By Sahej Marwah Feb. 25, 2021
The sleepovers that my childhood best friend organised were American pop-culture paradise – we watched rom-coms and discussed boys over a feast of pizza, coke, and ice-cream. But that’s not what they were all about. Our talks steered toward periods and acne and the “burden of our boobs”. What we did not know at the time was that we were creating our first, original feminist safe space.
Being a 12 year old was tricky business. I remember the first time that I had to ask my parents if I could go for a sleepover (two floors away) to my best friend’s house; the cacophony that ensued made it seem like I was going away for good. An entire night away from home! After the initial drama died down and I got a reluctant affirmative nod, my best friend and I got to planning every minute of the night down to a T. From 7 PM to 11 AM, every moment would be ours and we wanted to squeeze every minute of unadulterated joy into it.
The sleepovers that my childhood best friend organised were American pop-culture paradise. Borrowing ample inspiration from Hannah Montana and Lizzie McGuire, she ensured that our night together would be picture perfect. We put together a feast of pizza, coke, ice-creams, chocolates, twizzlers and every other diabetes-inducing food that one could think of. We were content with simply partaking in this maiden experience with no one but each other. What we did not know at the time was that we were creating our first, original feminist safe space. This cocoon would help unfold conversations that would become integral to our evolution into butterflies.
Once we had entered the sanctuary of her bedroom, our guards were down. We changed into sleeveless tops that escaped a few strands of pre-pubescent hair, shorts that snuggled our love handles, and hair that stood like straws from the high ponies fastened by our mothers. In that room, we had the liberty to live without prying eyes; we watched teenage romantic comedies featuring awkward girls who mirrored us, cruised through profiles of boys on Facebook, and discussed the inevitable S-E-X of which we knew very little then. Our soirees were replete with burps and farts and giggles – a litmus test for comfort and familiarity that could only be owed to our age. There was no sheepishness in taking a mid-dinner poop break and then continuing our night as planned. We were yet to demonise regular bodily functions or inherit shame; no one had imposed on us what society expected of young ladies’ behaviours.
The real magic happened when the lights went off, when we promised to go to sleep but instead held hands and talked. The darkness endowed upon us a foolish anonymity; our conversations were profound. We deep-dived into embarrassing crushes, parental indiscretions, poor school grades, sibling rivalries, and even our deepest fears. As the familiarity with our bodies gradually increased, our talks steered towards periods and acne and the “burden of our boobs” – all problems that plagued young girls such as us. The safe haven that these slumber parties provided us facilitated our coming of age. We had no cloak of shame to wear nor any self-consciousness to battle with. We truly wanted what was best for the other because our love and respect emerged from the throes of innocence.
Childhood sleepovers were instrumental in shaping my feminist mindset.
Eventually, we decided to extend the invitation to other girls that we were friends with. We were now a potpourri of teens anywhere between 13 to 15 years of age. While a difference of two years as an adult makes no difference, as a teenager it was the valley between “growing” and “grown”. Given our demographics, we brought different things to the table and came with expertise in different skills. Some of us were still wearing trainer bras while others wore the more elusive strappy ones, some fretted over acne bumps while some awaited their first period. Between the lot of us, there was still a dearth of understanding what was happening with our bodies; this birthed our sense of community. Considering that we were all going through the same rite of passage, our sleepovers loosely translated to a support group. This sisterhood of shared experiences ensured that no woman felt inferior. Here, each of our anxieties were prioritised because we were all sailing in the same boat. As luck would have it, I even got my first period during a sleepover. The sheer terror that accompanied the sliminess of blood in your underwear could only be soothed by how headstrong my companions were. There was absolutely no hue and cry and this calamity was dealt with just like any other, with action. We were now blood sisters.
I only realise the significance of these sleepovers as an adult. We were all adolescents who had no idea how to deal with our bodies, sexualities, or even their traumas but the fact that we had a space where we could relieve our angst made all the difference. Those few hours without parent surveillance helped us come into our own. In the company of other young adults who had the same “imperfections” as I did, I realised that they were nothing to be ashamed of. Childhood sleepovers were instrumental in shaping my feminist mindset. They fortified my understanding of what to expect and how to maneuver my future relationships. They were also a form of therapy much before any of us had access to actual therapy.
I no longer need a 10-point plan to go for sleepovers. We now drink a stronger cola and some of us count every calorie that we consume. Save that, we still offer unwavering solidarity. We have all grown into starkly different individuals but the blueprint of our slumber parties remains the same: No woman gets left behind.
Sahej Marwah likes to have a finger in every bowl. She spends her time baking, writing, editing, podcasting, and pampering her cat. It's safe to say that she is now running out of fingers and is open to donations.