Sydney Sweeney, blonde and blue-eyed, is living any Hollywood starlet’s dream.
She is young, beautiful, and all-American on her movie posters and photoshoots. And, unsurprisingly, like any female celebrity that has seen headlines, she has been the subject of her own unfair share of impersonal, cruel, Hollywood-brand misogyny.
In a written profile, Sydney revealed that, as a child, she was made fun of because her body began developing earlier than many of her peers. She discussed how she was picked on for growing into her body and then, in the same breath, heavily sexualized as a child for being young and having a chest already.
Instead of highlighting anything else she said in her profile—such as how she wants to circumvent any possibility of falling into addiction like many of her family members, how she and her family went through poverty and divorce and how she felt it was her fault, or how she called out the deeply embedded bias towards nepo babies in the industry—some outlets cashed in on a particularly polarizing sound-bite that they fully knew would stir the pot.
In an effort to find the most sensational and clickbait-worthy headline, some media outlets predictably took the interview out of context, distilling it to: ”I had boobs before other girls, and I felt ostracized” alongside a photo of Sydney in the lingerie line she herself helped create and was promoting.
Twitter, in all its special vitriol reserved for women, dogpiled on her with nasty comments—all without actually reading the interview.
My own body developed very young.
Before I hit double digits, I already felt how I was changing. My chest was tender and swollen in a way I’d never experienced before—not even when I would accidentally slip off the beam in gymnastics training and smack against it chest-first.
When I turned 12 years old, I fully had a C-cup—and it didn’t stop there.
I hated the feel of training bras, hated how I was berated for not wearing one right away when I was raised among three brothers and people who didn’t think they had to teach me about puberty that early (or at all—I only learned in school, a Catholic school that seemed to give me information about my changing body with an overarching tone of shame and reproach).
I hated how male teachers told me off for accidentally showing a bra strap while adjusting my ugly checkered uniform and then getting scolded by female ones for complaining about it. I hated how they said I was “too young” to wear a bra. I hated that they yelled at me the next day anyway for not wearing one since, according to them, I was “too young.”
I hated how, after getting a routine check-up X-ray, the doctor leaned towards my mother to say, “Grabe, ang laki ng boobs niya (wow, her boobs are really big)” with a laugh, as if graduating from med school with my mother gave him the license to comment on my body when I hadn’t even turned 14 yet.
I hated how male coaches started to treat and look at me differently, and everyone refused to explain why while casting me some venomous glance—like it was my fault. How, after being fitted for my first softball uniform, the seamstress asked me if I wanted to loosen it around the chest so I would stop getting looked at.
I hated how a classmate grabbed me as we played volleyball to jokingly say, “Shield me!” while fully cupping me without consent.
I hated how my neighbors, who just half a year prior were making fun of me for potentially being a tomboy because I loved sports, started instead saying I was finally becoming “sexy” at 11 years old. I hated how my grown male neighbors on the other end of the street began to elbow each other to pay attention to me when I walked by from the convenience store when I was still in elementary school.
I hated how, the summer after fifth grade, a group of classmates lined up in front of me and shimmied at me while miming holding their own to-be breasts, chanting: “You must, you must, you must decrease your bust!” They burst out laughing before telling me they could see my strap showing.
I hated how a classmate gossiped in the bathroom about my breasts being fake, or I was stuffing my bra, or how “actually, they kinda make her look fat” while I was within earshot in a cubicle. How she just doubled down on it when I exited the cubicle to look at her. How this girl said that it was just a joke and “everyone’s saying it anyway.” How she and the other girl laughed as I tearfully stormed off.
I hated how people would harshly gesture at me to change at family reunions suddenly because I still wasn’t used to wearing bras as a pre-teen. I hated how they said it was my responsibility not to make my male cousins and brothers uncomfortable. I hated that it wasn’t a problem just six months before that.
I hated the way I would be berated for breaking the dress code at choir for wearing the same T-shirt as another girl—only that the chest area of my shirt was more filled out. I hated that they handed me a shawl to cover up but not the other girl.
I hated being told it would be okay if I fell over in the playground because I had cushioning.
I hated how my classmates started whispering that I had bought “real” bras already, as if something malicious and shameful was underpinned in their gossip.
I hated the way, after playing one of my first little league softball games, the baseball boys from another school’s team made lewd gestures at my breasts. I hated how my teammates shrugged it off and rolled their eyes when I told them—they told me “I should be flattered” because they only did that to the “big-titty girls.”
I hated how my classmates hid my bra as I changed clothes during the school fair. I hated how I never found it and walked around clutching my chest and then crying as I decided to head home instead when I was barely 14.
I was constantly questioning how I was told I should be grateful even as the whipping post and spectacle of school-wide ridicule or shame because of how big breasts were considered desirable.
I found myself constantly mourning a body that wasn’t constantly being sexualized or ridiculed. I was still a girl. I wore many of the clothes I did just the year prior, but in a matter of months, they were deemed “inappropriate.”
I wasn’t the only one.
I knew other girls and came to know other girls who told me all their stories of being scolded and told to cover up even if they were wearing the plainest of T-shirts, of being touched without consent in some weirdly normalized pseudo-bonding ritual of grabbing each other’s chests at all-girls schools, of having grown men ogle them when just months back, they were children in these people’s eyes.
I knew girls who would share wistful but almost forlorn laughs about how our bodies were suddenly the subject of so much scrutiny. We were entrenched in an environment where the unknown was either picked apart, humiliated, or kept under wraps due to poor reproductive health education and the perpetuation of shaming women’s bodies.
I knew girls who had the same things happen to them: Accused of stuffing bras, being labeled a slut for growing a chest early, and at the receiving end of inane chants.
We weren’t even women yet. I was a girl. Sometimes, in many ways, I still feel I am. I was a girl whose womanhood was thrust upon me, and because no one around me knew how to explain it to me, they just shamed me for it. Instead of answering my questions, I was just hurried along, stuffed in uncomfortable, ill-fitting bras, and then told to raise my neckline without any explanation.
I was told to feel ashamed for something I had no control over and then to repent for the actions and words of others who could control what they did or said in response to a body I did not ask for.
None of us asked for these developments, and a lot of them came fast and furious in their awkwardness. I saw none of these untoward comments as flattering, so I could never stomach the phrase, “Just take it as a compliment.”
They weren’t compliments. And I never saw any reason to bend over backward just to try and warp them as such.
I love my body. And for as much as being busty has made me uncomfortable, I have learned to love it enough to empower myself. But I can’t deny the years of shame I had to unlearn or the resentment I built staying quiet about how a lot of the craftily-hidden vitriol impacted me.
This goes beyond the sweaty skin between breasts, the difficulty of finding a good bra, and even the back pain. It’s not just cute anecdotes of #boobygirlproblems that are easily retweeted where we just laugh over mojitos and complain about underwire. This is years of being told I should be ashamed, that I’m fake and whoring attention, or that “actually, it’s a good problem to have.”
I acknowledge the societal worship of big breasts but also see it for what it is a lot of the time: Objectification and reduction. And it’s disingenuous to pretend that those things don’t exist and that I should just be grateful for naturally growing this big in general.
It’s duplicitous to pretend that a lot of the shame I was made to feel was somehow earned and not a big deal, like this underhanded hatred came by as just lighthearted jesting over a feature I “should be grateful for.”
It would be a lie to say that I appreciate all the backhandedness of the “compliments” I received growing up because I shouldn’t have to squint and do so much mental gymnastics just to figure out what part of an unwarranted comment on my body or a rude gesture is supposed to make me feel good.
A big criticism of Sydney’s statement (and the girls who shared their own stories under the tweet) was that “there are real issues out there.”
I fully see that for what it is: a cop-out answer.
Not once did she say that life was harder on her, nor did any other booby girl say the same thing. It was just a revelation of experience, a recollection connected to how she saw herself in the character she played.
But because of how media outlets presented the quote, in all the purposeful sensationalism they could muster to grab attention, the internet gleaned it was about time to bare its teeth.
Social media was so quick to dogpile on someone without caring to understand context because we’re conditioned to think it’s not a real thing to complain about. And people were quicker even to pull out the “Kim, there’s people that are dying” gif when more women talked about their own experiences of ostracization and bullying.
Yes, it’s true that there are other issues out there. But why can’t this history of reductionism coexist with the others, especially when people aren’t even claiming it’s any worse or more urgent than what we face today?
Without acknowledging Sydney’s thoughts around how the entire endeavor of playing Cassie Howard in Euphoria, a troubled girl who is often objectified, scrutinized for, and reduced to her body by the men around her, made her recall her difficult years growing up, media outlets decided to serve her and her potentially viral statement on a silver platter instead—like a lamb for slaughter.
“You have a character that goes through the scrutiny of being a sexualized person at school and then an audience that does the same thing,” she said when reflecting on how some Euphoria viewers unabashedly took screenshots of her nude scenes and, with full ill intent, sent them to her family members as some sick “gotcha.”
And while Sydney is not without controversy of her own—such as questionable photos of her family wearing certain politically affiliated accessories that Twitter noticed—it seemed there was another cruel (but sadly usual) round of calls to crucify her for harmlessly revealing a truth that happens to plenty of girls everywhere.
Comments under the tweet saying things like, “poor girl, must be SOOOO hard trying to find a bikini top that fits” or, “yeah, it was so hard for me and my huge penis growing up too” ballooned with likes and LOLs, all empowered by anonymity and the normalized brutality of the internet.
As a booby girl, I found all of these reactions, kneejerk or otherwise, incredibly vicious, vapid, and committed to misinterpreting what was presented.
Because big boobs are usually presented as something desirable, a lot of people thought it would be fun and easy to ridicule someone who pointed out the difficulties they brought her.
And, while I’m aware that there’s already so much to worry about, I acknowledge that growing breasts early, especially relatively big ones, can also come with its own set of discomfort and difficulty—some I’ve experienced myself.
The sexualization of and thinly-veiled hostility towards children who develop breasts early is something that no vicious commenter of “well I sure do wish I was as blessed in the chest, might have gotten a prom date #lol” wanted to or will even want to acknowledge.
A lot of people who responded to the out-of-context quote fully plucked low-hanging fruit. They ranged from those fully unaware of the real difficulties of a body changing so young and how cruel fellow kids and adults around them could be during that process to those who were willfully ignorant towards it just to make some snarky comment and snap up some likes.
To fully discount someone’s experience of ostracization and humiliate them just because you rolled your eyes at a small, digestible, fit-for-Twitter quote about body parts they could not control and the reception of those around them is callous and mean-spirited (especially if you didn’t even think to click the link to the article).
And while personal appearance, self-image, and what many are considering “just vanity” don’t seem to always be the most urgent issue and are often ridiculed for how vapid they seem, there’s a deeper, more sinister undercurrent to it all: Women are made to chalk up mourning our bodies, the physical changes we go through, and the words and actions flung at us ridiculing that change to superficiality.
Simultaneously, we are almost always reduced to and pressured to think of how we present ourselves physically and are called shallow for it. We are scrutinized for what we wear, how much skin we do or don’t show, if we “put enough effort” into our makeup or clothing for the day, and if we are palatable to what is usually the male gaze perpetuated into major media outlets and modern society.
Issues rooted purely in female bodies are, more often than not, ignored and trivialized.
Because, in a society that chooses what to reduce to laughable non-problems (with a lot of women’s pains being most of them), there’s no winning. Even when I mourn a body of a child that didn’t used to be so heavily sexualized, the life I had before my breasts, and the language people used to engage with me before they grew, I will still either be totalized to my chest and called a bimbo, or not taken seriously unless I bare them.
Misogyny, even the internalized variety, has told us to shut up. It has told us to invalidate any pain that is inherently female in nature, and men and women alike participate in putting down women who do want to bring it up, who want to give a narrative to the pain that a lot of us swallow in hopes of seeming pliant and agreeable. That just because a feature so sought after has brought someone some degree of pain, it can be ignored and ridiculed.
It has told me to stay mum because “any male attention is good attention.” That the trade-off for a passing glance and catcall that’s supposed to “flatter” me is a couple of jabs here and there. Except we fail to acknowledge that these jabs are far from harmless and are never just “a couple,” and that the intent behind them is often a reinforcement of the male gaze, a reduction of women’s bodies into objects to be enjoyed, and a way to control us.