine…or so I truly felt. My one and only failure was far too visible for my parents. You can’t hide weight gain in a Queensland Summer any more than you can hide a rhinoceros behind a lamppost. And, I guess, my failure was looked at by society as my parents’ failure to teach me about health and willpower.
I stopped throwing up after my binges once I developed an incontinence problem. A lifetime of being nagged to suck my stomach in had given me a hypertonic pelvic floor, and the retching action had worsened my condition to full-blown urinary incontinence. This is something else that I never admitted to until much much later on when I realised that it wasn’t my fault, and that incontinence wasn’t normal but it was typical for someone like me.
It was also at fifteen that my Mum decided for me that I needed a bra. I had just finished playing a Chopin Nocturne on stage at a piano recital in front of one thousand people. I had chosen, for this special occasion to wear my best black trousers and my best white shirt. After my applause, I marched happily off the brightly-lit stage to receive some praise for my performance from my Mum. The praise went a little something like this: “Yep, I think it’s about time you started wearing a bra. That was embarrassing!” It appears that the lights made my shirt a whiter shade of pale; see-through practically. I’d actually painfully tried to ask my Mum to take me for my first bra-fitting just three months prior to this, but there was no money in the budget for it. Since we’d ‘upgraded’ houses on my eleventh birthday, the “B” word, as I called the budget, was so often talked about that I’d started to anthropomorphise it in my head into an annoying, creepy uncle who outstayed his welcome.
Puberty was hard for me. Even though some boys found me attractive, I could never get past the idea that if they really knew how disgusting I was, they’d drop me instantly and I would crumble at the rejection. The dating game in high school for me was nothing more or less than a casual study in making boys hot for me just to prove to myself over and over again that I could. And then I would play aloof or try to delicately reject their advances once they’d moved past my comfort zone. The misogynistic monikers of ‘Ice Queen’, ‘Dick Tease’ and, my personal favourite, ‘President of the Blue Ball Group’, followed me around at an audible enough distance. The reality was that I was aching for physical affection, but too afraid of my own body, and the possible antonyms of my inherited nicknames.
High school was a complete, unabridged lesson in how I ‘should’ be. And as a 100kg 13-year-old, I stopped looking at myself for who I was, and instead thrust myself wholeheartedly into my fantasies where I was physical perfection incarnate; at least, everyone else’s versions of it at any rate. This was really when my mind turned sour. Because my fantasy was so devoid of reality, I found myself stuck in an endless loop of escapism. I started to imagine what the rest of my life would look like, and I stayed there because it was safer than the life I was living. And when people didn’t play along with the future I’d previously planned in my head, then I would go through all sorts of mental hoops and strategies in my head to achieve the desired result. Manipulation is a much easier option than emotional honesty, especially when your skin is so thin, it needs to be looked at with an electron microscope. But manipulation, whether intended or not, very rarely pays off into lasting friendships. As my favourite singer often reminds me: “That only happens in movies; they feed into our saddest fantasies”.
I managed to survive high school without losing my virginity–a fact I prided myself on at the time. I outwardly expressed to my long-term boyfriend my disinclination to fall pregnant before heading off to Japan for a year on a scholarship I’d just won. But really I was afraid for other reasons: 1. That a year away from me would cause him to wise up, and all of the love that he professed for me would dry up, and I would be alone, and unloved and without a hymen. 2. My life had been so devoid of physical affection for the past ten years that a mere stroke of my thigh would emotionally overwhelm me and set off an impossible fiery inferno throughout my circuitry.
Japan was amazing for me. I was a sparkly 17 years’ old with a new passport, and was leaving Queensland for the very first time. The girls in my new school near Harajuku reintroduced me to the ideas of sexual liberation, diversity and independence. Just before our very first sports class together, we had to get changed out of our Sailor Moon uniforms and into our teal green tracksuits. I watched as my classmates pulled off their shirts, flashing at each other beautiful lacy bras with flower embroidery. I tentatively removed my own shirt to reveal one of the two bras that I owned at the time; both sports bras, both impeccably perfunctory. I tried to pull my polo on before I attracted the ire of my classmates for my choice of undergarments. I’d attended a co-ed state school in Brisbane, but this was a private girls’ school, and I was not very in tune with the ways of women; my mother feeling it her duty to keep femininity from me for as long as possible.
Instead, what happened was not scorn, or shame or disgust, but impassioned curiosity and inclusion. My classmates swarmed on me, and before I could give my consent, one hand after another was reaching for my chest and giving my boobs a thorough squeeze–apparently to test if white girls are made the same. After everyone was satisfied that we were, my new handsy tomodachi invited me to go after school to sing karaoke and take purikura (sticker booth photos) with them. I was glad that I did go, because I quickly realised that purikura were a kind of social currency in Japanese schools, and even the puniest stickers, as long as they featured a gaijin (foreigner), were the most highly prized of all and you could trade them in for some rice cakes, or several larger purikura. For the first time in my big, fat life, I was hot stuff. This instant acceptance allowed me to discover some truths about myself for the very first time, without someone convincing me of how I ‘should’ think, feel or act. I am still amused at the irony of finding my own voice and will for the first time in my life, amidst one of the most culturally and ethnically homogenous nations in the world. But I did. And a piece of my heart will forever remain in Tokyo.