"You need to wear a bra" was my first notification of puberty. I was twelve years old, it was late summer and my favorite t-shirt revealed my breast buds. My face burned red, I looked down towards my chest - how did this happen? I instinctively covered my buds with my arms and ran to change into an oversized sweatshirt. I realized my days of invisibility were coming to an end.
The notification was made by my mother who didn't have the energy nor inclination to discuss the stages of becoming a woman. Everything I learned about adolescence was from pamphlets that I snatched at the school nurse's office. There was something very soothing about reading "My Changing Body”, the images were empowering and I felt less like a freak. It was the 1970's and sex-ed was not required in public schools.
I was cursed with rapid breast growth, my period didn't make its debut for another few months. I grew from a double A to a full B by the time blood appeared. Imagine being an up-and-coming gymnastic hopeful, dreaming of one day competing in the nationals, and suddenly two intrusive projections appear - dragging effervescent aerial maneuvers down with a thud. I wrapped. I banded. I wore the tightest bra; cutting-off almost all circulation - which made my limber, flexible torso stiff and awkward. The coach who once viewed me with potential, now looked at me with eyes of pity, placing me into the unofficial second tier.
And then the blood came, rendering horrendous pain, enough that during gymnastic meets, I became the benchwarmer. Plus, my flow was torrential, I went through pads fast, my mother didn't always replenish, so I had to make DIY sanitary pads. Here's the recipe: wrap an inch thick amount of paper towels around your hand, fold in half and use masking tape to secure-in-place, carry extra paper towels and tape in a paper bag. Keep-in-mind, this was after months of agonizing trial and error, the final recipe did not manifest without effort.
The other part of puberty is you become a visible entity, one that can yield enormous attention. I was raised to be in the background; notice me and I want to hide into a ditch. The kind of scrutiny I received was unnerving. I was like a homing device for perverts. Girls didn't have swagger at that period in time, we were on the cusp of female empowerment, not to be articulated until I was a senior in High School.
"Why do you always walk with your head down?" asked the librarian. Every afternoon I would go to the library and lose myself in reading. I didn't realize my head was "always" down, but of course why would it be raised if I wanted to be invisible? The librarian was considered a Hippie, she was the only woman I knew at the time who was truly relaxed and comfortable in her own skin. I practiced being like her, I pretended to not have a care in the world, it took enormous effort, and gradually, I stopped hiding my face. “Fake it till you make it” echoed in my consciousness.
And then many years later, after a prolonged menopause in my late forties I didn’t need to “fake it” I genuinely appreciated being noticed. The irony is that in post menopause, no one looks at me! Walking alongside my sixteen year old daughter is like wearing an invisibility shield. Now that I’m finally comfortable with eyes-on-me, my time has passed. Sometimes it feels like abandonment, and sometimes it feels like freedom. Perhaps less scrutiny is an invitation from society to not take everything so seriously. I can relax and just be.
This is my new mantra: Enjoy your life, you’ve earned it. I’m not invisible, I am seen, I am present.
Born in New York City and raised on Long Island, Azan Kung is a graduate of Yale University, School of Drama, MFA program (New Haven, CT). She holds a BFA from The School of Visual Arts (NYC).
For the last twenty plus years, Azan has worked in film and television, primarily as an Editor and Designer. For a period of five years she was considered a Preditor - Producer/Writer/Director/Editor. Her clients include NBC Universal, Netflix, E! Entertainment, Time Warner, Havas Edge and Wonderscape Productions.
She is currently writing screenplays and in the process of creating a novel.