Body Memories: Identity – what do I look like (self and other perceptions)

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

This is not something I discuss often because the memories are jumbled up – a tangled mess that is filled with distortion. My perception of the experiences will be different from others who have known me in the past or shared the experience.

So I write posts like this with the following caveat:
My memories are distorted and filled with a perception based on negative body image and negative identity. That was then and not who I am now. This story is as factual as possible given the memory holes and distortion. Please read with skepticism.

Anorexia

My anorexia started with disrupted eating patterns and negative beliefs about food, weight, dieting, and self image from early childhood until early adulthood. At first, I internalized the messages from the women in my family – most of whom had weight issues and were constantly dieting – about how a female should look, what she should eat, how much to eat, when/where, etc. in order to be a proper young lady.

I’ve always been short and skinny. My weight problems included gaining weight and maintaining a healthy weight. As a child, that got me reverse shaming – comparisons with other family members saying “oh you’re so lucky you don’t have to worry about your weight. You’re so skinny and you eat like a bird. Wish I was that skinny and could lose weight like you do.” Their “praise” always came at a cost – “Oh you look so pretty and skinny. Why can’t you be as outgoing as your cousins?” or “Look at her; she’s so skinny and pretty. But don’t worry because you’re smarter and have social skills + grace. That’s so much better since looks go away fast.”

Whenever my mom went on a diet, I did too. Because in her mind, we shared a body. So I never saw myself as skinny or thin. People around me did. I always thought I was fat, overweight, and clumsy.

Sometimes, I still feel that way.

The eating disorder started around 5 years old; after the first time I was raped and gang raped. These people liked how I looked and that I was strong and resilient enough to take whatever punishments they handed out. Losing weight was a way to punish myself, control something in my out-of-control world, and punish the people around me by giving them what they accused me of being – a weak, skinny, ugly, dumb, socially awkward child.

Hiding In Plain Sight

Anorexia physically changes a person on the outside and the inside. By the time I hit my teens, I had done enough damage to not be considered “beautiful” or “pretty” anymore. I looked sick and tired and weak most of the time. It was easy for people to ignore me and not take me seriously.

That contributed to the social awkwardness – I couldn’t speak up or have conversations or friends with all the secrets – and my ability to be invisible anywhere at any time.

The downside – once I did speak and get people’s attention, they didn’t/couldn’t/maybe wouldn’t forget me. Or that fact that I was not exactly what I pretended to be to everyone else.

But the experiences leading up to the eating disorder taught all parts of me (because yes, I had already started developing alter personalities by 5 years old) to learn ways of manipulating my body and personality to meet other people’s perceptions of who I was supposed to be. I stayed skinny. My body was thin and bruised easily. I cried a lot and was quiet the rest of the time. It was obvious that I was smart, but also flighty because I had a hard time paying attention and participating in class. Kids didn’t want to be around me because I was too shy, quiet, and weird. Easy for the popular kids to make fun of and use for mean games.

And so, I learned that my survival was based on becoming whatever other people wanted me to be on a moment’s notice.

Who was I? What did I look like in my own eyes?

Young girl: Fat, clumsy, ugly, awful, stupid girl who didn’t deserve to live. Not as good as her cousins or younger brother. Not graceful or acceptable or good at anything. Hates her body. Hates being female. Always being used and shamed.

Adolescent girl: skinny, nerdy bookworm with too many curves and a bad attitude to keep people away from her. Hated herself, hated everyone around her and just wanted to disappear. Boobs too big or not big enough. Butt too big and got too much attention. Skinny in spite of that and always too short. Everyone made fun of me for being too short. Irritable all the time because I couldn’t be myself and show my personality in school. Hated being there and having to find ways to deal with bullies and teachers without blowing my hide-in-plain-sight cover. Lots of temper and anger management issues.

Young adult: ugly, fat, woman who gets too much attention even though she wears ill-fitting clothes. nothing to live for. hates her body and her self. hates her life. ready to die, but suicide doesn’t work. questions the meaning of life when everything hurts all the time, and she can’t even move without pain anymore. Doesn’t want this body. Hates herself and everyone around her. Does not respect anyone or anything. Anger and shame all the time.

Adult in Recovery: plain, sometimes attractive woman with a slender, curvy body she is learning to love, recognize, and accept. Chooses to live and be healthy by listening to and communicating with her body. Working together with all parts of herself, she learns how to change negative relationships and beliefs into neutral and positive ones. Pain is constant, and she doesn’t like her body much because it draws too much attention. But at least she is learning to be, express, and respect her authentic self. This woman has something to live for and values all the gifts in her life.

Adult now: not conventionally attractive, but happy with how she looks. 9 times out of 10, this woman recognizes the face and body reflected back from the mirror. She appreciates and embraces her curves, works with herself and other practitioners to find/utilize effective coping strategies that feel good, are positive and sustainable, and support her healthy lifestyle goals. She lives an authentic lifestyle full of love, laughter, and as many emotions as she can feel, express, and move on from every day. Her body hurts less, and the body memories are finally starting to leave her physical form. But that creates some anxiety and confusion because now her body is changing and looking/feeling/moving different again.

Other Perceptions

If you’ve read past posts, you have an idea of the negative beliefs taught to me growing up. If you’ve read the paragraphs before this one, you also can get an idea of the perceptions others have/had about me.

Perceptions are subjective opinions based on observations and shared information. Maybe that information is factual, maybe not. Maybe the observations are accurate, maybe they are missing vital clues and cues. Subjective means the observations and information are filtered through the individual’s own knowledge base and sense of self; then mixed with existing opinions, biases, information, emotions, etc. to create the opinion.

For many years, I relied on outside perceptions to understand who I was. I didn’t have an identity or a sense of self. My trainers considered me a blank slate with no personality. Peers who wanted to hurt and insult me called me a person without a personality. They thought it was the worst possible insult ever because as teens we all want to be seen as individuals with cool personalities who also fit in with our friend group(s). My mother taught me that we were the same person living in two different bodies; whatever she suffered, I suffered too. Her problems were my problems. Her failures, my failures.

But, not true with any positive or successful accomplishments. They were all hers.

I can’t remember when I decided to stop looking outward for approval and acceptance. Maybe during grief counseling after one aunt died in high school. Maybe when I started seeing the college mental health counselors. Or a college professor/mentor took me aside for a private talk. Or maybe when the police finally broke up the pedophile ring and put many of the people in jail. I was shunned for the last two years of high school because of the rumors and also some popular kids’ witnessing of me as my alter personality at those events.

But people always looked at me and made assumptions. Their perception was always based on first impressions and my physical appearance. It made my life easy because anyone who had a negative response to me was someone to avoid. That worked until I graduated college and had to get a job.

But by then, I had started counseling and was working on the idea of identity and perception. It was a concept I learned in college psychology classes and followed up on in my own time. The mental health counselor at the time taught me how to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and meditation to work through cognitive distortions and perceptions about myself, people around me, and experiences.

Identity

Identity is a work in progress that occurs throughout life.

Change is constant – always happening, never stopping. People can learn to accept and work with the change or resist/deny/fight the change and struggle in the aftermath as the change occurs.

Who I am now is not who I was in the past. Is not who I will be in the future.

But who I am now is the best version of my authentic self I can be in this moment and who I strive to be as I continue to learn, grow, and become.

It took a long time for me to stop hating myself and all the people around me. It took even longer to learn how to respect myself so that I could respect other people; then earn their respect too. Finally, learning to love myself is a constant practice. It’s easy to say the words, but difficult to do because it means accepting all the parts of myself I like and all the parts of myself I feel uncomfortable about. It means accepting what I have said and done in the past, what I say and do now, and that life circumstances can take away the choices that make me me.

If you were wondering, this is where the meditation practice comes in. Meditation helps me observe my self, my memories, and my experiences through an objective lens or perspective. From there, I can think about my choices and what I could have, might have, or would have said/done/felt/thought differently. And the possible outcomes if something changed.

Yes, that could spiral down into negative or catastrophic thinking. But thoughtful, caring, non-judgmental observation allows me to learn from my past instead of wallow in shame and guilt about what happened. Then, if a similar experience happens again (and it almost always will), I can think back on the past and choose a different path with a potential different outcome.

If it’s the same person and the outcome is the same even with a different choice, then I can say to myself: “I tried something different this time. I made choice and a change. The other person did not change or or react or act different. My change made things worse, but it’s not my responsibility or my fault because I did my best. I can feel what I feel and express these emotions safely; then let it go and move on.”

If it’s the same person and a different outcome, then maybe it was one or both of us who created something that allowed us to create a solution or a compromise or decide to not interact anymore…

You get the idea, yes? Because that works for similar situations and different people or context too.

But these mental exercises and examinations of my self: reactions, actions, feelings, thoughts, etc. are what helped me create a positive identity and sense of self not based on external accomplishments, but internal values.

So when the external stuff gets taken away (i.e. breakup with friend or partner, job loss or change, accident, etc.), I am still me with a stable identity and secure sense of self based on faith, unconditional love, respect, and acceptance. Not just of who I am, but also who each being I meet is too.

That is why I chose the photo of a man and a woman sitting together and smiling for today’s graphic representation. They look happy, healthy, comfortable with themselves, and comfortable with each other.

Thanks for reading. I wish I could add more photos, but honestly, I struggled to find even one photo that worked with today’s topic.

Thanks for reading.

Physical Self Protection...How will you express it?

Series: Care Protection Expression Part 2 – Physical

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

My goal with this series is to:

Show you learning paths that empower you to feel secure and safe in who you are so that you can go out in the world, be your authentic selves, and achieve your goals without feeling the need to hide or be held back by your past experiences.

What is considered Physical Self Protection? And why does it matter?

Physical Self Protection means more than self-defense, an alarm system, and weapons. It includes:

  • Feeling safe inside your physical body wherever you are
  • Making healthy lifestyle choices for nutrition and movement or exercise
  • Meeting essential needs of food, shelter, warmth, and clothing in ways that suit your life and budget in the present moment while also giving a sense of joy and satisfaction because you CAN take care of yourself in the most basic ways
  • Personal finance education to learn how to make good spending and investing choices

My process started about 7 or 8 years ago when I decided to break from my family. At the time, I had very little money and less interest in doing more than survive my “new independence”. Rent, medical bills, utility bills, food, and transportation ate most, if not all, of my budget back then. But I also couldn’t afford to get sick or end up in the hospital either. That put my job and independence at risk.

And I was tired of hiding behind ugly, ill-fitting clothes and a meek persona. Invisibility was safe and protected me as long as I didn’t mind observing instead of participating in life. Up until I got a full time position at work and left my family, invisibility felt inevitable for someone lacking confidence and not wanting to be noticed.

While I didn’t much like my physical self (body, face, etc.) at the time, I was learning to love, respect, value, and feel confident in the rest of my self. And I was ready to start making that change from invisible to acknowledged. Nutrition and physical health improvements were already part of my care routine, but I didn’t know anything about style and clothes. Nor did I know where to start looking for something besides fashion that focused on body types and colors. And my “friends” at the time were not exactly helpful either.

So I started a new project: positive self image through personal style. There had to be a way to make my insides and outsides match just like I was doing with nutrition and physical activity. But also within my limited budget.

Fostering a neutral/positive self image through personal style

When I feel confident and safe, I look and act confident and safe. People are less likely to target me.

But what happens if I feel confident and safe, but don’t appear confident or safe to others? People are likely to continue treating me as they always have.

If I feel good on the inside, I want to show that on the outside too.

Does that resonate with you? Because it’s how I started on the personal style journey and found Inside Out Style Blog and Imogen Lamport (creator). She discussed personal style as an expression of our authentic personality and how body/face shape, color palette, etc. are all small parts of the whole package. While primarily an image consultant for women, she has consulted with experts in men’s style and shared those tips on her site too.

I wrote about this journey in some past posts and added information about this blog to the Resources page too. You can read about the results and see some photos in “My Style Manifesto”.

However, looking and feeling stylish WAS NOT the most important lesson I learned as part of that learning group. Here are some lessons:

  • I can share who I am (sometimes how I feel) with others without talking at all through my physical appearance.
  • When I make time to put together thoughtful outfits that feel good against my skin, fit well, and express something about myself, I feel safe, secure, confident, and able to interact with others outside of my safe spaces
  • Every one of us in the 7 Steps to Style Program was on a “recovery journey” of our own to find, express, and feel confident in our authentic selves as women no matter our age, sexual orientation, race, country of origin, marital status, personal experience, or financial status.
  • As we completed the 7 Steps, many of us used our newfound skills and experiences to create new business and job opportunities in alignment with our values.
    • One of these people is Liz Klebba of Closet Play Image based in the US. She created an image consulting and personal style business to help empower women to enjoy expressing themselves through personal style while still blending in and feeling appropriate in different environments. You can learn more about this by checking out her post called “Why Trends Matter“.

How can you protect yourself with an expression of your style that fits within your budget?

Creating ways to add movement into your daily routine (physical fitness)

As I’ve mentioned before, I do not have a typical exercise routine or participate in sports these days. In fact, I have not done any of that on a regular basis since college. Not because I didn’t want to participate, but because the pain in my body combined with panic attacks and flashbacks made such activities impossible without also experiencing shame and embarrassment.

So I started by incorporating more movement into my daily routine slowly. Grocery shopping meant walking to and from the store with totes and portable shopping carts that navigated stairs. Walk to and from the public transportation stations and work. Plus house cleaning and laundry require lots of movement + energy + time.

And I move a lot when preparing food and cooking. My pantry and dishes are all in shelves under the sink or counters. My utensils hang from hooks above my head. Reusable containers live on top of the refrigerator/freezer.

What are some ways you can change your routines and environment to include more movement?

Adding sensory grounding strategies and tools (physical objects) to your every day life style (aka magic bag)

I touched on this a little in the last two sections, but there are so many ways to include physical objects or touch stones in our every day lives to help us feel grounded and safe in the present moment. Here are more details based on the examples above.

In the personal style section, I mentioned putting together outfits with clothing and accessories. Wearing clothing and accessories can be a confidence-boosting, joyful sensory experience if we allow it.

  • Clothing has a texture and evokes a tactile sensation as it rests on and moves with the skin on our bodies.
  • Accessories also have a texture and evoke sensations as they move with, enclose, or rest on our skin/hair, etc.
  • The colors and patterns or prints engage our visual senses and bring out different emotions – not always consciously.
  • And let’s be honest here, our shoes, jewelry, even clothing sometimes, make sounds as they move with us – thus engaging our auditory senses.

Why not choose fabrics and textures that feel good agains our skin? Choose prints, patterns, and colors that flatter our coloring and remind us of positive emotions? Include accessories that remind us of positive experiences and express our genuine interests?

In addition, there are other portable items we can take with us and use discreetly wherever we are.

Healthy snacks and drinks engage our sense of smell and taste. Sometimes even our visual and tactile senses too. If sustainability is a personal value, reusable containers add in another element of self care. Plus bringing your own food instead of buying take out can be budget friendly and give an excuse to get creative too.

Aromatherapy and herbs come in many portable forms these days. You can carry them in pockets, backpacks, and handbags. Take them out and use when you need a moment to yourself without disturbing others or making a mess. Then put away for use in the future.

Then there are less obvious physical grounding objects we can take with us. Some are more portable than others. Here are some examples:

What are some items you can take with you to feel safe and grounded as you navigate the outside world?

Incorporating physical protection or grounding objects throughout your living environment

Plants and sunlight are the two most important grounding objects in my apartment right now. I often feel like I’m still living in the cage when I can’t leave my apartment. Plus I worry about privacy since some of my neighbors and I can see in each others’ windows. So being able to grow plants and keep my windows unblocked bring the outside world in when I can’t go out.

After that, I’ve worked hard to save money and purchase home goods like bed linens and towels made with different fabrics and textures that feel good against my skin and help me with some of the PTSD symptoms and side effects.

Bed first, the rest comes later 🙂

Two examples here:

  1. Bed linens. I experience night sweats and intense nightmares that soak/stain my sheets, pillows, blankets to the point where I had to get up and sleep somewhere else multiple times a night. Can’t tell you how many polyester pillows and acrylic sheets I ruined with the constant washing and sweating. Or how often I ended up with unexplainable rashes and acne or contact dermatits because of the fabric rubbing against and getting into my skin.
    1. Solution: purchase pillows, bed linens, blankets, etc. in fabrics with natural antibacterial and cooling properties – i.e. linen, wool, and percale cotton (organic if possible)
    2. Problem: cost and expense of replacing everything at once
    3. Solution: prioritize self care and move 3/4 of money from “fun” to “home goods” until I replaced all of the items on my list.
    4. Reward: purchase a book, see a movie, or something equally fun, budget friendly and frivolous after I buy 3 items.
  2. Cleaning and laundry products. In college, I learned that my body and nose were extremely sensitive to conventional cleaning, bath, and body care products. The smell made me physically ill or caused breathing problems. And the chemicals gave me rashes, acne, eczema, etc. That included: cosmetics; cleaning products; bath & body; perfume; and laundry products.
    1. Solution: research how to make my own cleaning products or find non-bleach and petroleum based cleaners, detergents, and soaps. Or stop using cosmetics, etc. I did both for a while.
    2. Problem: back then, the sustainability and “green” movements were grassroots and not well known. Not many products available on the market.
    3. Solution: compromise. Use a combination of aromatherapy and recipes from diy housecleaning websites/books/blogs to keep things clean at home.
    4. Reward: fun experiments with essential oils, mixing cleaning solutions. Find a learning path that led to this blog and other job opportunities. Apply my personal finance education to be “thrifty” and meet goals.

Crystals, stuffed animals, books, and figurines on my alter spaces and walls come in second. In my living room and bedroom, I have what I call “alter space” or “sacred space” for objects of meaning and spiritual or emotional power. They are combinations of objects arranged a certain way on corner shelves and remind me of my past and present. Before, my living spaces were bare because I used them as a place for sleep and storage. Now, I have a real home that reflects who I am and how I choose to live.

Do you have certain objects at home or work that act as protection to help you cope with stress or flashbacks?

Pulling it together

I protect myself and feel confident moving through the outside world because I’ve learned how to use every day objects in creative ways as armor or shields – aka grounding objects. The learning process was and continues to be difficult with lots of mistakes and challenges from expected and unexpected sources.

For example, I used to be afraid of anything related to my senses because I thought “sensual” was another word for “sexual”.

As I learned that sensation, sensual appreciation, and sensuality DID NOT EQUAL sexuality or sexual anything, my whole world expanded.

Self Protection = Self-Care
Protection is a confident expression of our Authentic Selves
Is a vital aspect of Self-Care
Provides Techniques to be assertive in how we choose to ensure our safety
  • Sensuality and Sexuality are different.
  • A person can be sensual and indulge in sensual experiences without falling into addiction or having to engage in sexual experiences.
  • Pleasure can equal joy and peace.
  • Grounding strategies teach people how to uses their physical, emotional, and spiritual senses to feel safe in and focused on the present moment wherever and whenever they are.
  • Confidence and security in oneself are the best kinds of protection and can be expressed in physical ways. Some are visible to everyone while others are more personal and customized to individuals.

These days, sensory grounding is an essential tool in my toolbox of coping techniques and strategies. I use it all the time.

Finally, physical protection provides a strong foundation to become emotionally, spiritually, and energetically protected too.

Thanks for reading.

Series: Care, Protection, and Expression of Self Part 1

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

Photo by Rahul Yadav on Pexels.com

Hi and welcome.

I have not written a series in quite a while and wasn’t sure if this one would work out. But after the last two posts, I decided the topic of self-protection couldn’t be put off any longer.

My goal is to share a part of this series every week starting today. I/we all hope this information helps you feel safer, more secure, and more confident living in the outside world too.

What is Self Protection?

Some people call protection “armor” or “shields” or “barricades” or “Weapons”. Others use words like “wall” or “boundary” or “barrier”.

No matter the terms or labels used, protection means keeping oneself safe, feeling safe, and staying safe wherever we are in the world. Sometimes that means physical safety. Other times it means emotional safety. Maybe spiritual or environmental safety is required to feel safe and connected to the present. Many people consider the obvious choices for self-protection and often forget that protection can be anything as long as it keeps us safe.

Self Protection in and of itself is neutral. Intention matters and can change what seems like a negative or destructive act of protection into something positive and healthy. The reverse is also true.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Examples: comfort food, exercise, video/computer games, and sleep.

That said, protection can be aggressive (guns, knives, shouting, bullying) or defensive (walking away, wearing body armor, or installing an alarm system); visible (medical alert bracelet) or invisible (mantra or positive affirmation); constructive (positive, safe, helpful, useful) or destructive (harmful, mean, dangerous, negative).

Sometimes the obvious kinds of self-protection are not as effective as we want or hope at helping us feel safe. That is where creativity and self expression come in to play because all parts of me believe this:

There are as many ways to protect and express ourselves as there are living beings in this universe.

AlterXpressions

How does it connect with Self Expression and Self-Care?

Self-Care includes being able to protect ourselves from danger. How we protect ourselves and what kind of danger we need protection from depends on the individual. We are unique beings with our own learning styles and ways of self-expression. Each of us has different fears and requires different kinds of options to protect ourselves. What works for me might not work for you. What works for you might not work for me.

But what does work for all of us is learning the tools and skills that enable us to protect ourselves. The first step in that is understanding the different types of self-protection available to us. Then comes the hard part:

  • Learn the tools and skills (self-study and exploration, apprenticeship and mentoring, or educational classes – they all work)
  • Practice and apply that knowledge in our own lives (requires persistence, self-confidence, resilience, and making mistakes)
  • Use creativity and imagination to customize the the tools and skills to fit our needs (fosters positive self-image/body image, self-expression, and thinking outside the box)

In doing this, we all learn to safely express ourselves, feel more confident and secure in who we are as individuals, foster positive self-image, and empower ourselves to be independent.

4 Types of Self Protection Discussed Here

Physical Self Protection

More than self-defense, an alarm system, and weapons. It includes things like:

  • Fostering a neutral/positive self image through personal style
  • Creating ways to add movement into your daily routine (physical fitness)
  • Adding sensory grounding strategies and tools (physical objects) to your every day life style (aka magic bag)

Emotional/mental self protection

  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills
  • Sleep Hygiene routines
  • Awareness strategies (self, other, emotional intelligence)
  • Self-Reflection, solitude, or alone time

Spiritual Protection

  • Spiritual practice rooted in unconditional love and acceptance
  • Meditation and breathing exercises
  • Energetic shields around my self & home
  • Meaningful, positive connection with self and others (aka support network)

Environmental Protection

  • Physical safe place(s) – home & a few other places
  • Mental safe space(s) – alternative to dissociation
  • Spiritual safe space(s) – aka nature, religious building, sanctuary as defined by you
  • Home decorating with feng shui & energy clearing practices

Final Words

Whether you are a trauma survivor or not, self-care is vital to our overall health and wellness. Self protection is one small part of self care that can teach and empower us to feel secure, safe, and confident in ourselves. It’s a process that takes a lifetime to learn and apply. But in the end helps in obvious and unexpected ways.

My goal with this series is to:

Show you learning paths that empower you to feel secure and safe in who you are so that you can go out in the world, be your authentic selves, and achieve your goals without feeling the need to hide or be held back by your past experiences.

Thanks for reading

Alter Post: Reclaiming My Body…struggles, steps & successes

Trigger Warning: explicit details and word usage about past sexual abuse and body image issues

Ramble Warning: this long post is written by many alters and might not be very coherent…read at your leisure

A Continuous Struggle

This is not a subject I talk about often on the blog. Thinking about my body feels scary more often than not. I still experience a lot of physical pain from tight muscles and body memories. And what I see in the mirror often reflects my negative self-image.

Different alters control different parts of my body; each of us hold memories in those places. Sharing the burden is easier now than it was before. Yet all parts of me cringe at the thought of ending celibacy or trying to date now.

Some alters never want to engage in sexual activity again. A few dream about having a husband, lover, or partner to share our life with. Most others are intellectually curious about the connections between sexuality, femininity, masculinity, and vitality or life force. All wish for platonic friends or family members to share physical contact with – i.e. hugs, pats, cuddles, holding hands, kisses on the forehead, gestures of intimate yet platonic affection. Maybe a pet some day? Cats probably as our body is not physically healthy enough to care for a dog yet.

Many of us in the alter system don’t like how our body and face looks. Some of us feel shame and embarrassment. Others feel frustration or sadness. Both tend to bring out feelings of or negative attitudes in others. Or attract unwanted attention.

The Coping Challenges

In spite of the many positive steps I have taken to improve my body image, holiday season brings out all of my insecurities. Going back home for the holidays – seeing my parents and sibling for the first time in many years – could be part of that. In general, though, I often get flashbacks of having to “dress up” or “being dressed” and “put on display” by my mother for different holiday get-togethers. And it makes me feel down about my body.

For me, the hardest part about having this negative body image and these feelings of insecurity is not feeling like my body and face are mine. For most of my life, my face and body were under someone else’s control. Other people decided what I looked like, how I dressed, when I ate, who I interacted with, and the types of activities I could participate in alone or with others. Even after I got out of that place, there were family obligations and cultural expectations that told me how to look and act based on my place (bottom) in the hierarchy.

In my head, I still hear all of those people (owners, predators, offenders, abusers, slavers, customers, teachers, class mates & age mates, friends, or relatives) calling me a slut, a whore, a prostitute, a dirty lesbian or bisexual cunt, a chink, slant eyes, beautiful temptress, satan’s get, evil witch, and submissive bitch. I hear them telling me I am fat and scrawny or slender and beautiful just before they rape me or attack me.

Acknowledge the Hard Truths

Well, I was a child prostitute. And I was a beautiful, gifted child turned awkward teen who found ways to hide in plain sight by being an outcast nerd in ugly clothes as an adult. I did have sex with both genders – if rape and forced prostitution count – and multiple partners. So maybe that technically makes me a lesbian and bisexual instead of heterosexual.

Clarification of Insults

But it does not make me a slut or a whore. For one thing, the sex was not my choice. For another, I only engaged in sex when being raped or pimped out. Once I had the choice, I stopped all sexual activity. So while I am okay with being called some of the names listed above, the words “slut” and “whore” really push my buttons.

Sure, I tried to date a few times in college and later on, but it never went past a first date or got physical. I ran first. Or fought second. Eventually, I simply shut down whenever someone tried to flirt with or hit on me. It felt like giving up, but it was also safer for everyone involved.

Expressing Femininity & Vitality in Healthy Ways

I’ve mostly come to terms with the sexual abuse. But I am still working on hating my femininity and sexuality. Still working on hating my face and body. Still working on seeing an over weight, flat chested, pimply girl in the mirror. Or seeing a skinny, straight, flat, weak girl who can’t control her own body in the reflection. Still working to reclaim my sexuality or vitality without having to engage in sexual activity.

My Fear and Hatred of…

I fear not having control over my reproductive system – choosing to get pregnant or not – if some day I become sexually active again before menopause. Considering how quirky my body is about everything, typical birth control methods might not be enough. Plus, I’ve been pregnant. Just the thought of that happening again sends panic signals through all of me. My family history is a mess. I really don’t want to pass on my genetic material. Plus, if I ever do want children, adoption and foster care are options.

I hate not being able to get regular health checks and dental exams without anasthesia. My triggers around medical and dental professionals are among the strongest and most vicious coping challenges. The automatic defense mechanisms and system shut down protocols get triggered every time I start working with someone new. And they bring out my most dangerous alters.

And I hate how often I get triggered by other people giving me nasty looks or making rude/insulting comments about my body parts. People used to pity me and gossip about my awful taste and weird habits behind my back, but were relatively polite and/or friendly unless irngoring me before I stopped hiding. After I stopped hiding, though, lots of people felt justified making nasty comments about my appearance and judging me based on my large bust and curvy shape. Being petite and Asian just made the cat calls and pettiness worse.

I hate how uncomfortable and defensive I feel talking about my “single on purpose” and “celibacy by choice” thoughts with friends & family. And both stances are choices. But it’s even more difficult trying to explain this to males and females who are flirting or coming on to me. Or who think my being friendly is flirting, etc. Confusing for someone with zero experience flirting, dating, etc.

Coping Strategies & Reclaiming My Body

It’s easier now to cope with many of these triggers and obsessive thoughts when the flashbacks come. All parts of me have made personal and life style changes to foster a loving, positive self-image and body image. Next year, I will finally be in a position to take other steps towards reclaiming my body as mine.

Steps like:

  • sterilization (aka tubes tied),
  • safely & confidently interacting with people in social situations,
  • herbal and aromatherapy remedies to support my health without making me sick,
  • (maybe) breast reduction surgery

Now that I am physically healthy and able to maintain a healthy body weight with job security and decent benefits these options are possible. I am not sure what is in my future, but at least now I have more options to feel safe and in control of my self and my body.

What kinds of steps could you, would you, are you willing to take in order to reclaim your body in a positive, safe way?

Thanks for reading

Coping Challenges: Body Shaming – Internal & External

Apologies for the late post…I slept late and then fell asleep after exercise and a phone call with my mentor yesterday.  By the time I woke up, it was time to go back to sleep again.

Body Shaming

It’s a big deal, especially in today’s world where anything can pop up in the mainstream media or on social media (on purpose or by accident) and anyone can comment.

I had another post in mind for this week, but Grant Gustin of CW’s The Flash spoke out about body shaming in this article on Digital Spy.  Gustin fights back and speaks out against body shaming – in general and by addressing comments directed at himself.

The Flash is one of the few TV shows I enjoy and follow via Internet news.  It addresses a lot of interesting topics from alternative and unique to me perspectives without a lot of bias or stereotyping.  My other favorite CW show is DC’s Legends of Tomorrow for similar reasons.

But back to the main topic – Body shaming is a form of bullying.  Depending on the circumstances, context, content, and perpetrator, it can also be a form of sexual & physical harassment or abuse.  It’s something I still struggle with as an adult and experienced from many people growing up.

Body shaming is more than talking about how physically attractive or unattractive a person is.  It goes deeper and can affect self-esteem, self-confidence, and one’s sense of self.  Body shaming covers a lot of topics.  Here are a few:

  • How I smell
  • A flabby belly instead of a flat one
  • Being short
  • Having slanted eyes
  • Being curvy and Asian
  • Wearing Glasses
  • Looking younger than I am
  • How I dress (style and type of clothes I wear)

And just for fun…since you already know my face…here’s a photo of me in one of my favorite summer outfits – no makeup as per usual.

IMG_0599

BODY NEUTRAL & BODY POSITIVE – Body Image alternatives to shame/negativity

I’ve mentioned these terms before.  And I try to stay true to them in real life – for myself and for the people around me.

It’s not easy to change the tapes in your head when the people who are supposed to guide, support, and protect you are the ones making these comments.  The person who body shamed me the most was my mother.  Being sexually and physically abused further damaged myself and made me hate my physical appearance to the point where I didn’t trust anyone who made a comment about me; positive or negative.

What helped me most was putting aside concepts of attractiveness and beauty in favor of learning how to love, accept, respect, and value my physical self for all of the positive blessings it provides me as I work to achieve my goals of overall wellness and independence.

Something else that helps is to stop making negative comments (in my head or out loud) about my own and other’s appearance, whether on purpose or by accident.  It took me many years to stop automatically thinking in the negative about bodies (etc) in general.

I still don’t see myself the way other people see me.  Looking in a mirror can be tricky depending on who is watching through my eyes.  Every alter has a different perception of our physical self.  And none of us really enjoy the attention we receive.  Our goal is to blend in, not stand out.

But I/we also want to feel comfortable, confident, secure, and happy with our physical appearance/body/self too.  And that means creating and using a personal style to guide how we present ourself to the outside world.

Maybe these concepts and tips will resonate with you.  Maybe they won’t.  but you are not alone in experiencing the body shame.

Thanks for reading