In 5th grade, I started my period. I was 10 years old.

In 6th grade, my breasts grew to a C cup. I was 11 years old.

In 8th grade, I wore two sports bras to make my then D cups as tightly bound as possible. It didn’t prevent comments from my middle school male peers. I was 13 years old.

In 9th grade, a male English teacher would regularly pull me aside in the hall or outside of class to talk. He never touched me inappropriately. He didn’t have to. I was 14 years old.

In 10th grade, a male classmate told me it didn’t matter what color my eyes were because ‘no one was actually looking at them’ in reference to my breasts. I was 15 years old.

In 11th grade, an upper classmen told me my ‘love handles’ were cute.  More cushion for the pushin’. I was 16 years old.

In 12th grade, I went on birth control. I made an appointment at Planned Parenthood, my only option. I was terrified my Catholic parents would find out. I wanted to be responsible. I was not yet having sex. I was 17 years old. 

In college, as I drove down the freeway, a man pulled up beside me and began masturbating while intentionally keeping pace with my car. I sped up, shocked. I was 19 years old.

In my early 20’s, I worked in a nightclub where a complete stranger walked by and grabbed my vagina. Within seconds, he was lost in the crowd.

In my mid 20’s, I worked for a famous musician who requested I give him massages regularly. ‘It was part of the job’. I quit within a month.

In my late 20’s, established and careered, a film executive and indirect boss who I had never met before told me with a sly grin how much he liked my outfit, and then proceeded to giggle with his male colleague as I walked away.

In my early 30’s, after a bout of illness, a male doctor told me that I was confused about my symptoms and what was ‘actually’ happening to me.

In my mid 30’s, I was in a loving relationship and became unintentionally pregnant. I sought out Planned Parenthood, 20 years later, again my only option. Nature decided before I had to. I miscarried.  Had I not, I would be the 1 in 4 women who has opted for an abortion in her life.

My body is my own, despite being told otherwise for the entirety of my life.The world does not get to tell me who I am, and if I had allowed it to, I would be a woman confused as to my own worth. I would have been pulled apart, piece by piece, violation by violation, comment by comment until there was nothing left. And, here’s the thing, that is the point. These messages women have received for centuries, have the pervasive ability to harm and maim a woman’s value, not only within her own belief system but within the belief system of a society and a culture that surrounds her. This drum has been beating for as long as I can recall and it’s rhythm is once again getting louder. But, so are women’s voices. 

Every decision made that brings a woman closer to existing at the hands of another, and not her own, is continuing to send the clear message that her body is not her own and, as a result, her life is not her own. Women are told, time and again, that their body and life is for the appreciation, use or functionality of others. I, and so many other women, are here to tell you, they are not. We have our own beating hearts to protect, and we will.