Fat Girls of Color Grow Up Too Fast
We lose our childhoods in a million different ways
When I was 11, the most stressful place on Earth was the Flynn O’Hara store near Westchester Square. It was the only retail store that sold the uniforms I needed for my brief stint in Catholic school.
Flynn O’Hara was the place where my mom usually realized I had gone up a size or two from the year before. The unforgiving cotton-polyester pants had no stretch and left marks on the lower part of my stomach in ways my jeans and skirts did not. My skirts were longer than those of the other girls, but too big around my waist. Her veiled disappointment in my body revealed itself in its entirety by the time she paid carefully budgeted money at the register.
On one visit, I walked out from behind the flimsy curtain of the dressing room wearing pants that fit too tight around my hips, but were too long and covered the tips of my toes. I could see my mother’s frown in a mirror nearby and the unflinching stare of a man with his wife a few feet away. I turned toward him while my mom inspected the pants. We met eyes before my mom told me to go back into the dressing room. The intensity of that stare followed me home, like I had looked too hard at a lightbulb.
By then, I was the biggest girl in my class. I was growing hips and breasts and had long been catcalled by men on the street. But, for the most part, I was just a normal girl. My body was just bigger. It shouldn’t have made my life that different.
It shouldn’t have.
If you’re reading this, you may already know about the concept of “adultification.” As Rebecca Epstein, Jamilia J. Blake, and Thalia González detail in “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood,” adultification refers to the process by which children “function at a more mature developmental stage because of situational context and necessity.” It’s a “social or cultural stereotype that is based on how adults perceive children ‘in the absence of knowledge of children’s behavior and verbalizations.’” Essentially, adultification occurs when the notion of how and why a child acts doesn’t match up with their actual developmental stage. When a child is perceived as embodying the behavior…