I decided to stretch today. I haven’t adequately stretched in a really long time. It hurt more than I thought it would. I reflected on how I’ve been feeling about my body lately. I’ve gained weight. My clothes still fit, they’re just tighter. I’m unhappy with the way my body feels and looks.
When I stopped moving, moving on to the next thing and the next, I began thinking about how much of a hit my self-esteem took when I was being abused by my ex. I acknowledge my self-esteem was nowhere near perfect before he started abusing me but I’d worked hard to get to what felt like a good place for me. But somehow he found the one loose thread in the fabric of my self-esteem and unraveled me completely. I hadn’t felt so low since I was a teenager and abused laxatives to stay thin. After I moved out, the relationship continued with my ex and so did the degradation. Even after I cut off contact with him I don’t think I ever fully regained contact with myself.
I medicated with loads of Ben & Jerry’s which, while delicious, merely masked my pain with saccharine sweetness. When I regained enough of a foothold to work again, I also regained some weight. Another fine literary device: not only did I feel like I didn’t fit into the world any longer, I also didn’t fit into my clothes the way I used to.
Many of these feelings came to a head over the last few weeks at my new job. I’m in the world again: seen, acknowledged, questioned, commented on–I hate it. I’ve written before about my ambivalent relationship with invisibility. I long to remain invisible until I want to be seen and inevitably it works out the opposite. The other day at work, I had an uncomfortable moment with a male student as I sat with him at a table in a classroom. The rest of the class and teachers were present but I felt utterly alone as I noticed him grab his crotch underneath the table. Nobody else saw.
I think now of how from the moment we’re born, girls are taught their bodies are not their own. Our bodies are legislated, penetrated, traded and degraded. I thought of my ex and angry tears came to my eyes as I stretched out on the floor, knees in the air. I thought of how men and even teenage boys can violate us without even touching us–from across a room, with a look, a gesture, underneath a table.
After escaping overt abuse, I became more aware of my looks, how I dressed, what “message I was sending” without intending. I wore a black blazer, black jeans, and a black shirt buttoned up to my neck yesterday and three boys asked me why I wore a suit. I’d give anything to disappear in jeans and a t-shirt like them but no matter what, there are the comments–about my clothes, my body, my hair. I keep trying to hide from others at the same time I’m trying to reestablish a relationship with my body–one where I don’t ignore it.