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The Men Who Stare At Girls

The Sun has stopped its page 3 breastfest*; there's been no announcement, so no-one knows whether it's down to pressure groups or, as I suspect, reader numbers dropping off. No-one needs an ink stained titty fix on their way to work anymore, they'll just look at pics on their iPhone, but interesting discussions on FB have reminded me of my own relationship with onlookers as a young woman.

At school, I was considered ugly. Around 18, things began to change. Men looked at me. It was exciting but also weirdly unpleasant at times. I remember walking past a building site, a load of men making noises at me. I paused for a moment and some man said, 'Keep walking love, you're turning us into animals.' He sounded kind, but the words made me feel vulnerable. I was not Circe; I had no idea how to deal with animal men. I walked on, fast.

And yet it was nice to be admired, especially after the torments of school. My family would go to Spain three times a year to visit relatives. In the streets there, men would walk past and mutter. Mum assured me it was a friendly phenomenon. 'They think you are beautiful,' she explained, 'That's why they say these things.' I had pretty much no self esteem and wanted to be desired very much, but even so, the endless street commentaries grew oppressive. This is no indirect boast/humble brag - I was never Helen of Troy,and to this day am not really sure what they liked so much. Once, a soldier passed his experienced eyes over me as I sat reading a comic. 'Guadalupe,' he whispered. I learned what it meant; 'Guadalupe,' like the Virgin of Guadalupe; a virgin.

You could walk the streets of a Spanish city and hear endless commentaries upon your looks. In Britain, only the workmen would speak, but they would still all look. The Spanish men stared at your face and your body, the Englishmen stared at your breasts, but you were always stared at, and even rampant narcissism couldn't make it comfortable. It is nice to be desired, but sometimes the stares and the comments and the judgement on your body, your face, your eyes, lips, breasts, bottom...seminal fluid was almost tangible on the atmosphere. It did not smell good.

We were supposed to take it as a compliment, and often it was just men admiring a pretty girl and telling her she was pretty. But it was also often very creepy, seeing men fumble deep in their pockets while staring at you, in a world which accepted this behaviour as a norm, which in fact expected you to be flattered by it, as though it was some kind of power you possessed. But it was quite the opposite.

*Temporarilly as it transpires.

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