Trigger warning: Please take care of yourself and only read if as long as you feel safe/comfortable
For most of my life, I’ve been objectified. First as chattel, then as a sexual vessel, a soldier, a toy, an extension of my mother, a skinny girl/woman, a curvy/feminine/sexy object, a doormat, a “nice girl”, delicate, weak, etc. People looked at me, listened to my voice, and made assumptions. Hardly anyone ever took me seriously, and someone always tried to take advantage.
Years of therapy and spending time with positive, supportive people have helped me realize I am more than an object. Part of my recovery is changing the objectification into a positive sense of self – including positive body image and healthy self-esteem – where people see me first instead of my body. I used to think that body shaming and negative self-image was only connected to my eating disorder.
Now I know the truth.
That a negative body image and body shaming are separate, but related issues and do not always have anything to do with an eating disorder.
Negative Body Image
I used to hate my body, my face, my appearance. I blamed my face and body shape as the reason for past traumatic experiences. So I hurt myself – starvation, self-harm, compulsive exercising, not sleeping, making myself sick, reckless/dangerous activities, not caring for physical or mental health – often and in various ways for decades.
These days, I love my face and my body. I accept all of its quirks and am grateful to be whole and healthy in spite of the pain. I dress according to my personal style, comfort needs, and daily tasks. The colors, the fabrics, the shapes, and the accessories help me feel safe, confident, grounded, and happy. The textures and weights act as self-soothing and grounding objects.
Even though wearing clothes that fit and flatter shows off my feminine body shape and draws attention, I feel secure enough in who I am to ignore all that and enjoy myself. Most of the time, I can ignore people criticizing my clothing choices or commenting on my weight changes.
But sometimes, the comments hurt or bring out anger.
Have you ever been told you are too short or tall? Maybe your eyes bug out or are slanted? Your hips too wide? Your butt too big? Your chest not muscular enough? Your body stick-like? You look too masculine/feminine/boyish/girlish for your age/gender/size? You are flat-chested or large breasted? Your man-boobs are too prominent? You stomach is not flat enough? Skin too flabby?
Has anyone ever criticized your clothing choices? Your accessories? Your posture? Shoes?
These are all examples of body shaming. Many of them I personally experienced. Some I have heard told to people I care about. Others from comments made about celebrities. The comments from my parents, sibling, cousins, and relatives are the ones that hurt most. Second place goes to friends, co-workers, mentors, supervisors, and other people in authority positions. Finally, the random hate from strangers and people posturing for acceptance were the least harmful. It’s hard to take people who don’t know me seriously.
What brings this up now?
Summer time means wearing less clothes for one thing. July 1st is a double anniversary with lots of meaning. July 4th is another anniversary. I remember spending most of my summers locked up and away from friends, relatives, etc. except on certain occasions for most of my pre-adult life.
Added to all that, I’ve been talking with my aunts more often to coordinate my 2-week visit back home later this month. During a conversation, one of my aunts proceeded to body shame me, criticize me, and then act like she forgot I was visiting. No, I am not sure why she decided to cross my boundaries and talk to me this way. I could speculate, but why bother? She is who she is, and I should have expected something like this to happen at some point.
Why is this time more of a challenge than past experiences?
My reaction was different. My feelings were different. My perspective had changed too.
Instead of feeling hurt or guilt or shame, I felt outrage like “how dare you treat me this way” and pushed back instead of retreating or defending myself. My response was simple, non-aggressive, and direct. Then I told her that these days are available if she wants to spend time with me when I visit.
But I still felt angry. The anger scared me for many reasons. Different feelings bring out different reactions and impulses. Anger tends to bring out my rebellious and reckless sides. It also clouds my thinking.
During that phone call I realized the body shaming and criticism did not trigger any negative feelings about my body. It did however knock at my self-esteem a little and bring on some nasty flashbacks complete with physical pain. I felt defensive and uncertain about wearing dresses again. And part of me was justifying my clothing choice for the day on the inside. So I made a plan. When I realized I couldn’t execute the plan on my own, I asked for help.
That was Friday.
Go out for a walk in my neighborhood. Play with friendly dogs. Eat good food. Go home and watch a movie or sleep. Go to counseling the next day. Have fun and enjoy my 4-day weekend even if that means spending a lot of time sleeping. Do some packing for the future move. But most important: RELAX
Thanks for reading.