I Hate My Body, But It’s What I’ve Got
It’s Women’s History Month, and when I look at my body, I feel as if it’s an amalgam of the horrors women have faced throughout history.
These pictures might seem like they’re attention seeking. These pictures are not taken for you. They’re for me. They’re hard to take. They’re harder to share. These pictures are a rebellion, a reclamation, an acceptance, a step towards peace, a forgiveness.
Trauma lives in the body. What happens when the body is the trauma? I moved away from the city, the area, the state, the region where the violence happened. I cut off the people who didn’t protect me, the people who wouldn’t believe me, the people who defended my rapists. I can’t move away from my body. I can’t cut off the fouled pieces. I’m left with two options. The choice of not living in my body anymore. Or the choice of accepting its defeat and survival. I tried desperately for the first one, but life has decided to hold onto me with a grip a lot stronger than I often would have liked. So I have to make the choice every minute of every day to accept that when I see my body, part of me will always see the body taken away, the reminders of everything it has endured.
Looking at my body, how would you describe it?
We probably don’t see the same thing because all I can see is a body:
Bloodied, so much blood
And that’s just before I turned twenty.
I don’t see anything beautiful. Anything to be desired or worthy. I don’t see strength or resilience. I don’t see anything precious or deserving of protection. I don’t see a body to be loved or worshipped. Though I’m trying very hard to get to a point where I do see those things, maybe just one would be a good start.
I see ears that heard I love you for the first time as I was raped for the first time. I see a mouth that was never taught to say “no,” not that any of these men understood consent. I see a scar from the time a man decided to teach me a lesson for trying to say “no” by taking a knife and carving out a piece of my skin. I see a body shared with friends because it’s “just so fucking tight.” I see a face that seems to just ask to be punched or slapped. I see a scar where a man, who just couldn’t contain his desire, pulled my ass apart so hard it tore me. I see eyes that have cried so many silent tears it’s amazing I haven’t died of dehydration. I see a body called beautiful every. single. time. it was raped. I see a mouth that has learned to smile and say “thank you” after having a dick shoved in it until I threw up. I see a body that never belonged to me. I see a body someone and someone and someone and someone and someone’s friends decided to take and use until they grew bored. I see a body told to cover up and hide because men can’t handle themselves: odd, I was never raped naked at a strip club, but I was raped in jeans and a turtleneck by my high school boyfriend. I see a body that was never enough.
My mind knows that this body has persevered through everything so that I could be thirty years old and say I have: climbed mountains; broken men’s noses and ribs and dislocated knees when they pushed too far; fallen in love; held people as they cried through their own trauma; survived broken hearts; written piece after piece like this; spoken in front of thousands about my trauma and sex work; attempted suicide and survived; rescued dogs; rescued people; traveled the world; learned languages and skills and information; given kindness with everything I am because I don’t know what pain other people are going through; listened to stories that make me grateful my life hasn’t been worse. I know in my brain that I never deserved anything that happened to me, but my body feels like it tells a different story. I know in my heart that this body has more to offer the world than to be a punching bag, but it will take time to believe that.
I have always worn clothes, makeup, and confidence like armor. A way to distract everyone who looks from the deep discomfort I feel in my soul in perpetuity at the sheer audacity my body has to continue existing in the face of everything. The act of being naked in the shower is sometimes so much that I’ll go days without one. Leave me unattended too long surrounded by water in my own undress, I will break down. Wearing a bikini was traumatic for years and is still daunting. What if someone sees a scar and asks. Then I have to explain that men are violence, and it’s a real downer for any pool party. I have finally gotten to the point where I can practice hot yoga in a sports bra and leggings. Sex is just another story completely. I’ve reverted back to wearing grandma underwear from thongs because they just feel so exposing right now. I started sleeping naked and walking around the house in pants and a sports bra to get acquainted with my own body in a small yet safe way. I’m wearing crop tops because they terrify me, and I refuse to let fear hold me back from celebrating the fact I’m 30 and I can wear whatever the fuck I want. As a stripper, I learned to harness the confidence I gained from clothes and makeup to stand in nothing but heels in front of hundreds, demanding their eyes and forbidding their touch. I’m trying desperately hard to find some comfort in my body. I mask it so well, but the truth looks back at me in the mirror. And the truth is, I kind of hate that I have to live in this body knowing everything that it’s been through. But I can’t exactly change it. And I don’t want to.
Along with the memories of suffering this body holds the knowledge it survived. It’s learning what the after looks like. Pain but also hope. Sadness but also joy. Struggle but also resilience. Remembrance but also inspiration.
The history of women, my history is fraught with violence, subjugation, pain. It lives in my… our bones, our story, our existence. I and every other woman has continued on. Remembering those who did not survive. Resisting the sacrifice of our identities along with our bodies. Persisting when hope seems non-existent. Living to be that hope to another. Fighting for a better tomorrow for our daughters. Creating spaces of healing and joy. Whether in silence, through words, with actions, in art, women have not disappeared. We are still here. We are strong and beautiful. Our stories and souls are as varied and stunning as our bodies. And our bodies tell the story of life.
At thirty, I am filling a void created by the actions of men with art. These words, these images, my existence. It is all art for my own sake and for those who have never been able to tell their stories. The fact my art creates empathy and anger gives my body and its pain the worth I have never been able to afford it.
Originally published at https://onthebl.org on March 24, 2022.