Sydney Sweeney says she felt ‘ostracized’ for developing breasts early. Now, more women are sharing their ‘traumatic experience’ with puberty.

Sydney Sweeney was mocked for sharing her experience with puberty. Women with similar stories are coming to her defense. (Photo: Getty Images; Visual Illustration: Nathalie Cruz)
Sydney Sweeney was mocked for sharing her experience with puberty. Women with similar stories are coming to her defense. (Photo: Getty Images; Visual Illustration: Nathalie Cruz)

"I had boobs before other girls and I felt ostracized for it," Sydney Sweeney said. “I was embarrassed and I never wanted to change in the locker room. I think that I put on this weird persona other people had of me because of my body.”

The 25-year-old actress shared those feelings while speaking with British GQ in a Nov. 2022 interview as she was reflecting on her experiences as a young girl. She described how it impacted her body image as well as her identity while she struggled to combat stereotypes — similar to her character Cassie Howard in Euphoria — of being a pretty blonde with nothing else to offer. As someone now living in the public eye, she feels she’s still doing so, adding, “but now it’s on a whole-world scale.”

When the quotes were recirculated recently by the New York Post, her feelings were validated by thousands of young women who shared similar experiences.

“I actually lost a few friendships over this because my friend’s moms didn’t want them hanging out with someone who was already ‘developed,’” one woman wrote of her own experience.

Others spoke of being sexualized at that time in their lives. “When I was 11 I was sexually harassed at school for having boobs,” one person wrote. “It was awful and [to be honest] very ostracizing.” Another replied, “In 7th-8th grade people would randomly come up and poke or flick me in the chest and I had a friend who almost exclusively referred to me as ‘boobs.’ Stuff like this is really dehumanizing for a 13 year old.”

Talia Lichtstein, on Twitter, recalled her experience of her breasts being used as a prop when boys in her eighth grade English class would throw erasers at her, with the goal of it landing in her cleavage. "I would laugh along with it. I knew that it made me feel odd, it made me feel strange. And I remembered the female teacher seeing it and not doing anything," she further elaborated to Yahoo Life. "I didn't find it to be violating until I was much older."

For Lichtstein, growing breasts marked a huge shift in her life. "It was a shift in how I looked at myself and how I felt that I was taking up space. It marked the shift in the way that even my family perceives me. It was literally the move from child to woman, but I was the only one who didn't know," the content creator says. "I still felt, of course, that I was a child. But suddenly, you're being treated by your family, your extended family, the people on the street, as a woman. And you're being told that it's your fault."

This is the time in a girl's life when she suddenly faces pressure to regulate her appearance, as a precaution, while also navigating dress codes from schools to the streets, Mahaliah Little, assistant professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Irvine, explains.

"There are all kinds of crazy rules, like, 'don't wear shorts around your dad' or people checking your outfit before you leave the house, all sorts of societal things that people don't question that put the onus on young girls — children — to prevent sexual assault or prevent someone from ogling them," she says, "when really the onus should be on adults to respond to children differently."

The potential for a child to feel "ostracized" while developing breasts is a direct result of society's need to "police" the body, she notes.

"People assume that puberty is this time when girls start wielding their power and try to seduce people, when in actuality you feel powerless," Little continues. "You go from being seen as neutral to being seen as a threat, or soliciting something, and it's very difficult for children to understand that without just internalizing shame about how they look."

Bridgit Kasperski, the founder of a breasts-positivity community Busties Forever, says that because breasts are sexualized, they're seen as something "dirty and shameful" in and of themselves — an idea that can incite bullying and unwanted attention from both peers and authority figures alike.

Little, who is Black, notes that she experienced a reaction to her development that she says was particularly layered, as culturally, "on average, Black girls are sort of aged up, seen as more knowledgeable about sex at a younger age and seen as more accountable for their actions and behaviors at a young age." So her experience is likely different from that of Sweeney, as a white woman.

"But I do think the common thread is you can grow up feeling like your body is wrong and the problem," she says, "when really it's the way that people respond to your physicality, and the way that people sexualize children." The experience even led Little to internalize "hatred" for her body in early adolescence, developing "into dysmorphia for a period of time."

The ability to process these experiences, she stresses, comes with age, along with a better understanding of gender, sexuality and how the two impact body image. Although someone Sweeney's age likely has a different perspective of their breasts now than she did as a child, "being sexualized at an early age is an experience that shapes you for the rest of your life, potentially," Little says.

"There's an opportunity here to talk about how being sexualized at a young age is a traumatic experience, no matter who you are, no matter what kind of body you inhabit. And there should be space to reflect on that without being attacked for how you experience your body currently," she continues. "I hope that seeing the outcry and the wealth of people who have similar experiences will change the way that people can talk through experiencing their bodies at this pivotal time in their lives."

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