You guys already know me, but Hi, my name is Elena and I am a second year student here, at Pearson College UWC. I was born on April, 5th, 2002 in a small town along the southern coast of Italy. After my dad’s hope of having a boy had sadly vanished, he cried of joy while holding a baby that, according to him, was the “cutest little girl he had ever seen”. A girl. Back then, asleep in my dad’s warm arms, I could have never imagined that this word, “girl”, would be the heaviest burden I had to carry for my entire life. I couldn’t know that my body would change, grow, thin and widen, and that one day this [pointing at my body] would become the only thing that defines me and who I am. I couldn’t know that one day I would need to hide my skin to have people’s respect and, of course, I couldn’t know that the following question would resonate so loud in my head during every interaction with people: 

Am I just this to you?

Am I just this to you? I thought, when at the age of 14 one of my classmates commented on the size of my breasts. “I think you should show them more”, he said, “You have so much potential but you don’t use it very well”. I remember the humiliation, the shame I felt while his eyes were staring at me. And I also remember his expression: proud, compassionate, as he was almost trying to help a friend in need. My breast? Is that what defines my potential? The bigger my breast, the more desirable or smarter I am? And why is it my job to please you with that view? That was one of the first times I have realized that, no matter how kind, brilliant, creative I tried to be, people’s opinion about me and “my potential” would primarily be based on how my body looked like. From that day on, I have received an endless amount of similar comments that made my question resonate in my head even louder. 

Am I just this to you? 

Am I just this to you?, I couldn’t stop asking myself when at the age of 15, after getting my first tattoo on my back, one of my friends made a comment that even now, after three years, I find it difficult to forget. “You know..” he said “guys will go crazy with that flower on your back. It must be so sexy to look at during sex.” I can’t even begin to describe how embarrassing that felt. After that comment, I have started to regret getting that tattoo so much to the point where I did everything in my power to hide it. I would never wear any open back shirt during summer and I would feel extremely uncomfortable at the beach. All I could think of was those eyes, those malicious smiles that suggested only one thing: I was just an object. And you know, I wish someone had asked me whether that tattoo had a meaning. I would have told them that I did it for my mom. I would have told them about my relationship with her, why she is so important to me and what’s the connection between her and a white lily. But if you are a girl, they don’t care about your experiences. They don’t care about your pain, memories, thoughts. They care about your skin. How pale, tan or smooth it is. They want to touch it, kiss it, bite it, without ever actually asking what’s underneath. They think they saw you naked just because you took your clothes off. But what about your dreams? What are you passionate about? What makes you cry? What about your childhood? Ask them to tell you one story about you that they are not in. They saw your skin, they touched your body. But they still know as much about you as a book they once found but never got around to opening. The fancy cover of a book you can’t be bothered to read…


  Am I just this to you?

Am I just this to you? I thought, when this summer, while I was dancing at a club, someone groped me so violently I thought I was bleeding. I never saw who did it, as he ran away before I could turn around, but I wish I could look at him and ask him why he did that. What did he gain? His friend’s respect? Was it a personal achievement? That summer night, I tried not to think about what happened and prayed that the techno music would get louder than my thoughts. However, I felt a void in my stomach and a burning in my throat. As I walked home in the early morning, I kept turning around to see if someone was following me. My heart was almost exploding in my chest. I don’t think I have ever felt that unsafe in my entire life. When I told one of my best friends what happened and how horrible it was, he just told me to wear a pair of shorts next time and that I should have expected that with that short skirt. 

I haven’t been to that club since. And when I think about that pain, I still feel like a doll that you can play with and throw away at will. A doll. 

 Am I just this to you?

Am I just this to you? I keep asking myself everytime I hear a whistle as I pass by, everytime I overthink about the length of my skirts and every time someone in a crowd touches my thighs. Am I just this to you? I can’t stop thinking when some stranger slaps my ass at a party and when I wonder if, in this very room, someone’s hoping I will take off my bra as well. When I ask myself if you guys are actually listening to what I am saying or if you are just analyzing every part of my body and, maybe, giving it a grade. 5/10 for her boobs, 9/10 for her ass and a solid 6 for her hips. Am I just this to you? I wonder when someone talks to me only when they want something in return. I see it in your eyes. I can see your lack of interest and your superficiality in asking me how I’m doing and what I like. I see it in your smile, your fake and malicious smile. I can see it in your hands which are gently holding mine, but they are going lower and lower everytime they get the chance. I see it in your words. Sweet, reassuring, sensitive, and fake. I see it in your jokes, in the stories from your childhood you just made up and in the way you stare at my body. A body. 

Am I just this to you? 

Now that I am sure to have your full attention, I want everyone in this room to listen very clearly to what I am about to say. I am not only my body. I am not my short legs and my small shoulders. I am not my dry skin and my tattoos. I am much more than my messy curls, my thick eyebrows and my full lips. I am more than those few extra pounds on my belly and my ass. My potential is in my words, dreams, hopes, in what I learnt so far and what I will learn in the future. My worth is my strength, resilience, patience and determination. My beauty is not in my belly, neck and curves. It’s in my ideas, plans and realizations. And my body, with its stories, scars and bruises, is not yours to watch, hold, or own. It is mine. And I decide myself how I want to share it, with who and how often. 

To every girl in this room. I am sorry for anything that happened to you. For the comments and the whistles. The smiles and the hands. I am sorry for what they made you think of yourself. I am sorry for the way you felt. I am sorry for everyone who made you feel special and never talked to you again. I am sorry for every time someone touched your body without your consent and then judged you when you let someone else do it. You are much more than your body. Believe me when I say:

you are not just this.

Thank you.

Elena Montanaro

About Elena Montanaro