I attended King Middle School 15 years ago. I remember being publicly reprimanded by teachers for my clothing being “distracting” to boys.

I was 11 years old when I entered the sixth grade. It was when I became aware of what my body looked like, and that it seemed to matter what it looked like to everyone around me: the adult teachers at my school, strangers on the street and the boys in my classes.

It’s important to remember that I was a child, as were the other girls in my school, regardless of what our bodies looked like. Yet I was told by the adults around me that my bare shoulders were too distracting to not be covered in public. My body was sexual, my body didn’t really belong to me, my bare skin meant something that I’d never even thought about before.

Dress codes that sexualize young girls’ bodies promote sexism and rape culture. They put the burden of not being a “distraction” onto young students instead of teaching boys who might be distracted to respect women and girls.

In a country where, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 90 percent of adult rape victims are women, we can’t afford to not teach girls that their bodies belong to them alone.

I might be sappy, but I teared up when I saw that King student (Molly Neuner) on the front page of the Portland Press Herald (“Wearing defiance – but not on her sleeves,” April 13), staring straight into the camera in her tank top, in her defiance.

I wished I had known about feminism and sexism when I was young. And that there were adults who would stand behind me, protect my right to stay young, to stay safe from their shaming eyes and to remind me that my body is mine to control.

Johnna Ossie