I am a womxn, former Congress debater, and current coach. I am also a G cup.
I am not just a G cup -- I am a G cup on a small body. Even if I hadn’t fallen in love with debate, I still would have had an awkward, painful time in high school in terms of experiencing dysmorphia, disgust, and shame over my body. I want to acknowledge my thin privilege and that others have had more difficult experiences. That said, high school was a time of hating my body and constantly feeling at odds with it.
Debate did not help matters. Freshman year, I hadn’t hit puberty yet, and dressing for debate was a fairly simple matter. I wore a pantsuit with ridiculous shoulder pads and painfully high heels to make myself larger and, in a way, more masculine as well. By sophomore year I didn’t fit into any of my old shirts. My blazer, which had been with me since the beginning, which I clung to like a security blanket, wouldn’t button over my chest.
While driving to one of the first tournaments of that year, I experimented with different looks in between running speeches. I settled on buttoning what I could, over my stomach, and leaving the top buttons undone. As soon as I stood up, I knew it wasn’t right, but I tried to hunch over and make it better. But the one other girl on my team caught me. She was a senior, and though we hadn’t talked much, I idolized her. She took me by the shoulder and smiled. It was strained.
“Listen,” she said to me, “don’t wear your blazer today.”
I think I might have responded but I don’t remember what I said. I didn’t wear the blazer. I bunched it up and stuffed it in the bottom of my backpack. I couldn’t even look at it for a week afterwards.
That wasn’t the first time I was aware of my body, embarrassed by how it looked in clothes. It was the first time that the dynamic truly crossed over to my debate world. In school, while hanging out with my friends, but especially in debate, my sense of revulsion with my body grew. When people catcalled on the street, when older boys at school looked at my chest too long and too hard, when my friends warned me before class if I needed to rearrange my top, when my chest wouldn’t stop growing -- all of that came into round with me, too. I wondered what the judges were really looking at when they saw me at the front of the room, going into the speaker’s triangle and standing in a power pose with my feet planted and chest out. I wondered if any of the male competitors heard what I said, or cared. I am a debater; I like being noticed. I like my competitors looking up from their notes because of something compelling that I’ve said. At the same time, I hated being looked at. I wanted to make myself small. I wanted to disappear, to be a disembodied voice that could control a room. I went through what so many womxn go through: a sense of my body’s obscenity, indecency, and lewdness. The commodification of my body was far less obvious in debate than it was out in the world, but it was still there.
Choosing clothing the night before rounds was an hour-long process that made my throat close and my heart beat like a hummingbird. What was too low-cut? Did high-necked shirts just emphasize my chest? What was the most shapeless thing I could wear? Was it worse to wear a giant blazer that fit my chest but nothing else, or worse to wear no blazer at all? Did I need to take off the Magen David necklace I wore every day because it drew too much attention to my cleavage? I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. I wasn’t trying to be sexy. But somehow it felt like that was all that came through. Even as I began to win tournaments and receive positive feedback on my ballots, it was mixed with my discomfort during round, disrespect from male competitors, and admonishment from judges to bring my neckline up, stop wearing turtlenecks, put on a blazer, take it off.
I’ve been blessed with an amazing womxn for a coach, who has changed my life in so many ways. I’ve been blessed with having debate in the first place, and with having a debate experience relatively free of harassment from people in the community. I love Congress, and I’m glad to continue as a coach and try and keep young womxn debating. However, along with my gratitude, I carry a deep, burning anger at the judges, my peers, and at my own body. I’m working on letting it go. I’m still working on accepting my body and validating my experiences.
Here’s what I do know: I will work for change, structurally and within my team, to make sure that people can wear what they want without receiving comments on distaste for it. It will take work in the debate community and in outside society, but I never want one of my students to stay up at night thinking about their clothing or stand for a speech with the attention on their body, not their words. I never want another person in the debate community to carry this anger around with them.
Anonymous is a former Congress debater and current Congress coach.
Note: The Beyond Resolved blog reflects the ideas of individual authors and not necessarily of the organization as a whole.